Thursday, November 8, 2012

"La Papisa" feminine archetype in Latin American Art & History

Hello all and welcome back to my blog! In the past month I have been working on several paintings that are not part of the project "Devocionales: Neo-colonial retablo paintings from an archetypal perspective" but they are related in many ways. I will be posting images of this new work on FB and my website very soon. There are many issues that have occupied my mind recently (besides politics of course) but I wish to come back and follow up on the theme of archetypes in Latin American art and culture which is at the heart of "Devocionales". As I mentioned before "Devocionales" is my current project  made up of 22 retablo paintings where I re-interpret the archetypes found in the Tarot by studying Colonial Latin America and recontextualizing them with current Neo-Colonial issues.  Previously I discussed my explorations on the Tarot Archetypes of "El Loco" and "El Mago" and how I interpret these in light of Latin American history, arts and popular culture. I shall now briefly explore the various meanings behind "La Papisa" (The Popess also known as the High Priestess).

"La Papisa" from the "Neo-Colonial Tarot of the Americas" ink on card
By Patrick McGrath Muniz

Traditionally "La Papisa" known as "La Papesse" in the Tarot of Marseille carries different meanings that have evolved over time. As we can see in the image below from the Major Arcana 2 from the Tarot of Marseille represents a female pope. This image corresponds to the story of the legendary Pope Joan who disguised as a man was elected pope during the 850's. Her story has been buried and denied by the Church Patriarchy. Joan's amazing erudition was her most powerful weapon and without it she wouldn't have been seated at the Church throne. For this reason, she is shown holding a book, learning being her greatest sin. Women for most part of history have been excluded from the male dominated religious and intellectual circles. This archetype  therefore represents a challenge to the established religion, in this case, Christianity.

  "La Papesse" from the Tarot of Marseille

With this brief background history in mind we can safely assume we are facing a woman who refuses to be excluded from the highest religious order and defies the rigid patriarchal structures that deny women their rights to learn and be equal with men as spiritual leaders and teachers. This is therefore the "prime feminist principle archetype". In Jungian Psychology she would be considered the "Anima Sophia", the highest expression of the anima , the feminine subconscious personalitySophia  is the Greek term for wisdom and in the gnostic tradition she is the feminine expression of the human soul and one of the feminine aspects of god. In this aspect, wisdom is intuitive, esoteric and sublime. According to A.E. Waite this image represents secrets, mysteries, the unrevealed future, wisdom and science. A clear embodiment of this archetype can be found in one particular woman in the history of colonial Latin America: Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz by Miguel Cabrera

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz was a Mexican scholar, poet and nun who lived during the colonial period In New Spain. She is considered by many as the first feminist of the Americas and defended in her writings women's rights to education. As one can expect, this was not well received  by the Church and most of her works were destroyed. I recently watched a film by Maria Luisa Bemberg about her life titled Yo, La peor de todas (I, the worst of all) and was moved by her story. I had read about her before through Eduardo Galeano and Octavio Paz and find her life deeply inspiring. For her love of books, committed spiritual life and strong conviction on women's rights  I have decided to portray her as "La Papisa" in my next painting.

"La Papisa" work in progress

detail of "La Papisa" holding an e-reader or I-phone (work in progress)

One of my preliminary sketches for the painting "La Papisa"

This archetype teaches us to question male pretentious authority in all fields and to find wisdom in nature and in  the simplest things in life. This feminine rebel spirit was embodied in  Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is probably the most famous woman painter in the world. Her self-portraits are iconic, her life inspiring and just like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Pope Joan, she followed her bliss (painting) and claimed her rightful high chair among the male dominated thrones of their time.  

 Mexican painter Frida Kahlo seated with a book in a similar pose to that of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz.

Frida Kahlo Autorretrato con espinas y colibri

As it is the case with all of the retablos I am currently working on, narratives are complex, deep and crowded with figures, symbols and other visual elements that add to the Neo-Colonial Baroque experience of the work. If I were to transcribe all my journal writings and drawings on this blog, it would simply be too long. There are many women from Latin American history, mythology and religion I find particularly relevant to this specific archetype and shall honor them on this next retablo painting. This will not only be a painting about higher knowledge attained and experienced through the feminine principle, breaking trough obsolete patriarchal institutions that have obstructed humanity's evolution for too long. Hope to finish this painting very soon.


  1. Excellent. How about Evita? Leaving politics aside, her feminism, her caring for the poor, her fight plight for the low and middle social classes seemed to me to come more much ,more from a place of unconventional wisdom and determination than from a political one.

    1. That is a very good point. Evita Peron does embody this archetype perfectly. Thank you for mentioning her!