The Omnipotent Powerful Hand (The Five Persons)

La Omnipotente Mano Poderosa (Las Cinco Personas)

Essay by Paris Bowers

The Omnipotent Powerful Hand is an unusual representation of the Holy Family with many connections and unknown meaning. This retablo tradition has connections to several other retablo collections including The Five Lords, The Tree of David, and The Mystical Vine/ Precious Blood of Christ. Though the precise purpose of the tradition is unknown, there are many themes represented within the compositional tradition. The composition always includes a representation of Infant Jesus’ family including the Virgin Mary, and saints Joseph, Anne and Joachim. Jesus takes the middle and highest seat; slightly below him, Mary and Joseph are shown. Even lower than Mary and Joseph are Mary’s parents Anne and Joachim. All these figures are hovering over clouds. Below them, the hand of the crucified Christ with the stigmata is shown feeding seven lambs, eluding to the Eucharist and the Seven Sacraments. The environment is subject to the artist and some choose to show the blood flowing into a chalice before it reaches the mouths of the lamb. The retablo tradition is a representation of the Holy Family as well as Mary’s parents. This inclusion of Mary’s parents seems to have connections to the Immaculate Conception, as well as the cult to Saint Anne. The inclusion of more relatives of Christ may also indicate lineage, though an incomplete one. The representation of the lambs drinking the blood have connection the Eucharist and the Passion of Christ. While there are connections to other themes, the precise meaning and use of this composition is unknown. The composition of the Powerful Hand in Figure 1 is placed in a celestial environment including not only the Five Persons in the top third of the composition on clouds, but the seven lambs in the bottom on clouds as well. The seven lambs are shown drinking the blood from the stream that is flowing directly from the hand. The hand itself is shown vertically with the dripping wound in the center of the palm. The vertical hand has each finger in position with one of the figures. The figures themselves follow the traditional composition. Jesus The Child is place in the center with Mary and Anne to His right and Joseph and Joachim to his left. In contrast, figures 2 and 3 place the figures in a terrestrial landscape. The blood flowing from wounded hands of Christ are collected in chalices. In figure 3, the lambs are shown drinking the blood while the lambs from Figure 2 are not. Also, in these compositions, rather than the hand being vertical and a finger pointing to each of the figures above, the hand is shown protruding from the right side of the composition at a diagonal.

Figure 1.  The Omnipotent Powerful Hand (The Five Persons) /

La Omnipotente Mano Poderosa (Las Cinco Personas)

Anonymous, Mexico, Nineteenth Century.

Oil on Tin. NMSU Art Gallery Collection#1968.4.166.

Donor: Dr. Neidich.

Figure 2. The Omnipotent Powerful Hand (The Five Persons) /

La Omnipotente Mano Poderosa (Las Cinco Personas)

Anonymous, Mexico, Nineteenth Century.

Oil on Tin/ 14 x 10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1969.1.28.

Donor: Dr. Ezra K Neidich.

Figure 3. The Omnipotent Powerful Hand (The Five Persons) /

La Omnipotente Mano Poderosa (Las Cinco Personas)

Anonymous, Mexico, Nineteenth Century.

Oil on Tin, 14 x10”. NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.7.

Donor: Mr. Fran E. Tolland.

References

Giffords, Gloria Fraser. Mexican Folk Retablos. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1974.

Zarur, Elizabeth Netto Calil and Charles M. Lovell. Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.