The Sacred Heart of Jesus

El Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

Feast day: June 11

Essay by Nancy Solis

The pictorial representations of the Medieval devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus emerged through the visions of the nun Margaret Mary Alacoque and letters discussing her revelations of this new faith from December of 1673 to June of 1675. Through one of her visions, the Lord reveals to her his heart in which he says how he has displayed love for men but, instead, he has received only ingratitude. Jesus then gives instruction to Margaret for Fridays to be reserved in honor of His Heart; a feast should be especially on the first Friday of each month. The depiction of the Sacred Heart includes the half-length Jesus dressed in robes with the heart either placed on top of the garment or revealed through his uncovered chest. The flamed red heart is surrounded by thorns and accompanied by the Latin Cross placed above. The cross alludes to The Lord’s sacrifice and represents a man praying with arms extended. The sacred heart represents “love, devotion, sorrow, understanding, humanity, and joy.” It is also an “emblem of fervent piety” given to saints whom expressed, “their renunciation of the world.”

The face of Jesus is painted with a serene stare looking upwards, a halo with a white opaque brush stroke encircles his head (Fig. 1). Jesus is clothed with a blue robe, patterned with the star of Bethlehem. Blue symbolizing Heaven, divine love, truth, constancy, and fidelity. Yellow appears in both, the stars and the outer outline of the robe. Underneath this robe, a rose-color garment reveals the Sacred Heart embedded on it.  Jesus’s right hand displays the benediction gesture offering blessing and the three open fingers signifying the Trinity. Both hands stigmata painted on The Lord’s palms, reminding the viewer of his sacrifice in the Cross.  Clouds hover over the lower section of the composition attesting for his heavenly presence.

The depictions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus are more welcoming when it comes to Jesus’s facial expression as he stares directly into the viewer (figs. 1-3). The focus is drawn more to the heart, as yellow brush strokes give light to the Sacred Heart; yellow represents the Sun’s glory, the bounty of Almighty God and red represents love and loyalty. Figure 1 focuses more on the heavens as Jesus points, and looks upward. The clouds painted in the foreground set the setting to the heavens whereas Figure 2 displays Jesus’s holiness through the golden background. Figure 3 contains stems of wheat and vines of grapes in the foreground and on top of the heart symbolizing the Eucharist of the body and blood of Christ. The heart on all three representations are encircled with the Crown of Thorns symbolizing his love, devotion and joy for humankind.

Figure 1. The Sacred Heart of Jesus / El Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin. 7 x 5”.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1963.3.32.

Donor: Dr. Reginald Fisher.

Figure 2. The Sacred Heart of Jesus / El Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century

Oil on tin.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.6.9.

Figure 3. The Sacred Heart of Jesus / El Sagrado Corazón de Jesus

Anonymous, Mexico. Nineteenth Century.

Oil on tin.

NMSU Art Gallery Collection #1966.4.66.

References

De Bles, Arthur de. How to Distinguish the Saints in Art by their Costumes, Symbols, and Attributes. New York: Art Culture Publications Inc., 1925

Kehoe, Alice B. “The Sacred Heart: A Case for Stimulus Diffusion.” American Ethnologist 6, no. 4 (1979): 763-71.

Morgan, David. The Sacred Heart of Jesus The Visual Evolution of a Devotion. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2008.

Madeline. “Art History.” YoExpert. Accessed April 29, 2019. http://art-history.yoexpert.com/art-history-general/what-is-the-significance-of-christ-s-hand-gesture-5016.html.

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