The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico

[ Latin American Studies ]

The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico

Crowned-Nun Portraits and Reform in the Convent

By James M. Córdova

Offering a pioneering interpretation of the “crowned nun” portrait, this book explores how visual culture contributed to local identity formation at a time when the colonial Church instituted major reforms that radically changed the face of New Spain’s convents and religious character.

Latin American and Caribbean Arts and Culture publication initiative

January 2014


33% website discount price


6 x 9 | 288 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-75315-0

In the eighteenth century, New Spaniards (colonial Mexicans) so lauded their nuns that they developed a local tradition of visually opulent portraits, called monjas coronadas or “crowned nuns,” that picture their subjects in regal trappings at the moment of their religious profession and in death. This study identifies these portraits as markers of a vibrant and changing society that fused together indigenous and Euro-Christian traditions and ritual practices to construct a new and complex religious identity that was unique to New Spain.

To discover why crowned-nun portraits, and especially the profession portrait, were in such demand in New Spain, this book offers a pioneering interpretation of these works as significant visual contributions to a local counter-colonial discourse. James M. Córdova demonstrates that the portraits were a response to the Spanish crown’s project to modify and modernize colonial society—a series of reforms instituted by the Bourbon monarchs that threatened many nuns’ religious identities in New Spain. His analysis of the portraits’ rhetorical devices, which visually combined Euro-Christian and Mesoamerican notions of the sacred, shows how they promoted local religious and cultural values as well as client-patron relations, all of which were under scrutiny by the colonial Church. Combining visual evidence from images of the “crowned nun” with a discussion of the nuns’ actual roles in society, Córdova reveals that nuns found their greatest agency as Christ’s brides, a title through which they could, and did, challenge the Church’s authority when they found it intolerable.

List of Illustrations

List of Abbreviations



Chapter 1. Women's Religious Pathways in New Spain

Chapter 2. New Spanish Portraiture and Portraits of Nuns

Chapter 3. Euro-Christian Precedents in the Crowned-Nun Image

Chapter 4. Indigenous Contributions to Convent Arts and Culture

Chapter 5. The Profession Portrait in a Time of Crisis

Chapter 6. Colonial Identity Rhetorics






James M. Córdova is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he teaches pre-Columbian and colonial Latin American art.

“In a fascinating analysis of crowned nun portraits of New Spain, James M. Córdova examines in detail how the tradition of painting women nuns in regal attire and intricate crowns of flowers originated in the Spanish American colonies.”
Letras Femeninas, A Journal of Women and Gender Studies in Hispanic Literature and Culture

“This is the most significant investigation of crowned nun portraits, a major genre in colonial Mexican art, in the field of colonial studies in either English or Spanish. It will be of interest not only to art historians, but to anyone working in colonial history, religious studies, or gender studies. Córdova’s arguments are new and change our understanding of these works. . . . This is an impressive book.”
—Charlene Villaseñor Black, Associate Professor of Art History, UCLA, and author of Creating the Cult of St. Joseph: Art and Gender in the Spanish Empire