Unbound. Oil on tin retablo painting depicting San Benito de Palermo, also known as "The Holy Black," who was the patron Saint of Negro Slaves in America and the Saint invoked against smallpox. Measuring 10.5" x 8.25". It is signed "B.J. Mexico Marzo 10 de 1843" on the floor at the left side of the saint. In very good condition, with some bending to corners, an area of paint loss and staining above the head of the figure, and a small flakes on his right arm.
St. Benedict is pictured in his blue Franciscan robe, standing beside a table that holds a skull and a scourge, also shown with his saintly attributes: the flaming sacred heart on his chest and a large crucifix.
“The Italian black Catholic saint’s name was Benedict, of Palermo, Sicily, and he was the son of African slaves. In life, Benedict was an ascetic healer who devoted his life to the humble teachings of St. Francis; in death, he was used by the Church and colonial European powers to convert African slaves to Roman Catholicism. But he was genuinely adored as a grassroots saint who also inspired black identity and pride. While he was not the first black saint in church history, he was the first to pass through the gauntlet of canonization after authority over the process passed exclusively to the pope in Rome. Although he never set foot in America, he is often referred to as the patron saint of African-Americans.
The year of the present painting, 1843, was an important year in the fight for the abolition of slavery worldwide. It was in that year that the East India Company became increasingly controlled by Britain and abolished slavery in the territories controlled by the company through the Indian Slavery Act. Treaties were signed by Britain to suppress the slave trade with Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, and Mexico.
Retablo paintings were usually small devotional paintings made by Mexican folk artists, inspired by vertical paintings of saints displayed behind the altars of Roman Catholic churches. While not uncommon, most examples seen are from the 20th Century and images of St. Benedict are exceptionally uncommon.
A rare artistic image of the black saint created at a significant time in the history of slavery in America.