New World, Spanish Colonial, Mexico, ca. 19th century CE. A carved and hand-painted wooden santo of St. Michael the Archangel standing atop a flat platform, donning regal garments, and holding the handle of his flaming sword overhead. His aggressive posture demonstrates his unyielding resolve to combat Satan's forces of evil, and repousse metal wings allow him the mobility and agility to evade any attack. This iconography preceded and inspired the traditional depiction of Michael and his angels waging war on the dragon, symbolizing the Christian conflict of Christ vs. the Antichrist. Size: 15.625" H (39.7 cm); 20.5" H (52.1 cm) on included pedestal.
As Chief Commander of the Heavenly hosts, Saint Michael bravely challenged the Devil. Satan, after all, was Michael's opponent in the battle for Heaven. The figures' gestures and motion are characteristically pantomime-like and dramatic. Archangels are understood to be helpers and allies who offer dedicated protection through life's trials and travails. Their names usually end in the suffix "ael" or "iel" meaning “Shining One” in Hebrew, e.g. Michael, Rafael, Gabriel, Ariel, Ezekiel, Barachiel, Uriel, etc.
Santos played an important role in bringing the Catholic Church to the New World with the Spanish colonists. These religious figures were hand-carved and often furnished with crowns, jewels, and other accessories, usually funded by religious devotees, and were used as icons to explain the major figures - Mary, Christ, and the saints - to new, indigenous converts. Likewise, they served as a connection to the Old World for Spanish colonists far from home. They became a folk art tradition in the Spanish New World, from modern day Guatemala to as far north as New Mexico and Colorado. Many of them were lovingly cared for over the years, with repairs and paint added as they aged, and played an active part for a long time in the religious life of their communities.
Provenance: private California, USA collection
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Both arms are detachable. Loss to portion of sword handle. Repairs and small losses to figure's left foot. Figure is not attached to stand and is removable. Surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, fading and chipping to pigmentation, small losses to feet, arms, body, wings, and head, with slight bending to wings. Light earthen deposits throughout. Nice craquelure to pigment in some areas. Small hairline fissures and chips to base.