New World, Spanish Colonial style, Mexico, ca. 19th century CE. A rare example of a 19th century wooden alms box featuring a scene of Las Animas Solas (souls in Purgatory). The box is long and rectangular, with iron hinges and an iron slat for locking it closed overnight. The hinges remain functional and the box opens nicely. On an arch at the back of the box is a painted scene of five people standing amongst red flames. One of the people has only his or her head visible, but three are shown praying, hands clasped before their chests, and the fourth has a hand raised to touch the head of the other. A handle on the back of the piece allowed it to be carried or mounted. Size: 10" L x 6.45" W x 10.45" H (25.4 cm x 16.4 cm x 26.5 cm)
The Anima Sola image is an old one, extending at least to the Council of Trent (ca. 1545-1563), and drawing on the obligation of the living to pray for souls in Purgatory. The depicted souls are generally women (as these seem likely to be), and they are often, as here, depicted to be both penitent and reverent. The popularity of this image in Mexican folk art reached its pinnacle in the 19th century, and became the subject of a Mexican cult of devotion as popular as those of many saints. Mexican folk artists depicted Purgatory as a real place, as this was what they were taught by priests - and a real place full of the fires that symbolized the pain of purification in preparation for entering the kingdom of Heaven.
Provenance: ex-private Cook collection, Arizona, USA
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Craquelure and small areas of loss to the paint as shown. Wood has some nicks, chips, and cracks commensurate with age. Dark patina on the metal components. Handle may have been reattached as its screws do not look as old as the other metal components.