Our Lady of Charity
Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre, 1871
oil on canvas
62 1/2 x 39 3/4 inches
A radiant and overpowering version of Our Lady of Charity (the Patroness Saint of Cuba) was rendered in 1871by Spanish artist residing in Cuba, José Carol when he was at the height of his talents. The image depicted recreates the story of the Virgin Mary who appeared over the stormy waters off Cuba around 1608, to save three fishermen (traditionally called the “three Juans”) when they found themselves adrift at sea. The Virgin and Child irradiate calmness. They are set in a central position on the canvas, floating on a cloud accompanied by angels, creating an ascendant and mystical experience. In the lower part of the composition, we see the fishermen in a rowboat imploring for help. The manner in which the painter executes the delicate folds of the Virgin’s white dress and her blue cloak, both adorned with gold threads, is somewhat reminiscent of Zurbarán’s mastery skills.
The scene suggests the painter came into contact with images of devotion and religious iconography in Cuba when he traveled to the island in the second half of the 19th century. At that time, Carol served as a sergeant under the command of Leopoldo O’Donnell, a general and statesman then stationed on the island who played a key role in the successful Spanish military insurrections of 1843 and 1854.
As published in an article in the Fine Arts section of the newspaper La Nación, Madrid (November 12, 1854), we learn that the painter’s talent for portraiture was much admired, at first by King Ferdinand VII, and later by Queen Isabella II of Spain.