19th c. Mexican Retablo Saint Francis c.1880



An original 19th century Mexican folk retablo of Saint Francis. Oil paint on tin.

St. Francis of Assisi, Italian San Francesco d’Assisi was born 1181-1182 in Assisi, duchy of Spoleto, Italy and died October 3, 1226. He was canonized July 16, 1228. He founded the Franciscan orders of the Friars Minor and the lay Third Order. He was also a leader of the movement of evangelical poverty in the early 13th century. His evangelical zeal, consecration to poverty, charity, and personal charisma drew thousands of followers. Francis’s devotion to the human Jesus and his desire to follow Jesus’ example reflected and reinforced important developments in medieval  spirituality.

  • CREATOR Unknown.
  • CONDITION Good. Wear consistent with age and use.
  • DIMENSIONS H 14 in. W 10 in.


Retablos, better known as 'laminas' in Mexico, are small oil paintings on tin, wood and sometimes copper which were used in home altars to venerate the almost infinite number of Catholic saints. The literal translation for 'retablo' is 'behind the altar.' This unique genre of art, deeply rooted in European history, was brought to Mexico with the arrival of the Spanish and then ultimately adopted by New World mestizo natives to become what is known today as the Mexican folk retablo.

The retablo was an art form that flourished in post conquest Mexico and then ultimately, with the introduction of inexpensive mediums such as tin, reached its pinnacle of popularity in the last quarter of the 19th century. With some exceptions, mostly untrained artists from the provinces worked to produce and reproduce these sacred images; some subjects painted more prolifically than others. A typical "retablero" may have reproduced the same image hundreds, if not thousands of times in his or her career.

These oil paintings were sold to devout believers who displayed them in home altars to honor their patron saints. There are virtually hundreds of saints, each invoked to remedy a different situation. "San Ysidro Labrador," the patron saint of farmers, is venerated for good weather, agricultural issues and prosperous crop. He is often called upon before picnics or just before harvest. Having spent four years in the forest as a hermit, San Jeronimo, the patron saint of scholars and philosophers, is invoked for protection against temptations and want.

Bearing some semblance to retablos, 'ex-votos' are devotional paintings on canvas or tin which offer thanks to a particular saint in the form of a short narrative. In many events, a small child becomes ill, a soldier returns safely from war, or a favorite animal is reunited with its owner. The petitioner, grateful for this miracle, dedicated a small painting (with a short testimonial) to the respective patron Saint.

These unique art forms are a hybrid of centuries old Catholic iconography and indigenous artistry; reflecting the historical, cultural and religious links between "old" and "new" worlds.





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