Tag Archives: Culture

The Miracle

Hello and welcome back! It’s hard to believe that two weeks have already passed and it is time for another blog entry. Although Preliminaries is alive and well and still developing, I would like deviate a bit today and talk about another project that I started a few days ago called—for the current lack of a better title—Guadalupe.

Here Guadalupe is a reference to the beloved and famous Virgin de Guadalupe, a painting that, according to legend, miraculously appeared on the maguey cloak of  Nahautl speaking Juan Diego on December 9, 1531. As close as a painting can come to being a rock star, Our Lady of Guadalupe inspired thousands of copies during the colonial period of New Spain, copious amounts of literature, entire lines of merchandise, and fervent devotion amongst the Mexican people.

I first became interested in New Spanish painting because of a class I took last spring with Alena Robin, an art historian and Assistant Professor here at Western in the Hispanic Studies department. This fall I have been taking another one of her courses called “Migration and Ethnic Relations in Colonial Latin American Art” in which we spend a lot of time discussing ethnic interactions in the American colonies and its artistic expressions. The Virgen of Guadalupe fits quite well with this theme for a variety of reasons: the location of her shrine at Tepeyac (associated with the  goddesses Tonantzin), the fact that Juan Diego was of Mexica heritage, the strong base of Nahuatl language literature documenting the apparition, the appearance of a Nahautl speaking Virgin Mary etc. So I chose Guadalupe as the subject of my term paper and began to investigate.

What I am really interested in right now is how culture works as a process, how it is coded as information and spread throughout networks, and ways to model and evaluate large cultural data sets to better understand cultural phenomenon. The Virgin of Guadalupe fits perfectly within this model because of her long-term success in Mexican culture, the quantity of cultural production centered around the miracle, and the interesting transcultural implications presented by her mythology and cult. To get a better look at the Guadalupe phenomenon, I decided to gather a big data set from her colonial era production to try to do some network analysis in Gephi. Wait a minute, a big data set for a term project? How the heck am I gonna do that? Luckily, I was able to build upon the work of other digital humanists and put together the first phase of my project in a couple hours.

Using the CulturePlex’s Baroque Art Database, I quickly located around 700 paintings with a Guadeloupian theme. From there I simply downloaded the data in various .csv files, coded up a couple quick functions in Python to clean up the data and off I went. After playing around in Gephi for a few minutes I had a nice image of the data:


It makes for a pretty picture, but it doesn’t really tell us much other than the basic structure of the database. One thing you notice (if you have a magnifying glass) is the large number of anonymous paintings. A little frustrating for a social networks project, but it’s the nature of the beast: most colonial paintings were not signed. Oh I forgot to mention, the schema used for this part of the visualization was quite simple. All of the Guadalupian paintings are linked to the original, miraculous painting, and the painters are linked to the paintings they signed. That is why we see the strong central prescence of “The Miracle”.

As I said before this doesn’t tell us much, so I am currently working on improving the data set through the addition of published texts with a Guadalupian theme, manuscripts gathered from the historiography of New Spanish painting, and institutional affiliations. So far I have only added a few manuscripts described in Mina Ramírez Montes’ “En defensa de la pintura. Ciudad de México, 1753”, an article detailing 4 documents uncovered by historians that all refer to the 18th century New Spanish painters’ desire for improved working conditions. These documents provide a wealth of information for network analysis, as each one is signed by a variety of painters, prominent and otherwise. After adding the documents, we start to see some more interesting results:

Here we see distinct communities beginning to form and the bridges between them. First of all we notice the “halo” around the miracle. These are the anonymous painting from the Baroque art database. Further out we see paintings with known authorship, and their painter appearing in red. Also we see the various documents in green, and their associated groups of painters. Here we begin to notice two communities: the first is generated by the earlier documents dating to the 1720’s, the second by the later documents from the 1750’s. Also we can see the bridges that form between the two groups passing through Nicolás Enríquez and Jose de Ibarra. These results–however obvious they may be–are the kind of connections and communities I hope to detect within the larger data set once it has been assembled and the quantity of information makes it difficult to detect these patterns without computational tools.

That’s it for today folks. As always I would gladly answer and questions at dbrow52@uwo.ca or @dbrownbeta

Ramírez Montes, Mina. “En defensa de la pintura. Ciudad de México.” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Núm. 78 2001: 103-128. Print.


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