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The image shown here represents El Santo Niio de Atoche, a depiction of the Christ child common throughout Mexico and the American Southwest. Made by Rafael Aragon in Santa Fe, this particular image is from a retablo, a kind of Catholic devotional art. Aragon came from a family of santeros (religious artisans) who worked during the golden age of Spanish colonial art in New Mexico in the first part of the 1800s. In isolated communities where there were few priests, religious art within the home played a huge role in promoting Catholic beliefs and maintaining religious faith. When this retablo was made, between 1840 and 1850, New Mexico was the most populated region of Mexico's northern territories. Its ancient colonial history was shaped by violent contests over land, trade, and religion between Spanish settlers and various indigenous communities. The exchanges between these peoples, and then later, between immigrants from Mexico and the eastern United States, created several unique cultures in New Mexico. The phenomenon of tourism, beginning in the late 1800s, further transformed New Mexico and its art and craft traditions. Santeros and other artisans are still producing religious images like this retablo, though today many are valued for decorative rather than devotional use.
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