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Maravilla Americana (American Marvel) are the first two words of the lengthy title of a literary masterpiece by Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768), “the genial brush turned to a pen” as it was immediately celebrated, on the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Its translation to Italian gave the pen fame in Europe among artists and clergymen beyond what the brush had accomplished in the Vatican, when Pope Benedict XIV felt impelled to exclaim: “Non fecit taliter omni nationi” from Psalm 147:20—God’s done nothing like it for any other nation—in admiring Cabrera’s copy of the Guadalupan image.
Written in 1756, it is still the standard description of many wonders extant to the portrait. Cabrera and six other master painters were called by the Chapter of the Basilica in 1751 to give their professional opinion on the Guadalupan Portrait from an artistic standpoint; specifically, signalling out the materials and pictorial technique that composed it. After fulfilling this request and presenting a report, Cabrera felt inspired to extend it on his own; but as a courtesy, required a signed opinion of his work from his six colleagues, six professional statements which were also printed in both languages.
Maravilla Americana is divided into eight chapters:
"On the Awesome Durability of the Image of Our Lady of Guadalupe". It is expounded as miraculous that fibers which normally biodegrade (in our present terminology) in a few years, subsisting intact for (till then) more than 225 years. He takes special note of the very thin cotton thread which unites both parts of the ayate, which by itself couldn't resist the least force, remaining in place. Cabrera attributes this awesome duration to the Holy Image being stamped on the natural fibers.
"As to the Cloth or Canvas on Which Our Lady is Depicted". Here he attempts several explanations as to the nature of the fibers; palm possibly, it’s not maguey which is too coarse. It looks more like a middle quality European twine which we call “cotense”. It’s however trivial to determine if it’s palm or maguey; for either would be the most disproportionate for a human artist to choose. He concludes: “What excites admiration is the softness to the touch, it feels like silk”. But it certainly doesn’t look like silk! To the sight the woof is coarse, the quality is middle.
"On the total absence of priming in this painting". There is no over-varnish or any sort of preparation as normally required on canvas— essential as it is on any surface to be painted, painting on a coarse fabric without it is impossible.
"On the marvellous drawing of Our Lady of Guadalupe". “It is unmatched; and so perfectly finished, and marvellous, that I’m fully certain that whoever with elementary knowledge of the principles of this art, on seeing it, will exceed himself in eloquence to make this portent known as miraculous”. After extending himself further in a eulogy, he proceeds to describe it in various details.
"On the four different schools of painting which concur marvellously in the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe". It would be a great monstrosity to find in nature a being composed of four different animal species; no less do I consider a painting of which, in a single canvass, four different species of painting concurred in its single surface. However, this which to a human artist would be dissonant and even tasteless, we see here divinely practiced in this virginal canvass with such grace and beauty, that no matter how much I wished to exaggerate, I could never say as much as it by itself conveys to the onlooker’s eyes. More than human was the hand…etc. The four species or ways of painting are: in oil, in tempera, in gouache and in fresco…And after explaining each with its difficulty, and total lack of precedent for a single surface to the point that before Guadalupe no one could have imagined it, he says: “to me, its so efficacious, that it persuades me of its miraculous character.”
"On the precious gold and exquisite gilding of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe". After marvelling on the strange color of the gold itself, he’s awed to find it not affixed superficially, but incorporated into the fibbers. “because I noticed that all that’s gilded is so united to the canvass, that to the touch it can be only be felt by the concavity as if it were printed; a matter for weighty consideration, as there’s no material in the canvas of the type used for gilding... “The Holy Image has its tunic gilded with some flowers of strange design. They are composed of a golden vein with the peculiarity that they follow not the pleats and undulations, but are continuous as if on a flat surface…”
Chapter V I
"Considerations on the objections against the esthetical perfection of the Image". Criticism against the beauty of the image according to the rules of painting are presented, and one by one are resolved: “The most thorough and efficacious answer to all objections presented or possible is the image itself, as I know that when attentively observed, the sharpest eyes will find no less than the complete achievement of the most perfect whole that painting ever admired.”
"On the design of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe."
- Ernesto de la Torre Villar, y Ramiro Navarro de Anda. "Testimonios Históricos Guadalupanos." Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1982
- Miguel Cabrera (1756). Maravilla Americana y conjunto de raras maravillas, observadas ... en la prodigiosa imagen de Nuestra Sra de Guadalupe de Mexico.