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The Work of Art: Imagery in the Alta California Missions

My presentation will focus on the functions of art and images in the Franciscan missions of Alta California. My talk will explore the phenomenon of images as “muta predicatio” or “silent preaching.” It will deal with the concept of imagery transcending the barriers of language and literacy by illustrating or substituting for the spoken or written word. It will explore, also, the concept of imagery as mnemonic device; as a marker of recollection to the viewer, helping him to quickly recall what he had read or heard. My talk will emphasize how particular images were employed in the instruction of indigenous mission congregations. It will examine how these images were used to explicate the basic tenets of Christianity as well as western European cultural norms. Using images of actual works that are recorded to have been in the Alta California missions, I will demonstrate how imagery was an indispensible component of mission life and, moreover, that it served important evangelical, mnemonic and illustrative roles. My oral presentation will be accompanied by a PowerPoint assemblage of such images that were employed in the missions of Alta California.

Pamela J. Huckins, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University