Buffalo Hide Painting of Saint Anthony of Padua

The man in this painting, holding an apparition of the baby Jesus, appears to be a saint. Known as Saint Anthony of Padua, the "Hammer of Heretics," he was celebrated for his many miracles and his ability to communicate with rich and poor alike. Missionary priests who proselytized among Indians in what is now New Mexico frequently instructed local craftsman to render his likeness. It had taken decades for Pueblo tribes to accept Christianity. The mission where this painting was created was miles from the Gulf of Mexico, where imported canvases would have been prohibitively expensive and in short supply. Missionary priests worked out a compromise with their Indian laborers, increasingly relying on their skill in rendering animal skins into a workable substitute for scarce European canvases.
This particular image is credited to a mystery artist known as "Franciscan B" for his recognizable style, rendered in vegetal paints on buffalo hide. According to Mrs. E. Boyd, former curator of the Museum of New Mexico, who examined this piece for possible transfer to the National Museum of History and Technology (now American History): "By the time the Franciscan missionaries were being withdrawn from New Mexico and replaced by Mexican secular clergy, the visiting bishops from Durango, Mexico, the seat of the diocese, repeatedly ordered the removal of sacred images painted on animal skins as not suitable." Following passage of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which transferred New Mexico to the United States, canvas was more readily available and buffalo herds were dwindling. By the close of 19th century, the buffalo was becoming the unofficial emblem of the United States, as prominent as the eagle in American symbolic imagery.
Description (Spanish)
Esta pintura que representa a San Antonio se hallaba colgada arriba del altar de la iglesia misionera de Tesuque, Nuevo México. Las misiones católicas estaban integradas por una capilla, residencias, salas de trabajo y campos adyacentes de siembra y ganado. Se trataba de la principal institución de la que se servían los españoles en el esfuerzo por controlar el gobierno, el comercio y los recursos entre las comunidades indígenas de los territorios del norte, administrados desde la ciudad de México. El presidio, una guarnición militar de soldados, que también albergaba ocasionalmente a sus familias, proveía seguridad a las misiones, especialmente en California, y resguardaba los territorios españoles de las incursiones de sus rivales, como Gran Bretaña, Rusia y Estados Unidos. Si bien el centro de México ya estaba satisfactoriamente colonizado hacia fines del 1500, muchas comunidades indígenas del norte se resistían ferozmente y demoraban su sometimiento al control español. Como reflejo de la lentitud del proceso de colonización en el norte por parte de españoles y colonos mexicanos, el sistema de misiones se prolongó a lo largo de dos siglos con escasos resultados, primero en Nuevo México y más tarde en California.
Currently not on view
Date made
associated date
1700 - 1750
Tesuque Mission Church
Tesuque Mission Church
Franciscan B
Place Made
United States: New Mexico, Tesuque
Physical Description
skin, hide, buffalo (overall material)
paints, vegetal (overall material)
painted (overall production method/technique)
tanned (overall production method/technique)
overall: 52 cm x 39.5 cm x .5 cm; 20 1/2 in x 15 9/16 in x 3/16 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. J. Walter Fewkes
Roman Catholicism
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Religion
Cultures & Communities
Mexican America
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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