Molleno

 

Molleno was a northern New Mexican santero, or carver and painter of figures of saints, who painted several altar screens in village churches, as well as hundreds of small devotional paintings of saints and holy persons. Nothing is known of Molleno’s background or even his full name. In the 1930s collectors and artifact dealers in Santa Fe knew the name “Molleno,” presumably from older Hispanicinformants, and in 1948 E.Boyd discovered a small panel painting inscribed in Spanish, translated as “St. Francis painted in the year 1845, by the sculptor Molleno.”Although this inscription calls Molleno a sculptor, no sculptural work has been found that can be attributed to him.Several altar screens in Molleno’s distinctive style give primary evidence of when and where he worked. A side-altar screen of the saint, San Francisco, in Ranchosde Taos was painted by Molleno, c. 1815–c. 1817, and the main altar screen may have been done by him as well, but it was replaced by oil paintings from Mexico before 1831. Near Ranchos de Taos, the altar screen in the small church of Nuestra Señora de San Juan de Rio Chiquito was painted by Molleno in the year 1828. Atleast two of the altar screens in El Santuario de Chimayó were also painted by Molleno, one from c. 1815–c. 1818 and the other after 1820.Some earlier work in Molleno’s style includes decorative devices and color schemes identical to those found in paintings by the Laguna Santero, and at least one of Molleno’s altar screens employs twisted Solomonic columns typical of the Laguna Santero’s work. It is likely that Molleno was an apprentice in the Laguna workshop,and began painting on his own after the Laguna Santero ceased working in New Mexico. In general, the style of the work of the two artists is actually quite different.While the folk paintings of the Laguna Santero represent a transition from the more naturalistic academic art of the day, the work of Molleno is highly spiritualized andemblematic, almost severe in its simplicity, abstraction, and degree of impersonality. His work became formulaic, particularly in his later paintings, which have a limited palette and frequently repeat the same decorative devices. Unlike some of the other artists of his day, however, Molleno did not copy academic engravings but produced a coherent body of work in his own distinctive style. Molleno does not appear to have had a workshop. Nevertheless, one important painter, the Quill-PenSantero (active c. 1830–c. 1850), appears to have worked with Molleno for a while, as a few of this artist’s retablos, or altar screens, have border decorations inMolleno’s style.