José Rafael Aragón


(c. 1796–1862)
was one of the most prolific and popular of the
(carvers and painters of figures of saints) of northern New Mexico in the first half of the nineteenth century.Aragón’s place and date of birth are not known, but by 1815 he was living in Santa Fe, where he was associated with some of the leading families of New Mexico aswell as with other artisans, including woodworkers and a sculptor, Anastacio Casados, who may have been his teacher. There is no known family connection betweenJosé Rafael and the santero.
José Aragón, although they share characteristics in their painting styles. José Rafael Aragón was a property owner and a literate man whooccasionally signed his work. After the death of his first wife in 1832, he remarried and moved to the village of Pueblo Quemado (now Córdova), where he made hisliving as a santero and a farmer until his death in 1862.After his move, Aragón became the leading santero of the region. Nearly every church north of Santa Fe had (and some still have) an altar screen painted by him.Among them are major works at Santa Cruz de la Canada, Chimayó, Pojoaque, Córdova, El Valle, Picurís Pueblo, Talpa, and Llano Quemado. He alsopainted numerous smaller retablos for individuals, and as a sculptor made bultos (figures in polychrome cottonwood). As a young man in Santa Fe, Aragón wasexposed to Baroque and Neoclassic work imported from Mexico, and his painting style is a compelling synthesis of spiritual and humanistic tendencies, in which theinnocence and saintliness of his subjects are dominant. His sculptural style incorporates a restrained Baroque expressiveness with fundamentally static frontal stances.The paintings of Aragón developed from small, carefully painted pieces in the 1820s to bolder imagery in the 1830s, as his style became progressively looser andmore self-assured. Each period of his work is documented by signed and/or dated pieces. The sculptural work assigned to him is documented by archival evidence, aswell as by the presence of painted faces and decorations in his style on the surface of some bultos.
It is likely that Aragón had a small workshop with apprentices andother artists working with him. A number of retablos appear to have been painted by an apprentice. They are rendered more childlike than is his style, and they have been dated from the 1850s and 1860s by tree-ring dating and other physical evidence. The most likely apprentice was his son Miguel Aragón, who was stillremembered as a santero in Córdova in the 1930s. Another santero who certainly worked with José Rafael Aragón was the Santo Niño santero.
See also
José Aragón; Bultos; Religious Folk Art;

Retablos; Santeros; Santo Niño Santero; Sculpture, Folk
Boyd, E.
Popular Arts of Spanish New Mexico.
Santa Fe, N.Mex.: 1974.Wroth, William.
Christian Images in Hispanic New Mexico: The Taylor Museum Collection of Santos.
Colorado Springs, Colo., 1982.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Talpa.
Colorado Springs, Colo., 1979