Nora Guggenbühler – Miraculous Images Motion: Multiplication and Dissemination of the Madonna di Trapani Throughout the Spanish Empire

During the early modern era, the veneration of miraculous Marian images extended across the world. Moreover, in the age of confessionalization, copies of these images were widely circulated to enhance devotion to the Virgin Mary and her sacred sites in both the Old and the New World. One example of such a widely disseminated image is the Madonna di Trapani. According to the legend, this Madonna, revered in the Sicilian coastal town of Trapani, was sculpted in Cyprus in the eighth century. Subsequently, the marble sculpture found its way to Jerusalem, where it was venerated in a Templar church for several decades before embarking on an adventurous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea to reach Sicily. The Madonna di Trapani’s biography is thus distinguished by remarkable mobility, a trait also evident in her various copies. During the sixteenth century, a notable increase in pilgrimage to the Madonna resulted in the growth of a thriving souvenir industry within the city. Numerous workshops specialized in producing small alabaster replicas and oil paintings. Acquired by seafarers, religious, and aristocrats, these copies spread throughout the Iberian world and are now in collections of monasteries and museums in Sicily, Malta, the Italian Peninsula, Spain, and Mexico.

The primary purpose of these copies, purchased during pilgrimage, was to traverse distances and render the same image accessible in remote locations. Consequently, their connection with the miraculous statue in Trapani was not only conveyed through visual similarity but also through the inclusion of the city’s coat of arms or inscriptions. Nevertheless, certain copies underwent transformations, taking on new identities, origin narratives, and journeys. For instance, the alabaster replica housed in the Colegio de Santo Tomás de Villanueva in Zaragoza is revered under the title of Nuestra Señora del Rescate. This veneration is rooted in the belief that it was miraculously ‘rescued’ from the hands of a Muslim in Algiers by a Trinitarian monk. Under this new identity, the Madonna reached Peru and Bolivia, where several oil paintings attest to her veneration. Drawing upon the various iterations of the Madonna di Trapani, this paper explores how copies of miraculous images gained agency and conveyed power as they journeyed from their place of manufacture to distant sites. It places particular emphasis on the role of resemblance between the original and the replica in facilitating this process. By examining the diverse contexts these copies entered after departing from Sicily, this study highlights their crucial role in forming religious, political, and economic connections across the vast expanse of the Spanish Empire.

Nora Guggenbühler is a PhD student in art history at the University of Zurich. In March 2020, she was awarded a four-year research grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) for her dissertation project, titled Traveling Mary: Multiplication and Dissemination of Miraculous Images of Mary in the Hispanic World. Her research centers on the circulation of copies of miraculous images of the Virgin Mary within the Spanish Empire during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, emphasizing their crucial role in expanding and consolidating networks of Marian cult sites across the early modern Catholic world. From 2021 to 2022, Nora was a visiting scholar at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Previously, she spent two years as a Predoctoral Fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana – Max Planck Institute for Art History in Rome and three months as a resident at the Istituto Svizzero in Palermo in the fall 2020. Nora received her MA in art history and German language and literature from the University of Zurich in 2018. Her master’s thesis explored the artistic and liturgical display of early Christian body relics from Rome in the context of counter-reformation Switzerland.

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Academies Editorial Board (2024, 29. Februar). Nora Guggenbühler – Miraculous Images Motion: Multiplication and Dissemination of the Madonna di Trapani Throughout the Spanish Empire. TRANSREGIONAL ACADEMIES. Abgerufen am 15. Juni 2024, von

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