Diego Rivera’s Cryptic Artistic Tribute to Mexican Crypto-Jews https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/arts-culture/2022/12/diego-riveras-cryptic-artistic-tribute-to-mexican-crypto-jews/

December 12, 2022 | FirstOneThrough
About the author:

Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists, and twice the husband of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera once remarked, “Jewishness is the dominant element of my life.” Although not Jewish himself, he was proud of his descent from Spanish Jews who converted to Catholicism rather than face expulsion. Many such conversos or “New Christians” came to the New World hoping to get away from the prying eyes of the Inquisition, or to escape the stigma attached to their ancestry. Among them was Luis de Carvajal the Elder (1539-1591), who was appointed royal governor of Mexico in 1579, and came there with his family—at least some of whom adhered to Judaism in secret. In his 51-foot-long mural Dreams of a Sunday in the Alameda (1946-7), which depicts the history of Mexico City, Rivera pays tribute to the Carvajals. The blog FirstOneThrough explains what became of them, and their significance for Rivera:

In 1589, the viceroy of New Spain arrested Luis the Elder for a commercial matter, and in the investigation, it came out that Luis knew of, but did not report on, his family’s secret Jewish faith. He was thereby transferred from the royal prison to the prisons of the Inquisition.

The whole family became implicated, including Luis the Younger (1566-1596), his sister Isabel, and mother Francesca. At the auto-da-fé on February 25, 1590, inquisitors sentenced the entire family to various penances and wearing of sambenito, penitential garb. Not long after, Luis the Younger, his mother, and sisters resumed their forbidden practices in hiding. They were caught again after a friend gave them up in February 1595. This time, they did not get off. Francisca, Isabel, Leonor, Catalina, and Luis the Younger were all burned at the stake at the auto-da-fé of December 8, 1596, as relapsos, or recidivist Judaizing heretics. This history was detailed in the diary of Luis the Younger, an important document in the history of Mexico.

Rivera chose to mark this slaughter of the Carvajal family as the beginning of the history of Mexico City. Four members of the Carvajal family can be seen in the background with pointy hats tied to the stake with flames around them. The mother, Francesca, with head shaven, is before them being lashed by one inquisitor while a member of the church sticks a cross in her face.

While the history of Mexico City did not start in 1596, [Rivera’s] personal history of the city began then due to his connection to conversos in the past. His tenth birthday was likely marked with the 300-year commemoration of the burning of the famous Jews at the stake.

Read more on FirstOneThrough: https://firstonethrough.wordpress.com/2022/12/08/when-our-history-begins/