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Home > Galleries > Gallery 8: The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco

Gallery 8:
The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco

Title pages of the five collections of anchorites published in Paris by Thomas de Leu in 1606.


An anchorite or eremite is an individual who chooses to withdraw from society in order to lead a life focused on prayer, penance, and religious study. In the West, anchoritic life was common during the Early and High Middle Ages, and was the forerunner of Christian monastic life (although only in 1983 did Pope John Paul II lay down the norms for anchoritic or eremitic life to count as a form of consecrated Catholic life on a par with the lives led by monks and nuns of religious orders).

Images of anchorites abound in Christian art, including the variants that took root in the farflung territories of the Spanish Empire. A little known depiction of anchorites (and anchoresses, their female counterparts) is provided by the eighteen paintings that were once displayed at the Claustro del Noviciado, Convento de la Recoleta, Cuzco, Peru. Unfortunately, seismic damage to the walls of this cloister forced the removal of these paintings from public view (and their relocation to undisclosed grounds, where they remain safe and secure). This group of paintings constitute what we will call the series of The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco.

As far as we can tell, the series on The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco was photographed professionally for the first time in 2009 by a PESSCA team headed by Daniel Giannoni and supported by the Catholic University of Peru (PUCP). The pictures resulting from this joint effort appear in this website for the first time (together with our heartfelt thanks to both Daniel and to the PUCP).

Notice of the existence of these paintings was served in Estabridis (1989), where the paintings in question were placed in indirect correspondence with a set of engravings published by Johan Sadeler I, Raphael Sadeler I, Adriaen Collaert, Jan Collaert, and Cornelis Galle I in Antwerp and in Venice at the end of the 16th century. Beyond this, Estabridis argued that The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco could be placed in direct correspondence with a copy of these engravings produced in Paris at the beginning of the 17th century—perhaps even the copy published by Jean Leclerc IV, an impression of which he discovered in the Peruvian National Library (Biblioteca Nacional del Perú 135176).

The pioneering work of Estabridis led us to three series of Parisian copies of the Sadeler-Collaert-Galle engravings—i.e. those published by Thomas de Leu, Jean Leclerc IV, and Jacques Honervogt I. A close analysis of these series reveals that the first of them (see illustration above) should be chosen over the other two as the source of The Blessed Anchorites of Cuzco. This is why we have placed most of these paintings in correspondence with the de Leu engravings (see below). But this conclusion should not be considered definitive until all the engravings based on the Sadeler-Collaert-Galle anchorites have been studied—not an easy task given the extreme rarity of some of these engravings.

Be that as it may, we should point out that there are three paintings of the series whose sources still elude us. They are the depictions of John the Baptist, Mary Magdalen, and Mary the Egyptian. We present these paintings below in the hopes that some future visitor to this gallery will be able to identify the engravings that served as their models—and will be willing to share their discovery with the rest of us.