Ex Voto
August 12, 2009 3:42 PM   Subscribe

Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos "The expression of our relationship with illness is wonderfully illustrated in the ex-voto, a devotional painting giving thanks to a saint or deity for a miraculous healing or a blessing. The faithful have always used prayer to invoke the aid of saints as a means to heal the sick and end one's suffering. These devotional paintings are an individual's expression of thanks for the intercession of the divine in a crisis, a snapshot in time of illness and healing. They offer a rare opportunity to view health, healing, and illness through the hearts and minds of the ordinary person." Anatomy::Italian Tradition::Mexican Tradition::Early Medical Guides::Gallery (click for larger) More Mexican antique ex-votos HERE [ some favorites]
posted by vronsky (7 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
While I love the tin - and the tin frame on the tin image - I like the disembodied body part as an offering, myself. I know I've seen milagros that are individual body parts, usually tin or some other metal.

Some of them are symbolic instead of literal, but the individual body part as votive has a long history which I learned of when I was in college. One of my professors wrote some on Etruscan votive body parts like these. Really weird when they're disembodied. (For earlier examples, check out this Sumerian foot.)
posted by cobaltnine at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2009

These are beautiful and haunting. I grew up in a household that practiced a very, very nontraditional religion ("cult" works, too) whose own view of illnesses was radically different than what I would later learn was the American norm. So looking at these is doubly fascinating for me.

Most amazing to me are some of the more modern ex-votos -- the Mexican one with the tanks of oxygen and IV, for example -- for the amazing juxtaposition of the artistic style and the subject it represents. Take out the modern technology and the picture could just as easily be from 1809.

Great post.
posted by MoreForMad at 5:21 PM on August 12, 2009

What a fascinating site. Thanks, vronsky; posts like this are what keeps me here. The caption when you click the last pic on this page is just heartbreaking.
posted by mediareport at 7:12 PM on August 12, 2009

Love those etruscan body parts cobaltnine :)

"the Mexican one with the tanks of oxygen and IV, for example" -- one of my faves as well moreformad. I'm using it as my desktop. It has a Kahloesque quality to it.

I have a few amazing ex votos on my wall (I'm looking at them now). I got them when I was living in NYC circa '87. There was a shop in soho on mercer street -- across from what is now the Mercer Hotel -- a few blocks down from my apartment, that specialized in Mexican antiques. I became friends with the owner on my frequent visits, and he was kind enough to set aside pieces I was interested in until they were on sale so I could afford them. Wonderful guy... I wonder if that shop is still in business?
posted by vronsky at 9:07 PM on August 12, 2009

The body parts as ex-votos are common where I come from (Portugal). Also, each saint has its specialty - depending on which body part is being afflicted, you pray to a different saint and make an offer of a wax version of it. There's a little chapel up north whose altar is constantly covered in breasts made of wax. It's freakish.

There's a good academic brazilian blog that's documenting ex-votos over there. Like... wax penises.

Thanks, great post.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:34 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Found a picture of the chapel.
posted by lucia__is__dada at 2:46 AM on August 13, 2009

Fascinating, and as beautiful as they are tragic.

Equally interesting (and perhaps more humorous) is the medical advice of Pliny the Elder, the great Roman observer. To cure epilepsy, he advised the consumption of camel brains if one does not have lion fat handy; for a headache, starve a rooster for several days, pluck its neck feathers, and apply those to one's head.
posted by nicodine at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2009

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