Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS)


Dr Vanessa Portugal

Vanessa A. Portugal received her PhD in History of Art from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Her research focuses on art theory, and on uses of the astrological image in the Early Modern period, particularly in colonial Latin America. Her research discusses the agency of the astrological images and objects, and their place in scientific, political and religious discourses. She is interested in visual epistemologies, phenomenological studies of the image, humanist learning and the global circulation of artefacts and ideas in the Early Modern world.

Vanessa has published on image theory and visual culture of the early Americas, and on astrology in tarot card games and in Hispanic baroque festivities. Her book Astrological images in New Spain (‘Imágenes astrológicas en la Nueva España’) examines the use of varied astrological images in religion, alchemy, medicine, magic and art in colonial Mexico.

Vanessa is research associate in the project ‘Aby Warburg and the pre-Columbian studies’ at UNAM; and participant in the Getty Connecting Art Histories project ‘Spanish Italy and the Iberian Americas.’

Description of project
Astronomical images in sacred spaces

At the Institute of Advanced Studies, Vanessa will examine the astronomical programme depicted in the 17th century sacristy of Saint Augustine in Morelia, Mexico: a zodiac and varied celestial images at the centre of its vault.

Considering together the architectural space and the astronomical iconography within, she will discuss the role that the astronomical images had in the visual strategy employed to create a religious phenomenological experience that was activated at contemplating the celestial images along the sacred space. This research will explore possible communications with similar examples in Italy and Spain, and aims to shed light on the epistemological and political mechanisms that allowed this Mexican interpretation and use of celestial imagery during the evangelisation process, where energetic debates on millenarianism took place.