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Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos Everyday Miracles: Medical Imagery in Ex-Votos. "Ex-votos…are a moving record of a nation, a stethoscope measure of its heart." Anita Brenner, Idols Behind Altars, 1929. Two female relatives kneel in supplication to Our Lady of the Rosary for a girl's recovery from double pneumonia, oil on tin, 7-1/5 x 10-3/4, Mexico. Courtesy Historia Antiques.


Ex-voto Anatomy Italian Tradition Mexican Tradition Early Medical Guides Gallery of Ex-Votos

Healing and faith have always played a role in the lives of the faithful. They are interwoven in the fabric of social history. How we regard illness and healing, and how we cope with them have captured our imagination throughout the ages.

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.

From its beginnings in 15th century Italy through its spread to the New World in the 16th century, ex-votos have played a role in the daily lives of the faithful especially in Mexico. They continued to be a popular expression of faith and healing into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the most prolific period of ex-voto production. Although the ex-voto experienced a decline in the 20th century, the faithful still continue to commission artists to create them today. Most remain a personalized expression of thanks for a healing or a restoration of health, but their purpose has expanded to include the commemoration of a special event or to address a concern in an individual's life. Ex-votos continue to be a reflection of a tradition where faith and healing play a vital role in daily life.

This web site was created to accompany an exhibition at the National Library of Medicine,
September 15, 2008 – January 31, 2009

Curated by Jill L. Newmark with grateful assistance from
Mario Alberghina, Roxanne Beatty, James Caswell, Bernard Cesarone,
Rachel Ray Cleveland, Omar Echegoyén, Holly Herro, Margaret A. Hutto, Erika Mills,
Michael North, Cheri Smith, Sheng Tarn, Patricia Tuohy, and Myrna Zelaya-Quesada

Three Ex-Votos A man lies in bed with a bandaged head and a crutch on the floor beside his bed while a woman prays to the Lord of Mercy (Señor de la Misericordia) for the recovery of the man from his injuries. This ex-voto was created to thank the Lord of Mercy for the restoration of the man's health.  Man recovering from injuries, oil on tin, n.d., Courtesy The University Art Gallery, New Mexico State University. Close-up of Gina Attina while a doctor and nurse attend to her wounds at the local hospital. Courtesy Giuseppe Maimone Editore, Catania and Mario Alberghina A woman at right prays to Saint Martha for Mario Vittorio's recovery. "Mario Vittorio 19 May 1898." Oil on tin.  Courtesy Giuseppe Maimone Editore, Catania and Mario Alberghina.