Spectacular in terms of its rarity and its fresh colours, this multicoloured work in a feather mosaic from the newly conquered Mexico was pre-empted by the Musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac.
In February 2018, the oldest painting in Latin American Christian art known to date, evoking the Mass of St Gregory and executed entirely in feathers, was loaned by the Musée des Jacobins in Auch to the New York Metropolitan Museum. It was created in Mexico by Aztecs in 1539 for the Franciscan monk missionaries working in the country. One year after the Musée du quai Branly's exhibition “Feathers. Visions of Pre-Columbian America” (2016-2017), the Met thus devoted a show in turn to this evidence of the early evangelisation of the Americas, in the form of mixed works combining pre-Columbian techniques with Catholic subjects. Until this sale, six of the forty-odd works now scattered all over the world were in French museums, including three in Auch – such as the Holy Family and Holy Trinity bought for €272,000 with Rouillac in 2013. By pre-empting the one here for €283,630, the Musée du quai Branly has garnered a fine "featherweight" trophy! Of all the riches brought back from Mexico, featherwork pieces were among those most esteemed in Europe, admired by Isabella the Catholic, Charles V and Pope Sixtus V – who apparently rose from his throne to touch one being presented to him to see if it was truly made of this material. The art of featherwork was already considered one of the most refined in Mexico, even before the Aztecs settled there. Now in the Laurentian Library, the Florentine Codex compiled by the Franciscan friar Bernardino of Sahagún (1499-1590) contains several drawings depicting bird hunts, the preparation of pigments and feather-dyeing in a workshop in Amantecas. A way of making this art of yesteryear come even more alive.