Peruvian Retablo by Mabilón Jiménez, Master Retablista - The Corn Harvest and The Maskmakers' Workshop
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Master retablo artist Mabilón Jiménez was born in the Andean city of Ayacucho, Peru, into a family with a long tradition of making retablos. During the 1980's he moved to Lima to escape the political upheaval by guerrilla forces. His workshop is on the roof of his house, where he creates wooden boxes with hinged painted doors that display scenes from everyday life. The tiny figures that populate the scenes are made of a doughy mixture of boiled potatoes, peach and agave juices and plaster powder. After they dry, they are intricately painted in gay colors with brushes made from cactus needles and the hair of cats and burros. The next to last photo shows Mabilón at work painting one of his works of art.
This is a small portable retablo, easily taken along for travel. It is an early one, signed by hand on the back by Mabilón Jiménez himself. The exterior, including the top, sides and gable above the doors, and the insides of the doors as well are all decorated with his hand-painted polychrome floral designs, trimmed in brick red. The two-tier shadow box depicts two separate scenes. The upper diorama shows a family harvesting their corn, while the lower tableau displays the interior of a maskmakers' workshop. The tallest human figure is 1 1/2 inches in height and the skulls in the shop have tiny individual teeth---imagine the time and artistry that went into this retablo.
In 2015, Mabilón Jiménez had a one-man show at the International Art Biennial in Asuncion, Paraguay. Curators commented in the catalog, "He is a master artist / craftsman whose family is dedicated to the creation of the Ayacucho altarpiece..." (The word retablo is derived from the Latin 'retro tabula,' which means behind the (altar) table, where devotional images were typically placed. The retablo has evolved in Peru to depict not only religious scenes but those of daily life also.)
This retablo is 7 3/4 inches tall, 3 3/4 inches wide (doors closed), 7 3/4 inches wide (doors open) and 2 1/4 inches deep. It's in well-used condition with chipping to the paint, but completely intact, with the tiny figures firmly in place. It is a beautiful, treasured folk art window into the contemporary life of the Andean people.