In the late 1600s, according to tradition, the Blessed Mother appeared to three fishermen, all named Juan, who were lost in a stormy sea in the Bay of Nipe, near Santiago de Cuba.
“Los tres Juanes,” one an Indian, another one of black skin, and the third one a white man, saw a small wooden image floating on the water, with the words: "I am the Virgin of Charity" carved the bottom area below the figure. As soon as they picked up the image, the storm ceased and they were able to make it to shore in safety.
My images of the Virgin of Charity, or La Caridad, take many shapes and colors, depending on my inspiration. They are devotional icons.
La Caridad, the Virgin of Charity
José F. Grave de Peralta
La Caridad de los Hermanos al Rescate.
On February 24, 1996, a rescue plane of the Brothers to the Rescue organization based in Florida, USA, whose mission was solely to rescue Cubans out at sea in the Florida Straits, as they headed to freedom on rustic rafts and small crafts barely fit for such a crossing, was shot down by pilots from Communist Cuba who invaded international airspace to commit this crime -- claiming that Los Hermanos' plane was in the island's territory. This work was painted by me as an ex-voto to commemorate the valiant lives and sacrifice of the pilots who died: Carlos Costa, Pablo Morales, Mario de la Peña, and Armando Alejandre, Jr.
At the very beginning of 1996, living and working in my studio on Shipping Avenue in Coconut Grove, MIAMI, Florida, I turned wholeheartedly to drawing and painting ex-voto images of Our Lady de la Caridad. This important period of my artistic biography was blessed with my meeting Omar Bosque-Bushbeck, from Venezuela, who had come to Miami to work and whose knowledge of art marketing and taste for fine things influenced my decision to paint on a moderately major scale La Caridad. The pastel (19" x 25") on the right, shows how many of these images were to be enhanced by frames and other border elements-- an artistic element that had fascinated me for a long time previously in literature and narrative. The partnership with Omar in my artwork will be forever a seal of success and joy.
When Pope Francisco Bergoglio ascended St. Peter's throne as Pontiff in 2013, I painted this small, 5" x 7" gouache watercolor to present to him as a gift and token sign of celebration from a Cuban-American artist and exile. It was my hope that he would nudge the Cuban regime of the Castro family to move aside and allow freedom to return to the Island.
La Virgen de la Tormenta. This 20"-diameter oil on canvas medallion was painted in 2000 in Miami, and it shows not only my interest in the illusion of frames within frames, but in the figures of the Three Fishermen -- Juan Indio, Juan Esclavo, and Juan Diego -- the motion and intense emotion of praying to "Cachita" for help during the storm.
La Caridad del Cobre calms the storm. This 19" x 25" pastel painting was part of my first one-man-show exhibit in Italy in December 2008, held in Cetona and made possible by Alessandra Garboli, a lady who opened the "art" doors of Italy to me then, and whose brief story I relate in the PORTRAITS section of this web site.
La Caridad del Cobre de la Noche Oscura. This large oil on wood panel of Our Lady measures 3' x 5', and it was one of two that I painted shortly after that of The Brothers to the Rescue at the top of the page, where there are no fishermen in the boat. Interestingly, in this representation, the frame-within-the-frame format is stark and ominous, and despite its emphasis on almost abstract painting, retains the figure of the Mother with the Child in the warm comfort of the Mantle.
La Caridad del Cobre en forma de retablo. This 24" x 36" oil on canvas image of Our Lady was the very first large, elaborate representation of her that I ever painted. It dates back to 1978/79, when I lived in Mexico City with my dear sister Patricia and her family. During that sojourn I began to sketch "in plein air" in that great city, and I visited the Benedictine Monastery of Tepeyac, as I considered a possible vocation in that monastic order.
Nuestra Patrona de Cuba: LA CARIDAD
In June 2020, as the world struggled with the Corona Virus, I turned to the round medallion format for my votive images of La Caridad and posted a series of these icons, painted in watercolor, in my Facebook account. Author and historian Teresita Fernandez Soneira, not missing a beat, expressed her excitement at seeing my new collection, and asked to purchase one of these images, which I directly shipped to her in an antique frame, and mounted on a handpainted copper roundel with flowers, which came inside the miniature frame.
Teresita Fernandez-Soneira is the author of Mujeres de la Patria, contribución de la mujer a la independencia de Cuba – Guerras de Independencia (1868-1902, two volumes), a very readable and profoundly enlightening account of the role played by courageous Cuban women in the wars of independence in the 19th century. The same author is currently proceeding to extend this narrative into the Cuban women in Exile of the XIX century, as well as the women in the Republic of the XX century.