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4.2a.3 Archangel Raphael

Painting of the Archangel Raphael by an unknown Chumash artist at Mission Santa Ines. Rafael holds a fish close to his body, and holds a staff in the other hand. His wings are unfurled behind him.

circa 1820
Mission Santa Ines
Archangel Raphael. Painting. Mission Santa Ines.
This is one of only two canvas paintings that we know were painted by a Native Californian living in the missions. The Chumash artist painted this image of the Catholic Archangel San Rafael to look like a Native person. Some people who have studied the painting believe that the angel’s wings look like those of the large and powerful California condor, an important spiritual bird for many California Indian people. Other people point out that the painter may have chosen to paint San Rafael because he is typically depicted with a fish, and fish are important to the Chumash. What can this image tell us about the ways that Native peoples’ cultures influenced their lives at the missions? What does it tell us about symbols important to Native people at the missions?

The Chumash are from the greater Santa Barbara area, where California condors would have flown and fish was a major food staple. This painting may be an example of the artist’s religious syncretism, a blending of spiritual beliefs from Native traditions (represented by the condor and the large fish) and Catholic traditions (saint and angel). There are very few primary sources written directly by Native people who lived at the missions, as their  indigenous languages were not written languages and the large number of Native people who died after coming into contact with the Spanish left gaps in the oral traditions (songs and stories) for some Native communities. However, Native Californian people used art, stories, and songs to convey important messages over generations. Some Native people throughout California today continue to recite the stories and songs of their ancestors that tell of life at the missions. While this source is not a diary entry or other written source, the painting tells its own story of sorts through the eyes of a Native person who lived at Mission Santa Inés.


Ask students to identify the aspects of the painting that illustrate Native culture and tradition. Ask them to identify the areas of Spanish influence. Discuss how these two areas intersect. What does this tell us about the artist’s views as an indigenous person working within a Spanish institution?