Spanish for "altar piece", retablos are a tradition in folk art where religious scenes or images are painted on inexpensive material (for example, wood, or thin tin and iron sheets), or crafted into small ornamental wooden boxes placed about the home or church. The practice is of European origin, and was transplanted to the western hemisphere by the Spanish conquistadores. These icons are meant as a form of religious devotion, or, as a remnant of pre-conquest traditions, as good luck symbols.

Several themes are common in retablo art, with the crucifixion of Christ, The Virgin Mary and Child, and Virgin of Guadalupe being particularly common, along with a host of saints and apparitions. They may also express gratitude for being cured of illness or worry by religious devotion.

Retablo boxes are found throughout Central and South America and are often very finely crafted, with doors opening onto a richly detailed scene. The paintings on tin are indigenous to Mexico, where the raw tin sheets were common and inexpensive. The practice of hand-crafting retablo paintings faded at the end of the nineteenth century when the inexpensive mass production of pictures and engravings became possible.

A collection of Mexican retablo paintings can be found at, from which some information for this writeup was taken. The New Mexico State University art museum has an extensive collection of them as well if you happen to be in the Las Cruces area.