Santana's 'Abraxas:' The Sexy Album Cover That Was A Religious Experience

By | April 6, 2019

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A detail of 'Annunciation' (see the full version below); Carlos Santana circa 1970. Source: Pinterest; BMI/Michael Ochs Archives/GettyImages

What comes to mind when you think of Santana’s Abraxas album -- the cover or the music? The 1970 release contains the classic-rock mainstays "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va," and is considered one of the greatest albums of the era. At the time of its release, Abraxas was hailed as a rock-fusion masterpiece that blended the sounds of Latin America with blues and jazz. And there was no missing that Abraxas cover art -- trippy, risque, and completely suited to the eclectic music, it was a major head trip for shoppers perusing the latest releases at the local record store, assuming it was on display in full.

The art, which shows a naked, black Virgin Mary speaking with an angel riding a conga, among numerous other psychedelic visuals, was controversial from the start. Was it art? Was it pornography? In spite of the squabbling over the album art at the time, it’s now considered one of the most majestic album covers of the 20th century. 

Santana Saw The Original Painting In A Magazine And Felt Connected To It

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Mati Klarwein's 'Annunciation,' 1961. Source: pinterest

The album art for Abraxas wasn’t specifically designed for Santana’s music. The art began its life as a painting in 1961, nine years before the album was released. The original painting is titled “Annunciation,” and it was painted by the psychedelic surrealist Mati Klarwein, a German-French artist who created the piece shortly after immigrating to New York City from Europe.

Around the time that Santana and his group were recording Abraxas he saw the painting in a magazine and he felt that the image conveyed exactly what his group was doing on their album. Santana said:

I'd just discovered that music and color are food for the soul. When we looked at the painting, we said, 'Man, this is a great feast! Who did this?'