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Art, Architecture, and Religious Orders in the Latin Americas: From Quebec to Quito

From: Latin American Research Review
Volume 48, Number 3, 2013
pp. 181-192 | 10.1353/lar.2013.0033

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The past four years have witnessed a sea change in the scholarship on viceregal Iberian American art history as well as that of the other Latin America, Nouvelle-France. Although the literature on Iberian America continues to focus mainly on the traditional New Spain/Cuzco/Lima corridor, new monographs on the arts of Quito (two in 2012 alone, The Art of Painting in Colonial Quito; and Quito, ciudad de maestros) and Paraguay (Imágenes guaraní-jesuíticas, 2010), as well as superlative archival studies of the impact of non-Spanish Jesuit priests and brothers—many of them craftsmen and architects—on Nueva Granada and Chile (Jesuiten aus Zentraleuropa in Portugiesisch- und Spanisch-Amerika, volumes 2 and 3, 2011Jesuiten aus Zentraleuropa in Portugiesisch- und Spanisch-Amerika, volumes 2 and 3, 2008) are demanding that scholars no longer treat those regions as marginal to the field. Likewise, a major four-volume compendium of the painting of the Spanish Empire (Painting of the Kingdoms, 2008) has focused new attention on transatlantic themes, looking at artistic interaction within the entire Spanish Empire, including the Americas, Flanders, Portugal (under the Spanish monarchy between 1580 and 1640), and Southern Italy, although regrettably neglecting the Philippines. Similarly, colonial Québécois art history, hitherto virtually unknown outside the province and subject primarily to survey treatments, now takes its place on the hemispheric stage with a thematic, intelligent, and visually rich exhibition and companion volume from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Quebec City (Les arts en Nouvelle-France, 2012) that compels us to acknowledge the commonalities of the arts and visual culture of this region and those of its Catholic counterparts to the south.

Although wide ranging, the volumes of Painting of the Kingdoms—published in advance of a blockbuster exhibition at the Prado and Palacio Nacional in Madrid (2010–2011)—fall short of being encyclopaedic, since the project limits itself primarily to pre–Bourbon era painting and concentrates on Europe, Mexico, and Peru despite brief forays into Brazil, Quito, and Nueva Granada. Its main theme, that the Spanish Crown and the Catholic Church were “agents of unity” (25) in the Americas, risks turning into a celebration of European sovereignty, but enough of the chapters focus on regional variations that it avoids falling into that trap. Each volume takes a different theme, with some overlap. The first, One King, Many Kingdoms: New Perspectives, considers global interaction and the notion of a new artistic language arising from contact between dialects. The second, The Kingdoms and Painting, features surveys of painting in Spain, Italy, New Spain, Peru, and Luso-Brazil (mostly Portugal) and is useful in illuminating the diversity within these regions. The third volume, Transmission and Transformation in the Spanish Realms, looks primarily at the print medium as a disseminator of styles, with one chapter devoted exclusively to Rubens. The fourth is a catchall called Matters of Faith: Portraiture, which includes fascinating articles on the uses of Catholic iconography and a series of chapters on royal and aristocratic portraits, which although primarily European (Spain and Italy dominate) are now essential reference works on the subject. The volumes are lavishly illustrated in color, but many of the photographs have been spoiled by being digitally cleaned up, removing essential details like brushwork, line, and surface texture.

The authors include some of the leading scholars in the field, including Clara Bargellini, Teresa Gisbert, Ramón Mujica Pinilla, Alexandra Kennedy Troya, Jonathan Brown, Luís de Moura Sobral, and Rogelio Ruiz Gomar, not to mention Juana Gutiérrez Haces—she conceived the show in 2001 but did not live to see its completion—and within the limitations just noted the books represent the state of the field. Nevertheless, they are primarily concerned with Europeans and Creoles as actors on the artistic stage and do not give aboriginal contributions the attention they have received in the wider scholarship. This neglect can be attributed in part to their academic definition of painting as works on canvas, panel, or wall, thus leaving out indigenous formats such as the early postconquest codices of New Spain. But it does not explain the short shrift given to Amerindian iconography in canvas painting, notably the painting of...

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