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  • Of Signatures and Status:Andrés Sánchez Gallque and Contemporary Painters in Early Colonial Quito
  • Susan V. Webster (bio)

The 1599 portrait Don Francisco de Arobe and His Sons, Pedro and Domingo by Andean artist Andrés Sánchez Gallque (Figure 1) is one of the most frequently cited and reproduced paintings in the modern literature on colonial South America. The painting has been extensively praised, parsed, and interpreted by twentieth- and twenty-first-century authors, and heralded as the first signed South American portrait.1 “Remarkable” is the adjective most frequently employed to describe this work: modern authors express surprise and delight not only with the persuasive illusionistic power of the painting, the mesmerizing appearance of its subjects, and the artist’s impressive mastery of the genre, but with the fact that the artist chose to sign and date his work, including a specific reference to his Andean identity.2 Indeed, the artist’s signature and accompanying inscription appear to [End Page 603] play as great a role in the modern fascination with the image as does the visual magnetism of the portrait itself.

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Figure 1.

Andrés Sánchez Gallque, Don Francisco de Arobe and His Sons, Pedro and Domingo, 1599

Source: Museo de América, Madrid, signed and dated 1599, oil on canvas, 92 × 175 cm. Photo: Museo de América.

The canvas is inscribed with the abbreviation “ADR SHS GALQ nl. de qto f,” representing in its extended version “Andrés Sánchez Gallque, native of Quito, made this.”3 The inscription combines modified Roman square capitals, known as Latin book hand, and Latin cursive lettering (Figure 2).

The 1599 date appears above the signature in a cartouche, following a textual dedication to King Philip III, in which Juan del Barrio y Sepúlveda, a Spanish judge of the Audiencia of Quito, avows that he commissioned the painting at his own expense. Further enhancing the documentary quality of the painting, [End Page 604] the names and ages of the subjects are inscribed in Roman square capitals above the head of each figure. Other attractions include the secular subject matter of the image—an arresting group portrait created at a time when most paintings were religious in theme—and the extraordinarily dignified, commanding presence of the mulatto (Afro-indigenous) subjects clad in a striking combination of indigenous and European dress with adornments of local, Mexican, and Chinese silks, damasks, taffetas, and gold.4 Text and image, identities and ancestries, and local and global economies appear to merge seam-lessly in the portrait. On the strength of this work alone, Andrés Sánchez Gallque has in the modern literature come to represent the genesis of colonial Andean painting.

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Figure 2.

Detail of signature, Don Francisco de Arobe and His Sons, Pedro and Domingo, 1599

Source: Museo de América.

Rightly, much has been made of this group portrait. Its visually compelling subjects, the expression of powerful Afro-indigenous alliances, its implications for the emergence of Andean artists as active agents in colonial South American [End Page 605] history, and the rich historical context of its production have inspired extensive scholarly analysis. The painting has been particularly attractive to modern scholars, owing to the abundantly documented historical circumstances surrounding its creation. The portrait was commissioned by Juan del Barrio y Sepúlveda, whose diplomatic and military efforts led to the (temporarily) successful “pacification” of the indigenous and Afro-indigenous peoples of Esmeraldas (a region on the north coast of present-day Ecuador). Intended for the king of Spain, the painting served as a visual complement to an extensive textual report documenting the success of the Spanish campaign in Esmeraldas.5 In this context, it might appear that Sánchez Gallque’s signature inscription on the painting was designed to play directly into the political aims of his patron, standing as an additional exemplar of the “pacification” of non-Europeans in the Audiencia of Quito and their ability to adopt “good customs.”

Given the amply documented circumstances under which the painting was created, surprisingly little is known about its author. Andrés Sánchez...


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