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Reviewed by:
  • Jerónimo Antonio Gil and the Idea of the Spanish Enlightenment by Kelly Donahue-Wallace
  • Luis J. Gordo-Peláez
Kelly Donahue-Wallace. Jerónimo Antonio Gil and the Idea of the Spanish Enlightenment. u of new mexico p, 2017. 382 pp.

the seven chapters of kelly donahue-wallace's profusely illustrated and thoroughly documented study present the most comprehensive and up-to-date biography of Jerónimo Antonio Gil, a key figure in the artistic and cultural milieu of the Hispanic Enlightenment. Through a chronological account integrating art historical analysis and documentary evidence, the book guides us through Gil's transatlantic life and career, from his initial introduction into Madrid's artistic scene to his fortunes and misfortunes in the viceregal capital of New Spain. As Donahue-Wallace acknowledges, for decades Gil has remained a controversial figure in the art history of eighteenth-century Spain and Mexico. His significant role in the 1783 foundation and early operations of Mexico City's Real Academia de las Tres Nobles Artes de San Carlos (hereafter, the San Carlos Academy), the first institution of its category in the Americas, has often cast a shadow over (if not completely obscured) his pre-academy endeavors and experiences. Likewise, Gil's public responsibilities upon his arrival in New Spain and later professional quarrels have prevented scholars from delving into other less explored aspects of his character, intellectual interests, and social aspirations. Donahue-Wallace's book attempts to shed light on these unexplored or scarcely addressed features of Gil's personality and professional pursuits within the broader context of the transatlantic Spanish Enlightenment and the multifaceted reforms implemented by the Bourbon dynasty. From her meticulous study of new archival material and the rereading of previously published sources, Donahue-Wallace also argues that, contrary to that irascible and dictatorial character pictured by his contemporary detractors and some earlier historiography, Gil was a diligent, pragmatic, cultivated, and, overall, committed servant to the Spanish reformist agenda.

The first three chapters investigate Gil's formative period and the European part of his professional career, from his arrival in Madrid around 1749, at age eighteen, until his departure to America in 1778. For almost three decades Gil would work to perfect his artistic skills and to build a competitive curriculum [End Page 255] in hopes that he would eventually land a salaried and reliable royal position. It was not a simple ambition for the son of a modest provincial family of northwestern Spain, but Gil was in the appropriate place and time to pursue it. The Bourbon monarchs, with the indispensable involvement of the Spanish social and intellectual elite, were determined to modernize the country, and the arts were to play a key role in their plan. Madrid's Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where Gil studied, provided the pedagogy, credentials, and connections that proved influential to advance his career. Donahue-Wallace proposes that Gil also benefited from other less gracious academic lessons. Of particularly decisive impact on his later approach to artistic instruction and leadership in the Mexican academy were his bumpy relationship with the San Fernando academy's directors overall and with the engraving faculty member Tomás Francisco Prieto in particular. Indeed, Donahue-Wallace dedicates a critical segment of analysis to the relationship with Prieto.

During his early education, it became apparent that Gil found his place within the field of reproductive engraving, a discipline that, despite academic prejudices regarding the hierarchy of the visual arts, would prove essential to advance the Bourbon reformers' agenda of economic progress and cultural dissemination. As Donahue-Wallace has amply demonstrated, coin and medal production, copperplate engraving, and typography would take center stage in the monarchy's efforts to overcome the country's foreign dependency and to instill and publicize a sense of national identity. Gil would contribute significantly to the development of all these areas by designing commemorative medals and coins; illustrating historical, scientific, and religious books; portraying prominent figures; and reproducing a variety of artifacts and monuments, from ancient ruins to early modern architecture and from Roman coins to Arabic inscriptions. Donahue-Wallace contends that through these state-sponsored and private endeavors, Gil manifested not only...