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Volume 50 / Humanities


Colonial: General, Middle America, and the Caribbean

JOHN F. SCOTT, Professor of Art, University of Florida

MATERIAL RECEIVED FOR REVIEW in this volume of HLAS has focused primarily on the presentation of new documentary evidence about art and artists, often to the exclusion of interpretative analysis. While the quick publication of such documents is to be commended, their authors often do not pursue obvious linkages with the real works of art to which they refer - for example, Ramírez Montes fails to look for the Ibarra paintings in Puebla Cathedral (item bi 89001868). On the other hand, Martha Fernández (item bi 89001860) provides the best balance between historical documentation and visual evidence, relating facts derived from documents to actual works of art.

Basic physical facts about colonial monuments which visual documentation provides take on special significance when the works are in danger of being altered or demolished. Several studies have been included in this section of HLAS precisely because of their visual documentary value, even though the quality of their texts leaves much to be desired (e.g., items bi 89001865, bi 89001851, and bi 89001870). However, to merely publish architectual drawings and photographs, as García Moll and Juárez Cossio have done in a very expensive folio (item bi 89001864), seems a wasted opportunity. If the primary authors are not qualified to discuss the architectural and documentary history, then someone who is should be brought in as a consultant.

The study of Latin American art has been afflicted over the years by the assumption by regional amateurs that they can publish information without consulting trained specialists. This is especially true when wealthy individuals set up their own foundations to support research and publish their own writings. In these cases there is no peer review to screen manuscripts. Printers sometimes act as copy editors, resulting in erratic quality of texts. Although we can understand that this is often due to low budgets of publishers, we hope to see more uniformly professional standards.

Another aspect of this amateurism is the common practice by self-trained connoisseurs of attributing art by century only, with no stated criteria for such attributions. The worst offenders in this regard are South American art historians, but the practice exists in provincial studies of Mexico, as exemplified by items bi 89001881 and bi 89001869.

It is only recently that a cadre of trained art historical scholars has come into existence in some Latin American countries: Mexico of course is the shining example, although Guatemala certainly has a few. Lamentably the other Central American nations are not represented by any studies in this volume, a fact that may be attributed to the political turmoil and scarce resources diverted to other more pressing needs of each republic. Still one would expect some contributions from Costa Rica and Puerto Rico, given their high level of educational development. The Dominican Republic certainly has published works which the Library of Congress has apparently not yet received, a gap this Contributing Editor will attempt to fill.

Among positive developments, we should note the appearance of new writers whose work promises better comprehension, a broader perspective, and greater integration in the study of colonial art. José Guadalupe Victoria Vicencio stands out among the group under consideration here; significantly, he was educated abroad. His 1982 French thesis, which we hope will be published, is titled Les problèmes de la peinture en Nouvelle-Espagne entre la Renaissance et le Baroque, 1525-1625; in press is his book, Arte y arquitectura de la Sierra Alta: siglo XVI. Ramón Gutiérrez, an Argentine architect, has written an important synthetic study of colonial architecture throughout Latin America (item bi 89001847). The only other such synthezing work, by another Argentine, Ana María Telesca, is briefer and more derivative (item bi 89001849). Although not a professionally trained art historian, Gutiérrez exemplifies the type of architect-scholar that dominated research especially in South American colonial art and whose high-quality works have provided us with valuable insights.

Finally, the greater perspective of Spanish scholars, who in the past have produced such encyclopedic figures as the late José Pijoán and Diego Angulo Iñiguez, is evident once again in the work of Santiago Sebastián López (represented here by item bi 89001872). Spain's universities provide rigorous training in art history, a surprisingly strong discipline there. Her scholars gain a broad repertoire of visual knowledge which permits accurate comparison between European and American works and an ability to see broad patterns in Western art history into which Latin American colonial works fit.

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