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Volume 64 / Humanities


Precolumbian and Colonial: South America

HUMBERTO RODRÍGUEZ-CAMILLONI, Professor of Architecture and Director, Henry H. Wiss Center for Theory and History of Art and Architecture, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

ALTHOUGH RELATIVELY FEW IN NUMBER, items reviewed for this biennium include some outstanding publications that reflect the breadth and depth of current scholarship in the field of colonial art in South America. General studies that treat the subcontinent as a whole remain a popular category, followed by monographs dealing with regional studies, individual monuments, or specific art collections. Several works are new collaborations by distinguished art historians that use different methodological approaches with an emphasis on analysis and interpretation. Architecture, painting, and sculpture are often treated together in these studies, with less attention paid to the decorative arts. As noted in previous HLAS volumes, however, little attention continues to be given to civil, vernacular, and rural architecture, particularly in remote areas and regions outside the major urban centers. Critical catalogs published in conjunction with museum exhibitions (items #bi2007003482#, #bi2007003485#, #bi2007003486#, #bi2007003479#, and #bi2007003489#) constitute major contributions as they help disseminate the most recent research findings on any given topic and make available to a wide audience the artistic treasures of public and private collections. Studies devoted to prints from the Spanish colonial period (items #bi2007000355# and #bi2007003481#) fill an important void in the field.

Among the titles dealing with religious architecture, special mention must be made of the monumental work Fundaciones jesuíticas en Iberoamérica edited by Luisa Elena Alcalá, with excellent scholarly contributions by Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Clara Bargellini, and Luis Eduardo Wuffarden (item #bi2007003480#). This deluxe edition follows the high standard of Editorial El Viso responsible for the Biblioteca Mundo Hispano series that includes the splendid titles Las Catedrales del Nuevo Mundo by Navascués Palacio (2000) and Monasterios Iberaamericanos by Antonio Bonet Correa (2001; see HLAS 60:02). Appropriately enough, the book celebrates the 380th anniversary of the canonization of the Jesuit patron saints, San Ignacio de Loyola and San Francisco Javier, and it discusses the magnificent churches, colegios, haciendas, and missions erected by the Jesuits throughout Latin America between the 16th and 18th centuries. Included are well-known first rank institutions such as the Church and Colegio de San Pablo, Lima; Church and Colegio de La Transfiguración, Cuzco; Church of La Compañía, Quito; Church of La Compañía, Potosí; and the Church and Colegio de San Ignacio, Bogotá; as well as the mission ruins and UNESCO World Heritage sites of La Trinidad, Paraguay, and São Miguel, Brazil. The visual and written documentation on these architectural ruins, which are vulnerable to destruction because of their remote location, is of great importance as a contribution toward their preservation. Both La Trinidad and São Miguel are impressive remnants of Jesuit missions built in the land of the Guaraní Indians during the 17th and 18th centuries; in addition to their artistic interest, they are an eloquent reminder of the Jesuits' Christianization of the Río de la Plata basin, with the accompanying social and economic initiatives that accompanied Christianization. Another fortunate inclusion is the Church of La Compañía in Pisco, Peru, which was lost in an earthquake on Aug. 15, 2007.

Other titles more restricted in scope dealing with regional architecture or individual buildings include the beautifully illustrated Tesoros del Colegio Mayor de Nuestra Señora del Rosario, with a splendid essay by Javier Gil Marín (item #bi2007003479#), which analyzes the architecture, paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts of the institution; Patrimonio artístico de la Quebrada: el arte religioso en capillas de la Quebrada Humahuaca, with contributions by several authors (item #bi2007003484#), focusing on the art and architecture of four little-known Spanish colonial churches in the northeastern region of Argentina; and Templo San Juan Bautista de Huaro by Jorge Miguel Zegarra Balcázar et al., which offers a detailed account of the major restoration and conservation project undertaken between 2004–2007 on an important parish church in the province of Quispicanchis, Cuzco. This information is extremely valuable for the history of the restoration of the church in question, and as a reference to inform similar interventions elsewhere.

The discussion of issues of restoration and conservation and of the lessons to be derived from the use of specialized techniques in specific projects is a most welcome addition in several art historical studies. Two other titles that illustrate this important development are Frutas y castas ilustradas, with chapters by Carmen Rallo Gruss and María Sanz Nájera providing technical information regarding the material analysis of the recently restored Peruvian and Mexican collections of paintings at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Madrid (item #bi2007003489#); and Graciela Siracusano's El poder de los colores, which includes abundant information on chemical analysis of colors from Spanish colonial paintings belonging to the Cuzco and Altiplano schools (item #bi2007003488#).

The late pioneer art historian from Ecuador José María Vargas (1902–88) is celebrated in a fine new edition of his classic work, Patrimonio artístico ecuatoriano (item #bi2007003483#). Expanded and improved with new b/w photographs, this important book laid solid foundations for future generations of scholars. Vargas' painstaking research of many years in the archives of Quito and other cities of Ecuador provided the basic historical data and interpretation that contributed significantly to the appreciation and understanding of the art and architecture of the Spanish colonial period. Thanks to this publication, contemporary academicians and the general public alike will have ready access to an important legacy.

Different thematic approaches are exemplified by Marjorie Trusted's The Arts of Spain: Iberia and Latin America, 1450–1700 (item #bi2008003602#) and Graciela Siracusano's El poder de los colores (item #bi2007003488#). The first of these titles places the art and architecture of colonial Spanish and Portuguese America in the broader context of contemporary developments in the Iberian Peninsula. Through a holistic methodology that addresses the social history of art, the author makes useful connections relating Spanish and Portuguese works of art with other European traditions that include the Catholic Church, secular art, the heritage of Islam and Judaism, and trade and patronage. The second work is a groundbreaking study of far reaching importance beyond the subject matter of Spanish colonial Andean painting. Focusing on the colors used in a selection of representative works from the major Andean schools of painting, the author combines iconographic analysis, semiotics, material culture, and material science to arrive at suggestive interpretations of their meaning.

The decorative arts are represented by only two titles, both continuing to reflect an increasing interest in colonial silverwork. In Peru, the creation of the nonprofit organization Patronato Plata del Perú has provided the financial support for important publications, including Plata y plateros del Perú (see HLAS 60:67). Juan Castañeda Murga's Platería trujillana complements this earlier work providing the first comprehensive study of silverwork in the northern city of Trujillo (item #bi2007003478#). Original archival research conducted for this publication brings to light the names of several silversmiths active at the time and various aspects concerning their professional organization. In Argentina, the exhibition "El Mate en América, Arte y Tradición" held at the Museo Nacional de Arte Decorativo in Buenos Aires in 2004 produced a handsome catalog (item #bi2007003485#) focusing on the mate, the small vessel used for drinking the herbal tea of the same name, usually with the aid of a silver straw, itself a beautiful example of the art of silverwork in Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Brazil during the colonial period and later.

Ricardo Estabridis Cárdenas' El grabado en Lima virreinal (item #bi2007003481#) should be singled out as the first comprehensive art historical study of Spanish colonial prints in the viceregal capital of Peru. Despite the uneven quality of the illustrations reproducing woodcuts, etchings, and engravings, many of which were originally published in contemporary books, assembled here is an important corpus of visual material that will be an indispensable reference for future studies. The well-documented text discusses the prints in chronological order, according to a thematic classification including title pages, decorative borders, religious images, portraits, triumphal arches, public monuments and catafalques, architectural representations, and a few other miscellaneous categories.

Museum exhibitions, national symposia, and international conferences are devoted increasingly to themes related to Spanish colonial art. All of these events, which often yield excellent publications in the form of critical catalogs or collected proceedings, are a positive development of great importance for the exchange of ideas among established academicians and for the inspiration and training of emerging scholars in the field. Recent events have included the sessions "Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Architecture and Urbanism on the Fringes," chaired by this reviewer at the 61st Annual Meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians held between April 23–27, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio, featuring the presentation of the papers "Reviving the 'Spirits' of Santa Cruz, an 18th-Century Jesuit Estate in southern Peru," by Lisa Deleonardis and "The Domestic Architecture of the Frontier Town of Old Santa Fe, Argentina," by Luis María Calvo; and "Viceregal/Colonial," chaired by Jonathan Brown at the First Triennial Conference of the Association of Latin American Art held at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, New York, between Oct. 26–27, 2007, featuring the presentation of the paper "Myth, Metaphysics, and History in Martín de Murúa's Inca Pastoral Romance Illustrated by Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala (c. 1590–1600)," by Lisa Trever. Notable exhibitions include "Exploring the Early Americas" documenting the Jay I. Kislak Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, which opened Dec. 13, 2007; and "The Marvel and Measure of Peru: 3 Centuries of Visual Histories, 1560–1880," at the Getty Research Institute, Getty Center, Los ffes, Calif., between July 8–Oct. 19, 2008. Finally, also worthy of mention are the Annual Mayer Center Symposium on "The Arts of South America, 1492–1850," at the Denver Art Museum in Denver, Colo., between Nov. 7–8, 2008; and the "Colloquium on Spanish and Latin American Art and Visual Culture" at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, New York, between Sept. 25, 2008–April 23, 2009.

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