Last friday I ventured out to find the Museo de America. This museum holds most of the colonial and precolonial art from Mexico and Peru in Madrid (The largest collection is held in Sevilla). It seems fitting that I see their holdings at least once while I am here. But my trip had extra importance. This semester I have chosen to write two of my papers on topics that deal primarily with colonial art, one from Mexico and the other from Peru. Therefore, I was going to the museum to specifically see if they had anything to help focus my papers.
The museum space is supposed to evoke the Mexican monasteries of the sixteenth century. Although it is made entirely of brick and has plaster vaulting the space is not too far off from the many monasteries that I visited. My one complaint is that in turning this space into a museum they erected many white walls and panels which impede the easy flow of space of the Mexican monasteries and so once inside other than the grand stair case if feels no different than any other museum space.
That being said, the art itself was fabulous. Many aspects of the displays leaned on the side of kitsch, but like many cabinets of curiosities, colonial pieces were mixed directly with pieces from the indigenous cultures. I was especially excited to see the different caste paintings (17th century paintings from Mexico that delineate one’s racial status based on the races of the parents – ie de español y albina, nace torna-atras) There are sixteen classifications and sometimes all of the scenes appear together on one panel, or they are each given their own canvas. I think these images on face value give a whole new meaning to purity of blood. Hopefully one day I can do more in depth research into their specific meanings and functions.
I was fortunate to find one work of art to center my paper for the Spanish Empire as a Global Power. For this course, I have seen representations of Biombos in different readings and have wanted to know more about how the japanese, indigenous and spanish traditions come together in one object. The course aims at understanding the complex global position of Spain and so I think it is the perfect microcosm to understanding this empire. The museum holds two biombos that were on display during my visit. Although the same in physical form, their depictions are very different. I think that for the nature of the course, I will limit myself to one specifically, instead of generally discussing the tradition as a whole. I am not sure where this project will take me, but thus far I am throughly enjoying the research.
(This is the biombo (above) that I am planning on writing about)
Along this same general theme of the global world is this crucifixion that was part of 24 panels, each focusing on one aspect of the conquest of Mexico. These paintings, although difficult to see in the photograph mix shells with paint to fully capture the events of the conquest. The way the light casts off the shells reminds me of the indigenous description of the entrance of the Spanish as “men in glittering suits descending upon the city”.
Unfortunately there were not any depictions of Potosí, which I hope to be my topic for my paper on Slavery in Spain. That being said there were many other very interesting pieces such as this one by Andrés Sanchez Galque depicting Francisco de Arobe and his two sons who led the resistance efforts off the coast of Ecuador. In a brief, after agreeing to join the Spanish Empire they had this portrait painted and sent to the King Philip III to prove their loyalty.