In the fall of 2006, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a pan-national exhibition of some 300 works of art created in the Spanish viceroyalties of New Spain (which today comprises Mexico and the countries of Central America) and Peru (now the countries of Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay Colombia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and Peru), and in the Portuguese colony of Brazil. Drawn from public and private collections throughout the Americas and in Europe, The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820 will span the centuries from the arrival of Columbus to the emergence of national independence movements, including spectacular examples of painting, sculpture, feather-work, shell-inlaid furniture, objects in gold and silver, ceramics and textiles. The exhibition is organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and will travel to Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City (winter-spring 2007), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (summer 2007) and the Royal Academy of Arts, London (autumn 2007).
“This ambitious exhibition will present our visitors with an opportunity to discover the extraordinarily rich and diverse artistic legacy that was born out of one of the most epic and cross-cultural encounters in world history,” said Anne d’Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “We are proud to assemble an international team of specialists to focus on this remarkable, engrossing subject, and we are thrilled to present this broad-ranging exhibition in Philadelphia, a city whose Latin American community has grown dramatically over the last decade.”
Columbus’s world changing voyage in 1492 initiated what would be a vast network joining the trade routes between Asia, Europe and Africa to the complex systems of trade and interaction already in place throughout the Americas. Africans (both free and enslaved) accompanied even the earliest Spanish and Portuguese expeditions, and before the end of the 16th century, trade with Japan and China via the Manila galleons was well established. Indigenous skills such as feather painting and weaving continued; while European artists traveled to the Americas to ply their trade and to train indigenous craftsmen; and, influenced by imports from Asia, furnishings in European styles came to be lacquered or inlaid with tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl and ivory.
The Spanish and Portuguese monarchs, with the blessing of the papacy, undertook the conversion of native peoples to Christianity. The movement of missionaries, their establishment of thousands of churches, religious houses and missions in which the indigenous people were educated and many already skilled in arts and crafts was a major factor in the dissemination of art throughout Latin America. Every church, from magnificent urban cathedral to modest country chapel, required ritual objects such as silver chalices, candlesticks and censers, as well as elaborately wrought altarpieces, gilded and embellished with paintings and sculptures depicting the divinity, the Virgin Mary and saints. As well, secular art—furnishings, luxury goods, portraits, ephemeral decorations—was created for the viceroys and other crown officials who supported civic projects and public pageantry, and for the merchant class who moved all these examples of material culture around vast Latin America.
The panorama presented by The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820 will be both thematic and chronological, beginning with Columbus’s first encounter with the people of the Caribbean and concluding with the final moments of the colonial era, a period marked not only by the independence movements and formation of national states but also by the rise of academic art. The richly diverse art forms subsequently produced throughout this vast region reflected the seismic changes that took place during the colonial era, and were central of the development of new identities.
The exhibition will present magnificent, sometimes startling, and largely unknown works of art in all mediums. It will include manuscripts and maps that illustrate how the earliest contact between Europeans and indigenous populations created a crisis in identity and self-representation, eventually leading to a new culture born of a mix of creative energies confidently expressed in the arts in novel mediums and styles. On view will be superb examples of craftsmanship—elaborate vestments decorated with colored feathers, exquisite furniture inlaid with tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl and ivory, lacquered screens and chests—that reflect the interchange between diverse Asian, African, European and Latin American cultures. Although many of the objects were created by indigenous, mestizo and European artists and craftsmen whose names have been long forgotten, visitors will also become familiar with artists whose oeuvres are well known in their native lands (Cristóbal de Villalpando in Mexico, Diego Quispe Tito in Peru, José Campeche in Puerto Rico, Aleijadinho in Brazil among them), but who will be new to the majority of exhibition visitors.
Joseph J. Rishel, the Gisela and Dennis Alter Senior Curator of European Painting before 1900 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, is leading an international committee of scholars from the U.S., Spain, Mexico and Ecuador whose collaboration and research has been sponsored by the Getty Foundation, and working with the additional advice of specialists from the many Latin American countries whose artistic heritage will be highlighted in this unprecedented exhibition. According to Rishel, “This exhibition will be the first to disregard the boundaries created in the early 19th century during the birth of independent nation states in Latin America. It will be a major reappraisal and will give our visitors an opportunity to make fresh discoveries among a dazzling array of remarkable works of art.”
A comprehensive illustrated catalogue of approximately 500 pages will accompany the exhibition. Several substantial essays by distinguished scholars will address the development of styles of painting and sculpture throughout Latin America. Other essays will individually address the styles and techniques of the various decorative arts: furniture, ceramics, silver in the Spanish viceroyalties, silver and gold in Brazil, and textiles (carpets and tapestries, lace and embroidery). The essays will offer a comprehensive survey of the visual arts in Latin America over the period of three hundred years, while the catalogue entries documenting the objects in the exhibition will bring to light our scholarly understanding of each with regard to style, technique and iconography.
The exhibition is supported in part by the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Popular Financial Holdings, and generous individuals. Initial scholarly research was supported by a Collaborative Research Grant from The Getty Foundation.