Mexican Colonial Painting
The role of the Spanish monarchy in Mexico--then called
New Spain--lasted 300 years, from 1520-1820. The Viceroyalty of
New Spain consisted of the present countries of Mexico, Guatemala,
El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
that time, indigenous artists in these areas were trained--and
sometimes re-trained--by missionary priests and artists from Europe
to perfect a European style of painting, based on prints and paintings
that were imported to Mexico from Spain, Italy, and Northern Europe.
developed was a style distinctly "Mexican"--earthy,
quite accomplished, and distinct from European art--that bore
the strong imprint of European compositions and styles. Great
altarpieces, portraits, and sculptures were produced in programs
to decorate churches, monasteries, civic buildings, and for ephemeral
public festivals. For the duration of Spanish rule, much of this
production was accomplished with the supervision and tutelage
of church officials and Spanish-born artists. Mexican painters,
however, made great careers for themselves, whether native born,
mestizo (mixed-race), or criollo (Mexican-born of Spanish parents).
that we characterize in European art as "Renaissance,"
"Mannerist," "Baroque," and "Rococo"
took on a life, and a life span, of their own in New Spain. In
the power centers of artistic production, like Mexico City, Puebla,
Querétaro, and Zacatecas, the art was very cosmopolitan.
artists, many of them indigenous people, devoted themselves principally
to the depiction of religious subjects from the New Testament.
Native sculptors, notably in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru, but
also in the Jesuit missions of Paraguay, developed a powerful
folk art; polychromed wood, terra-cotta, and bas-relief work in
the walls and columns of churches were widely used media.
A favorite subject of sculptures was the agony of Jesus; these
figures, often given native features, are characterized by extraordinary
pathos. In painting, the conceptions were frequently original
and charged with remarkable intensity and piety.
1600 numerous European artists had emigrated to the New World
and contributed their talents, but the indigenous people, who
had excelled at wall painting, books, and mosaics before the conquest,
were chiefly responsible for giving colonial art its unique flavor.