Three Artists of Cuzco: Three Centuries of Colonial Art

By Stroessner, Bob; Dewalt, Teddy | Americas (English Edition), March-April 1990 | Go to article overview

Three Artists of Cuzco: Three Centuries of Colonial Art


Stroessner, Bob, Dewalt, Teddy, Americas (English Edition)


The art of colonial Latin America reflects a rich and fascinating age created by a luxury-loving society little understood in our time. Pedro de Vargas, Diego Quispe Tito and Marcos Zapata, three great artists of Cuzco, Peru, were as important to colonial Spanish art as Giotto and Leonardo da Vinci were to the Italian Renaissance. De Vargas, Quispe and Zapata spent their lives creating public art for their community, and their works remain a testament to a unique cultural heritage spanning three centuries. Yet they have been largely and undeservedly ignored by contemporary scholarship.

The story of these artists is closely linked to the history of the great Inca capital city of Cuzco. Like a Florence of the New World, Cuzco was the center of culture for an extensive region of the Spanish colony, isolated from the rest of the world by the Andes Mountains. Sacked and burned three times during the conquest, Cuzco's Inca ruins survived as foundations for the Spanish buildings which rose above the old city. Several major Christian churches were actually built on top of Inca temples to encourage acceptance of the new religion; other impressive mission churches were built throughout the rugged Cuzco region.

Cuzco's art tradition was born in these churches. Intended to promote the cult of the Virgin and Jesus Christ and replace the ancient worship of the gods of the moon and sun, the churches were furnished with spectacular interiors calculated to amaze the Indian population. The altars, paintings and sculptures became a visual language for an Indian audience unschooled in either European religion or history. European artists were imported to ensure that the symbolism and iconography were correct. The artists brought with them the reigning Hispano-Flemish style, typified by high-finish paintings with sharp focus and careful detail.

Pedro de Vargas was one such immigrant artist. Born near Cordoba, Spain in 1553, he became a soldier so he could travel to Peru. By 1574 he had joined the Society of Jesus and was listed as the assistant to the Italian Mannerist painter, Bernardo Bitti. The two young Jesuits travelled throughout Peru supervising the construction of great altar screens--enormous carved wooden frames enclosing sculptures, paintings or relief panels modeled from gesso and the wild rushes growing in Lake Titicaca.

These altar pieces were the focal point of the mission church interiors, and represented the most costly and labor-intensive artistic constructions of the entire Spanish colonial period. Carpenters, joiners, sculptors, painters and gilders created splendid carved walls of burnished gold and brilliant images. Dozens of highly skilled craftsmen would work for years on a single altar.

Like European art centers from the same period--roughly 1500 to 1800--Cuzco's costly art, architecture and high-quality craftsmanship were maintained by guilds which commanded the very best of local talent. As the years passed, the Cuzco guilds elaborated their style, at first reflecting Spanish and European directions, but soon taking pride in their own particular artistic and historical development. Along with Bitti, de Vargas played a major role in the formation of the Cuzco school. His works are characterized by enamel-like finishes, radiant colonial ideal figure types and a decorative use of gold on details--features which greatly influenced later Cuzco painters.

During this same period, Christian images were in great demand by Jesuit missionaries for their campaign in Japan. A versatile artist, de Vargas supplied jewelry-like miniature paintings on wood and copper in both late Flemish and Italian Mannerist styles for this rapidly expanding Oriental market. He also created large portable paintings representing sculptured altars, which could be rolled for shipment to the Philippines and Japan. Vargas' works must have been highly prized in Japan, for many of his lost paintings have reappeared there, mounted and preserved in beautiful Japanese lacquered shrine cases. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Three Artists of Cuzco: Three Centuries of Colonial Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.