Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings

Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings

Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings

Imagining Identity in New Spain: Race, Lineage, and the Colonial Body in Portraiture and Casta Paintings

Excerpt

…colonial discourse produces the colonized as a social reality which
is at once an [other] and yet entirely knowable and visible. It
resembles a form of narrative whereby the productivity and circu
lation of subjects and signs are bound in a reformed and recognizable
totality. It employs a system of representation, a regime of truth, that
is structurally similar to realism.

Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture

In the process of researching and writing this book, I found myself constantly returning to the 1769 painting The Painter's Cupboard, an image I had first encountered at the Pinacoteca Virreinal in Mexico City many years ago (figure I.1). This beautifully executed image by Antonio Pérez de Aguilar, who was active in New Spain between 1749–1769, is one of the few surviving still-life images of the colonial period. It is a painting that one could easily disregard or overlook. Its ostensible topic, artists' tools and props, seems inconsequential and mundane, especially when compared to other opulent and ornate religious and secular paintings of eighteenthcentury New Spain. In the painting, keys dangle in the lock of the wooden cabinet's closed glass door, and the three shelves inside contain various objects that seem hastily placed. Crammed on the top shelf are a pen, loose paper, books, what appears to be a lute, a violin, and a basket that holds a doll, a clay jar, a palette, and brushes. The middle shelf contains a haphazard arrangement of two silver plates, circular wooden boxes, two loaves of bread, a small clay pitcher with a spoon, and a shallow bowl askew on top of a small wooden barrel. On the bottom shelf, the artist has left a straw basket, another pitcher (possibly of copper) topped with a small ceramic bowl, a patterned plate, three glasses, and two dark glass bottles, one with a short neck and one with a long neck.

Given the late-colonial artists' propensity for highly ordered imagery, a painting of disheveled objects resting on shelves seems an anomaly. One . . .

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