Race and Classification: The Case of Mexican America

By Ilona Katzew; Susan Deans-Smith | Go to book overview

2 “Dishonor in the Hands of Indians,
Spaniards, and Blacks”
The (Racial) Politics of Painting in Early
Modern Mexico

Susan Deans-Smith

IN 1789, THIRTEEN PAINTERS, “professors of painting and sculpture” resident in Mexico City protested the city council's order that they contribute to the costs of the jura (swearing of the oath of loyalty) to the new monarch Charles IV (1788-1808), a demand made of all guild members. In their appeal to the president of the newly founded Royal Academy of San Carlos they claimed that “it is well known that these two noble arts have never been organized as guilds.”1 After a lengthy discussion defending their claim, the artists requested that the president of the academy declare them to be exempt from the required contribution now and in the future on the grounds that they were not members of a guild but subject only to the Royal Academy2 Ten years later, in 1799, the painters complained again to the president of the Royal Academy about the “intruders and offenders” (“intrusos y ofensores”) who painted and sold paintings and sculptures to the public but who had neither formal training nor had been examined by the academy3 The painters expressed the negative consequences of such practices: “We see nothing less than our own dishonor in the hands of Indians, Spaniards, and blacks who attempt, without rules or fundamentals, to imitate the most holy of objects.”4 They concluded that if efforts were not made to eradicate such practices, the damage to the Academy would be irrevocable.5

The painters' complaints about untrained and unexamined artists and peddlers who, they argued, reflected poorly on their own status and on their profession were not new. In many ways such objections constituted a continuation of and connection with those of several generations of ambitious painters, who, beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, attempted to

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