Native Folk Art in Latin American Art History

Latin American Art History: A Journey through Time

In this post, I am going to talk about Latin American art history as it is relevant today more than ever. For decades the art in Latin America has been neglected mostly due to political reasons. Furthermore, the United States and Europe dominated the emergence of art revolutions that resulted in ignoring anything else including African and Asian art.

However, nowadays, the Latin American Culture is popular so much so that the art market trends display the presence of numerous Latin American artists and their ingenious art at all times. So, we need to know the origin of this famous artistic tradition and the Latin American art history for the sake of integration and art appreciation. 

Indigenous Mural Art in Latin American Art History
Indigenous Mural Art in Latin America

Latin American art history begins when the Spanish in 1492 and the Portuguese in 1500 came in contact with the art of South America, Mesoamerica, and Central America and the history still ensues today in modern Latin American art. In this article, I am going to discuss the severe transformation in the indigenous Latin American art because of the arrival of the Spanish and Portuguese with their paintings and sculptures along with the subsequent change in the time of independence in the nineteenth century and the social disruption in the twentieth century.

Impact of Colonial Period on Latin American Art History

Though there was a prominent divide between the artform of the European emigres and indigenous Latin American art, over time, both cultures felt a reciprocal impact on their art as many ethnic groups intertwined together to define the area. However, at the time of the conquest, there were some areas that were unaffected even under European dominance which include lower Central America, interior and southern parts of South America, and tropical Mesoamerica. In this pre-Columbian period, weaving, metalworking, pottery, mosaic, and featherwork were the dominant arts in these native areas.

Spanish Colonial Art in Latin American Art History
Nuestra Señora de Copacabana (18th Century).

The friars taught the aboriginal artists in the areas that were exactly under European influence. As the friars faced an increasing number of converts, they started artistic projects as a response where the indigenous artists had to participate. The famous endeavor was the making of the monasteries inside encomiendas that were centers for the conversion of the native towns. In the dawn of this artistic period, indigenous artists were only encouraged for their competence and skills, and not for their creativity. European artists displayed imported arts that worked as models to the indigenous artists.

European Influence on Latin American Art

Impact of Renaissance on Latin American Art

At the beginning of the colonial period in Latin American, the artists oftentimes painted entwined round loops of plants that were borrowed from the painted Roman decoration. On a macroscopic level, in the facade of the churches, artists painted designs in low relief like in Yuriria, Mexico in 1560. The designs were nearly imitated Renaissance models that were familiar to the Europeans. The bilevel opaque decoration on the exterior resembles a pre-Columbian design of the architecture of Tulum and Milta, in Mexico.

  • Many decades after the contact with European art, Latin American art history displays the undertaking of fresco painting by the indigenous artists. The artists copied the Renaissance engravings and woodcuts that were brought here by the friars on the inside of the cloisters where the plaster walls were mainly in black. 
  • However, the inexperienced indigenous artists did not sway from their native artistic tradition which resulted in poorly executed fresco-secco paintings which can be seen in the paintings of the saints of the front facade of the Cathedral of the Santa Maria de la Encarnacion in Santo Domingo.
  • The parish Churches in Northern Mexico city represent indigenous paintings that were partially derived from their own tradition as well as the European art form. Therefore, it rendered authentic colorful paintings of Christians fighting Pagans which was not an imitation of European painting.
Vaulting with frescoes, oil on canvas by Juan Gersón, 1562; in the Franciscan church at Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico.
Vaulting with frescoes, oil on canvas by Juan Gersón, 1562; in the Franciscan church at Tecamachalco, Puebla, Mexico.
  • While talking about Latin American art history and the effect of the Renaissance on it, we have to remember the artist Juan Gerson whose art was so assimilated with that of European art style especially the wooden cut on the German Bible that it was presumed that he was European. Later, the further study proved that he was indeed indigenous who had surpassed the teachings of friars and was becoming as good as a professional Spanish painter.   

Mannerism: A Form of Painting

As the number of European artists started to increase who arrived in the Americas, the Renaissance style was expropriated by the elegant yet artificial style called Mannerism. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Echave had painted in glinting Mannerist style even after the style was dead in Europe. 

Mannerism in Latin American Art History
Mannerism on Latin American Art

Porziuncola, the sole survivor among his fourteen paintings left a remarkable mark on late Mannerism in Latin American art history. The distorted and compressed perception of the painting has elongated bodies of the holy figures, white highlights in a zigzag pattern on the clothes, and stylized postures of fingers. 

Several Italian artists were attracted to the Mannerism style of Spanish South America in the late nineteenth century. Latin American art history finds the significance of Bernardo Bitti and Angelino Medoro who were memorable Mannerist artists. While Bitti’s paintings are the remembrance of the Mannerism of Spain’s El Greco and Italy’s Tintoretto, Modoro’s style of Mannerism was more of Michelangelesque. 

Baroque Style of Sculpture and Painting

Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home, Mexico, circa 1725 in Latin American Art History
Garden Party on the Terrace of a Country Home, Mexico, circa 1725
Credit: Research Guides

In Latin American art history, the unique style of Baroque reflects the diversity of the region that has attracted the Americas by the middle of the seventeenth century. The artists who practiced this style preferred clarity, realistic explicitness over the elongated portions, fantastical colors, the illogical spatial connection of the Mannerist artists. The Baroque artists thrived to make the viewers be a part of the painting by creating the religious incidents more realistic. Caravaggio made this art form famous in Italy which then proceeded by the popularity among the Spanish artists in Seville and made its name in Latin American art history. For further information on the art style, please visit here.

Ultrabaroque in Latin American Art 

The most anti-classical vibrant artform followed by Baroque has been introduced in Mexico by Jeronimo de Balbas. He left his mark in Latin American art history by designing a high altar named the Retablo de Los Reyes in Seville in the year 1706. He entirely eliminated the utilization of columns in this project. Instead, he used estipites or upward-facing pedestals, a style of architecture that defines the form of Ultrabaroque.

Pre-Independence Effect on Latin American Art 

Antonio Perez de Aguilar's Still Life 1769
Antonio Perez de Aguilar’s Still Life 1769
Credit: Pinterest

The eve of independence symbolizes the period where artists began to go beyond the government and church commissions to paint about daily life in Latin America whether it depicted political or religious phenomena. In Latin American art history, the name of Antonio Perez de Aguilar is unforgettable as he started to include blue and white majolica and various common styles of earthenware in his kitchen still lifes or bodegones. 

Along with the emergence of self-portrait, there was another genre that became a part of Latin American art history that is called ethnic types portraits. Juan Rodriguez Juarez created “caste paintings” around 1725 which was the first documented set of Castas. In this set, he used sixteen distinctive scenes to represent the impact of intermarriages between enslaved Africans, indigenous people, and Europeans.

At the beginning of Independence, these ethnic and cultural issues were more explored by modern artists of South America. For instance, “Fruits of Ecuador” which consists of six paintings by Vicente Alban display the idealized version of the Latin American-born Spanish and native people in their outfits.

Influence of Post Independence on Latin American Art

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, various circumstances in Portuguese and Spanish America had inspired battles for independence. Alongside the destruction of the monarchies by the invasion of Napoleon in Portuguese and Spain, these circumstances prepared the stage for freedom-wars in Latin America. Except for Puerto Rico and Cuba, all of Spanish and Portuguese America was free from Iberian reign in-between 1808 and 1826.

Surrealism in Latin American Art History

Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, oil on canvas by Frida Kahlo
Self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, oil on canvas by Frida Kahlo

In Latin American art history, it is evident that the art in Latin America has as mentioned above inspired by the European art movement. Surrealism is one of those influences that had originated in the era of post Second World War-ridden Europe. Latin American art embodies contradiction as represented in the European dominance over the indigenous people and the mestizo art and culture, and that contradictory nature is the core value of Surrealism.

Perhaps, the most famous artist in Surrealism is Frida Kahlo whose self-portrait and the utilization of the combination of Symbolism, Romanticism, and Surrealism in her depictions made her immortal in Latin American art history. Cuban artist Wifredo Lam, Mexican Artist Alberto Gironella, Argentinian artist Roberto Aizenberg, Chilean artists Mario Carreno Morales, Roberto Matta, and Nemesio Antunez are all classified as renowned Surrealist artists.

Modern Latin American Art

Street Art in Latin American Art History
Street Art In Mexico

Though Latin American art history exhibits the political and cultural turmoil in the nations of Latin America over the centuries, things are quite settled for now. The political and social dilemmas are probably best displayed In urban and street art forms. Over the last two decades, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo have produced one of the best street art movements.  

Alternatively, due to the liberalization of the art market, several contemporary Latin American artists are better represented in the modern global art market, especially in the United States. However, it’s not just about exhibitions in galleries or art museums, it’s about the presence of the artist in the fairs and the auctions are higher than ever. Artists like Francisco Toledo, Os Gêmeos, Christian Rosa, Fernando Botero and so many more are represented and their arts are offered for the biggest sales in auction houses worldwide.

Places to Visit to Experience Latin American Art

Valparaiso and its colorful graffiti
Valparaiso and its colorful graffiti
  • Valparaíso, Chile: The seaport is one hundred and fifteen km west of Santiago, the Capital of Chile that is a hub for Latin American artists with its radiant prismatic mural that covers the city. The hills or classic cerros show you eye-catching graffiti on Cerro Concepcion, and Cerro Alegre. And, if you go further to Cerro Mariposa and Cerro Carcel, you will find more such works. You can observe more art on the open galleries Museo a Cielo Abierto and the quirky home of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda, La Sebastiana which are over Cerro Florida.
  • San Miguel de Allende, Mexico: There seems to be an endless line of art galleries in this cosmopolitan city at the cobblestoned streets of San Miguel. The city is brimming with a variety of artistic items from handcrafted Galeria Atotonilco to the fine-arts school based in a former monastery named Escuela de Bellas Artes. 
  • Punta del Este, Uruguay: It’s not that difficult to understand the reason behind referring to it as the “Saint Tropez of South America.” As the most luxurious serene beach of Uruguay, the backstreets of this region also hold moneyed art galleries for your appreciation. The best time to visit this place is when the art fair called Este Arte occurs in January. It showcases contemporary Latin American art and beyond.
  • Antigua, Guatemala: The charming colonial facade of the town can’t hide the endless art galleries in Antigua with its affordable and brilliant art. La Antigua holds the highest respect as it shows more than seventy Latin American artists in a colonial mansion. You can also buy various folk art, ceremonial masks, and wood carvings in the two closest shops named Centro de Arte Popular and Nim Po’t. At the outskirts of Antigua, you have Musea Casa del Tejido where you can learn how to weave conventional Mayan decoration.
One of the works at huge open-air art museum Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim
One of the works at huge open-air art museum Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim
Credit: Paulo Nabas / Shutterstock
  • Brumadinho, Brazil: Brumadinho is home to the world’s largest modern open-air art museum which is near to the third-largest city of Brazil called Belo Horizonte. Instituto de Arte Contemporânea Inhotim houses some of the monumental arts in its collection like “Narcissus Garden” by Yayoi Kusama from Japan, “Beam Drop” by Chris Burden from America, and so on.

At last, we are at the end! For further information head to this blog. I hope that I have encouraged you enough to know more or to seek out more about Latin American art history. Maybe, I’ll come back to Latin America with another topic sometime later. Until then travel well, be well!


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