JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 225 to 242)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 3, Article 2 (pp. 225 to 242)

GREEN, YELLOW, AND RED PIGMENTS IN SOUTH AMERICAN PAINTING, 1610–1780

ALICIA SELDES, JOSÉ E. BURUCÚA, GABRIELA SIRACUSANO, MARTA S. MAIER, & GONZALO E. ABAD



1 INTRODUCTION

The aim of the present work is to extend the study of the colonial Andean palette following the same guidelines used in our earlier work on blue pigments (Seldes et al. 1999). In the first part we were able to correlate the historical data and the results of chemical analysis. The data refer to the uses of several blue pigments (indigo, azurite, smalt, Prussian blue, and their mixtures) mentioned by the Spanish theorists of the Baroque period (e.g., Vicente Carducho, Francsico Pacheco, Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco) and their application in South American colonial paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was found that most workshops of Cusco and the cities of the highlands of Peru (whose production was an important part of the study) closely followed the recipes for obtaining blue hues quoted by the authors mentioned above. An outstanding example was identified from a group of paintings attributed to Mateo Pisarro (active final third of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th century). Pisarro worked in the Puna of Atacama (northwest of Argentina, south-west of Bolivia, and northeast of Chile) for a landowner, Juan José Campero, marquis of Valle de Tojo, at the end of the 17th century. He produced a considerable number of paintings for churches and chapels dispersed over the marquis's possessions. Pisarro showed exceptional skill and originality in the search for special tints of chromatic intensity when looking for visual effects. These talents led him to experiment with smalt pigment and its mixture with azurite for making blue. Pisarro's aesthetic invention relied on that alchemy, while his European counterparts preferred the expressions and symbolic enigmas of iconographic subtleties.

This second part of our study focuses on 29 paintings selected from the corpus of 106 works that we studied in the first part. Those 29 works of art belong to the Cuscan and Alto-Peruvian schools of painting or were painted by Mateo Pisarro, with one exception—Virgin with Baby Jesus (painting 3.1.1) in an altar at the Yavi chapel—which probably came from Flanders to South America in the 17th century. The results describe the practices of colonial times used to obtain green, yellow, and red hues in painting. The main hypothesis was, once again, the remarkable performance of Mateo Pisarro when dealing with pigments other than blue: viz., green, yellow, and red tints. Pisarro's originality led us to examine a particular relationship between him and Melchor Pérez Holguín (second half of the 17th century), a great master of the Potosinian school who also obtained brilliant results in the field of color rendering. Market conditions in South American colonial cities were considered a main force in the process of artistic production, not only from masters of traditional workshops in Cusco but also from Mateo Pisarro himself.

A brief description of the Cusco and Alto-Peruvian schools of painting in colonial times follows. According to the guidelines established by three Italian artists active in the viceroyalty of Peru at the beginning of the 17th century—Bernardo Bitti (1548–1610), Angelino Medoro (1547–ca. 1630), and Mateo Pérez de Alesio (ca. 1545–ca. 1616)—Cuscan painting followed the manner of the High Renaissance until 1650. In the second half of the 17th century, local painters such as José Espinosa de los Monteros (second half of the 17th century), the Indian Basilio de Santa Cruz (active 1661–1700), and the mestizo Diego Quispe Titos (1611–1681?) in Cusco, and Mechor Pérez Holguín in Potosí (Bolivia) introduced and adapted to Andean society the Baroque style that they knew mainly from copies of Spanish canvases and engravings produced in the Flemish, French, or Italian workshops, all of them spread by trade throughout the entire Spanish American territory. During the 18th century large series of works were produced in an almost industrial fashion by artists such as Marcos Zapata (second half of the 18th century, active 1748–1764), Basilio Pacheco (middle of the 18th century), Diego de Aliaga (second half of the 18th century) in Cusco, or Gaspar de Berrío (second half of the 18th century) in Potosí. All developed and standardized the characteristics of the Andean Baroque style: dynamic compositions, emphatic expressions in faces and gestures, light and shadow effects, and a rich palette.

It is important to point out a non-European variable that could have influenced the artistic reception of Native viewers of Christian religious painting in colonial times: the symbology of colors in the Inca and other pre-Columbian civilizations of the Andean regions. In pre-Hispanic South America, the color red, as well as blue, green, and yellow, were symbolically associated with the Inca himself and the gods. For the Native population, the bright and glittering, well-defined colors in the clothes and headdresses of noblemen were a symbolic manifestation of holiness and an expression of social inequalities, domination, and political, economic, and military power.


Copyright © 2002 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works