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Explore Peruvian art in the Roman Catholic tradition with Dr. Gastañaga

By Alexandra Edwards

In celebration of Hispanic Cultural Heritage Month, join us for an illustrated lecture by José Luis Gastañaga Ponce de León, PhD, entitled “Cuzco School of Painting: The Basics.” This event will take place in the library first floor lounge on Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011, at 1:00 p.m.

The Cuzco School, or Escuela Cuzqueña, was a Roman Catholic artistic tradition that originated in Peru during the Colonial period. Dr. Gastañaga, an assistant professor of Romance Languages and Literatures, will take the audience through an illustrated introduction to the Cuzco School during the 17th and 18th centuries.  His presentation will include images to guide and demonstrate his lecture.

Though a historical genre, art from the Cuzco School continues to appear even in contemporary America. Dr. Gastañaga points to the 2006 national Christmas stamp as a recent example. “It is,” as he describes, “a beautiful Virgin painted by Ignacio Chacón in Cuzco in 1765 and now a part of the Engracia and Frank Barrows Freyer collection of Peruvian Colonial Art at the Denver Art Museum.”

The Cuzco School is intimately connected to the colonial history of Peru. As Dr. Gastañaga explains, “During the Colonial times in Latin America paintings were produced in large numbers, especially to decorate churches and important public places.”

But the art style wasn’t just practiced by Europeans in Peru. “The School was a guild that gathered Europeans, Indians and mestizos (mixed) who followed initially European models but later evolved towards local motives and a unique style.” The guild eventually divided and, he says, “the Indians and mestizos started to create an art of religious content and regional customs and scenes that ultimately defined the characteristics of the School.”

The paintings serve as a useful counterpoint to more frequently studied European art. “Students can learn a great deal from these paintings, not only because they show how European major styles like Baroque and Mannerism developed on the other side of the Atlantic, but also because they are a wonderful standing point from which contemplate the life, values and aspirations of Latin Americans during the centuries of colonization.”

Dr. Gastañaga says that the paintings can be enlightening across disciplines and time periods as well. “Although I work with literature and historiography, I have always found in paintings a very suggestive complement. In the case of the Colonial paintings one can see how it evolved from the reproduction of European models to the depiction of regional scenes and finally we will find the use of painting to support local movements of revalorization of the pre-Columbian past.”

For those interested in learning more about the Cuzco School beyond Thursday’s lecture, Dr. Gastañaga recommends Carolyn Dean’s Inka Bodies and the Body of Christ: Corpus Christi in Colonial Cusco, Peru (Duke University Press), “a thorough study on a set of paintings depicting the Corpus Christi celebration in Cuzco at the end of the 17th century.” Alternately, the Pedro de Osma Museum in Lima, Peru, offers a quick online view of selected paintings, with information in Spanish.

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Last Modified: September 14, 2011