School of Cuzco (Peru)

School formed by a circle of artists who came from different ethnics groups. They all established themselves in Cuzco, Peru, from the XVI to the XIX Centuries, giving rise to the School of Cuzco.  This school experienced three main stages, during which specific characteristics were developed and identified in each one of them. In the early XVI century, Gregorio Gamarra and Lázaro Pardo de Lagos were the protagonists of the “Spanish mannerism with local influences” (Ferreira, 132) brought to Peru by Italian and Spanish masters. In the mid-XVII century, the main artist of this school was Diego Quispe Tito. He introduced “Spanish baroque” (Ferreira, 132) to local motifs, therefore setting the bases for “Cuzquenian Baroque” (Ferreira, 133). In this period, Andean and local themes were present in most of the art. The last stage of this school was the rise of the “Popular Cuzquenian School” (Ferreira, 132), where the national characteristics were even more deeply and easily recognizable than in the past period. The artists that flourished at this time were mainly Marcos Zapaca and Antonio Wilca. The School of Cuzco brought public interests into private homes, where the art was being sought after for information as well as decoration. In this late stage, artists were starting to separate from the common guild due to differences in their European perspectives, coming back to the Indian flatness and colourfulness. The works done in this late period had a lesser quality than the earlier ones, therefore making art more available to the general public (Dictionary of Art, 303).

The main artists involved in this circle of painting were Diego Quispe Tito, followed by Indian painters such as Chihuantito and Chilli Tupac. Andean subjects, and Incan history were really important for the artists who never let them out of their pieces. Basilío de Santa Cruz Pumacallao, on the other hand, painted following the European influences of Rubens and Velázquez (Dictionary of Art, 302). Another European feature and follower present in this circle was Marcos Ribera with his “notable and dramatic chiaroscuro” (Dictionary of Art, 302).

According to the Dictionary of Art, in the School of Cuzco there were two main painting currents that existed until the Roman Mannerism invaded Peru. These were the Spanish European influenced one and the Indian creations.  This circle of painting found its technical sources in the European Schools of Flanders and Spain, through the Spanish masters who “taught the Indian and half-breed artists the secret” (Descola, 235) of these techniques. The art produced in this school dealt mainly with “religious subjects, but also with episodes borrowed from contemporary history” (idem) such as the earthquake of 1650, for example (Beltran, 145). However, Andean elements were also present, mixing cultures, techniques and representations into one piece. Since the XVI century, murals were being used in Churches, where religion had to be spread into the newly colonized territories through art. Frescoes were made with Italian techniques and Indian motifs. The painted surfaces were combined with real materials, fabrics in most of the cases, as well as jewellery (Kelemen, 222). The people being depicted in these pieces were normally the patrons, or Madonnas with Spanish as well as Peruvian features. Their textiles and clothes were given more importance than their expressionless faces. Their skins were painted in a fast and flat brushing manner, while the clothes were full of detail and colour. Indian textiles, laces, ribbons and embroideries (Descola, 236) were being recorded in “loving detail” (Kelemen, 222) as a proof of the Incan descent of the artists. Another characteristic of this School was the use of nature. Paintings had naturalistic Flanders backgrounds, Flemish landscapes and backgrounds- surprisingly not Peruvian settings- with birds and Inca flowers, all surrounded and decorated by golden estofado. The golden estofado consisted of “Armenian bole put on in the patterns desired (…) golden leaf is then applied, (…) sticking only to the clay.” (Beltran, 77). This golden tooling was a trademark of this School. It was the general signature of the involved artists excluding their social backgrounds and painting subjects or objects.

The reality that Cuzquenian artists often depicted had little or nothing to do with the actual one. The backgrounds were often scenes that neither of the painters had visited but simply copied from the Italian and Spanish masters that taught them how to paint (Adorno, 110). Exaggerated and surrealist images are being used in order to pass a message to the Indigenous and illiterate people, especially regarding religious events and demons interacting with the people. Art was used as propaganda, business, and culture at the same time. Indians are being depicted as well as the conquerors. The artists used similar concepts, disregarding the social background of the people they were painting. For both cultures, they gave the same importance to clothing, the lack of expression in the people’s faces, therefore signalling that for them the personal and social backgrounds are not as important as it is the actual image and the decoration being used on it (Adorno, 112). By equal depiction of different people, the artists sought for even levels of civilizations, just different ways of proving and living them. Pictorial as well as spatial unities were also important. People are painted showing realistic ratios of their bodies and the background elements that surround them. Both cultures were being equally distributed and proportionally represented in the drawings or paintings, not giving more importance to one or the other.Representations painted from these have the same style of reproduction, the same materials and techniques are used. All throughout the Cuzquenian period and the art produced in this period, Incan kings were portrayed alongside European monarchs, both ornamented in their different costumes and traditional garments, with equal importance for decoration of both.

The School of Cuzco can be viewed as precursor for the contemporary notion of hybridity. Two cultures, religions, traditions, lifestyles brought together through one same language: art. The product of this cross is a new and blossoming universal movement, spreading art’s international message: we can all be an equal element and representation of art. This can be achieved leaving cultural differences aside and seeking a common interest, unity through art.

Maria Arroyo

Fall 2011

Works Cited

“Cuzco school”. The Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. Vol.8. New York: Grove, 1996.

Descola, Jean. Daily life in Colonial Peru 1710-1820. Trans. Michael Heron. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1968.

Ferreira, Cesar and Eduardo Dargent-Chamot. Culture and customs of Peru. Edited by Peter  Standish. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Kelemen, Pál. Baroque and Rococo in Latin America. v 1. Second Edition. New York: Dover  Publications, Inc,  1967.

Anonymous Cuzco School painting, 18th century

Anonymous Cuzco School painting, 18th century (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This entry was posted in Baroque, costume, decoration, hybridity, Peru, Rococo, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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