School of Cuzco (Peru)

The School of Cuzco was formed by a circle of Peruvian artists and comprised artists of unidentified ethnic groups. It was established from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century in Cuzco, Peru. This school experienced three main periods, each with its own outstanding style. In the first period- the early sixteenth century- Gregorio Gamarra and Lázaro Pardo de Lagos were the main artists developing “Spanish mannerism with local influences” (Ferreira, 132) brought to Peru by Italian and Spanish masters. In the mid- seventeenth century the “Cuzquenian Baroque” (Ferreira, 133) was introduced by Diego Quispe Tito who used the “Spanish baroque” style (Ferreira, 132) in combination with local motifs thereby establishing the most recognizable style of the school. In this period, Incan and local themes were present in most of the art. The last period of this school was the rise of the “Popular Cuzquenian School” (Ferreira, 132), where national characteristics such as the use of earth colours, golden estofado, and native flowers, were more recognizable than in the past periods. The artists that produced the most pieces at this time were Marcos Zapaca and Antonio Wilca. The School of Cuzco brought public spaces and events into private homes through art and its representations. In the final period of the school, artists started to separate. European perspectives were left aside and Incan flatness and colour returned to the canvases. Paintings were mass produced by the workshops, quality and individuality, both characteristics of the first two periods were lost, but general access to art was gained to most of people. (Dictionary of Art, 303).

The second period of the school was the most productive and predominates in art historical accounts. Artists such as Diego Quispe Tito, followed by Indian painters such as Chihuantito and Chilli Tupac produced most of the art during this time. Andean subjects, and Incan history were substantially represented all throughout their paintings. Another artist of the second period was Basilío de Santa Cruz Pumacallao. He painted following the European influences of Rubens and Velázquez (Dictionary of Art, 302). Marcos Ribera also fell into this category, with “notable and dramatic chiaroscuro” (Dictionary of Art, 302)

Virgin of Carmel Saving Souls in Purgatory, Ci...

Virgin of Carmel Saving Souls in Purgatory, Circle of Diego Quispe Tito, 17th c., collection of the Brooklyn Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

present in his paintings.

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 school 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” (ibid.) such as the earthquake of 1650 (Beltran, 145). However, Andean elements were also present, mixing cultures, techniques and representations into one piece.

Since the sixteenth 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 jewelry (Kelemen, 222). The people depicted in these pieces were normally the patrons and/or mestizo (mixed race) Madonnas. 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. The paintings had naturalistic Flanders backgrounds- surprisingly not Peruvian settings- with birds and Incan flowers, all surrounded and decorated by golden estofado, an “Armenian bole put on in the patterns desired (…) golden leaf is then applied, (…) sticking only to the clay.” (Beltran, 77). This golden tooling was used by artists who belonged to the school, their social backgrounds and painting subjects or objects were excluded.

The reality that Cuzquenian artists often depicted had little or nothing to do with what they saw around them. For example, the backgrounds were often simply copied from the Italian and Spanish masters that taught them how to paint (Adorno, 110). And exaggerated and surrealist images were represented in order to communicate a message to the Indigenous people about religious events and demons interacting with them. Art was used as propaganda, business, and culture at the same time. The subjects for the paintings are either of indigenous or European descent. The artists used similar concepts for both cultures: importance of clothing, lack of expressions, 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 expressed equal importance for both civilizations, just different ways of living them. Pictorial as well as spatial unities were also important. Both cultures were equally distributed and proportionally represented in the drawings or paintings, not giving more importance to one or the other. ii 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 seen as an ancestor for hybridity. Two cultures, religions, traditions and lifestyles brought together through one same language: art. The product of this cross is a new and blossoming universal movement, spreading its international message: we can all be an equal element and representation of it. This can be achieved leaving cultural differences aside and seeking a common interest, unity through art.

Maria Arroyo

Fall 2010


*Adorno compares and contrasts the negative as well as positive aspects of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (important character in Peru’s conquest. Incan descendant brought up in contact with Spanish culture and language; wrote a chronicle of Peru for Philip III, king of Spain) in order to extract these points from his art, and relate them to the Cuzquenian School. This done and presented in The Depiction of Self and Other in Colonial Peru.

Works cited

Adorno, Rolena. “The Depiction of Self and Other in Colonial Peru.” Depicted of the Dispossessed, 49. (1990). Art Journal. College of Art Association: 110-118.

“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.

This entry was posted in Baroque, chiaroscuro, Cuzco, Diego Quispe Tito, Diego Velazquez, Inca, Peru, Peter Paul Rubens, Spain, Spanish Mannerism, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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