From the Andes to the Caribbean: American Art from the Spanish Empire

, Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Artist active in the Viceroyalty of Peru, after Diego de Ocaña (1585–1608), “Our Lady of Guadalupe at Extremadura,” 1730–80. Oil on canvas. Carl & Marilynn Thoma Collection, TL42430.6. Image: Courtesy of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation; photo by Jamie Stukenberg.

Special Exhibitions Gallery, Harvard Art Museums

Discover a more complete story of art from the Spanish Empire—and a broader definition of American art—through an unparalleled collection of Spanish colonial paintings.

The Spanish empire and its patent mercantile companies were the dominant colonial force in America from 1492 to 1832. Five years before Portugal established American settlements and nearly a century before Britain and France claimed land in the hemisphere, wealth from America’s colonial territories (viceroyalties) of New Spain and Peru made Spain the richest nation on Earth. Though Spain is no longer an empire, its colonial past continues to inform the art and culture of the Americas.

From the Andes to the Caribbean presents 26 paintings from the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation—the premier U.S. private collection of Spanish colonial paintings from South America and the Caribbean—together with works from the Harvard Art Museums. The exhibition emphasizes three key themes related to culture and empire: the political and spiritual work of Catholic icons, the ways in which empire begets hybrid cultural identities, and the relationship between labor, wealth, and luxury. Oil paintings from present-day Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela are presented alongside works on paper and design objects made with Cuban and Honduran mahogany, Mexican cochineal, and Peruvian silver, underlining the great diversity of works of art broadly referred to as either “Viceregal,” “Spanish colonial,” or simply “American.”

As scholar and critic Edward Said reminds us, “[C]ulture participates in imperialism yet is somehow excused for its role.” The colonial encounters and exchanges that established an “American art” informed by European conventions are also responsible for the violence of forced religious conversions, removal from ancestral homes, and the enslavement of African and Indigenous peoples in the hemisphere. This exhibition aims to provide a fuller understanding of the relationship between American art and Spanish imperialism.

Organized for the Harvard Art Museums by Horace D. Ballard, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. Associate Curator of American Art.

The curatorial team would like to thank Natalia Ángeles Vieyra; Gabriel Sosa; Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt; Kathryn Santner; Thomas Cummins; and colleagues at the Harvard Map Collection, the Harvard University Herbaria & Libraries, and Harvard’s David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.

Loans and exhibition coordination courtesy of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation. Support for the exhibition is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation Fund for the American Art Department; the Bolton Fund for American Art, Gift of the Payne Fund; the Alexander S., Robert L., and Bruce A. Beal Exhibition Fund; and the Gurel Student Exhibition Fund. Related programming is supported by the M. Victor Leventritt Lecture Series Endowment Fund.

Share your experience: #HarvardArtMuseums

Also on Display
Two additional paintings on loan from the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation can be viewed in Gallery 2240, on Level 2: Mama Ocllo (1835–45) and Saint Rose of Lima (18th century).