The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism

Posted in Articles, Arts, Caribbean/Latin America, History, Media Archive on 2016-08-22 23:59Z by Steven

The Pleasures of Taxonomy: Casta Paintings, Classification, and Colonialism

The William and Mary Quarterly
Volume 73, Number 3, July 2016, 3rd series
pages 427-466

Rebecca Earle, Professor
School of Comparative American Studies
University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

A new model for thinking about the socioracial categories depicted in casta paintings (remarkable eighteenth-century Spanish American images representing the outcome of “racial mixing”) takes seriously both their fluidity and their genealogical character. Approaching classification, and casta paintings, from this direction clarifies the underlying epistemologies that structured colonial society and helps connect the paintings more explicitly to the debates about human difference that captivated Enlightenment thinkers. Ultimately, however, these paintings were produced and collected in the hundreds not simply because they visualized Atlantic debates about classification and human difference but because these visualizations were interesting and pleasant to contemplate. They agreeably roused the pleasures of the imagination via their taxonomic as well as their narrative power. Linking casta paintings to the importance accorded to pleasure in both the scientific and the colonial imagination helps explain their fascination, which derived from their ability to condense the complex interconnections of classification, colonialism, and sexuality into appealing images.

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Casta Painting: Art, Race and Identity in Colonial Mexico (HI972)

Posted in Caribbean/Latin America, Course Offerings, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Mexico, United Kingdom on 2013-05-27 02:27Z by Steven

Casta Painting: Art, Race and Identity in Colonial Mexico (HI972)

University of Warwick
Coventry, England
Spring 2013

Rebecca Earle, Professor of History

This module explores the distinctive vision of colonial Mexico purveyed via the artistic genre known as the casta painting. Casta paintings depict the outcomes of different types of inter-ethnic mixing, and often come in series of 16, showing many different family groups. They are quite remarkable. Consider, for example, José de Alcíbar’s painting showing a family group consisting, we are told in the helpful label, of a Black father, and Indian mother and their ‘Wolf’ son:

Casta paintings can be seen as attempts at cataloguing the varied inhabitants of Spain’s colonial universe. They thus offer a visual taxonomy of colonial space. At the same time, they have been read as statements of local pride, and usually include a wealth of details about local customs and habits. In addition, they are rich and complex documents relating to the material culture of colonial Spanish America. In Alcíbar’s painting reproduced above we notice not only the domestic strife but also the beautiful china (which is endangered by the parental row) and food items such as the headless chicken. How are we to interpret and understand such images?

The module will introduce students to this artistic genre, and will explore different ways of interpreting these multi-valent images. Its educational aims, therefore, are to help students consider how to read artistic works produced in a colonial setting, how to use casta paintings as a body of source material, and how to explore the relationship between visual and textual depictions of colonial space…

For more information, click here.

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