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    Members’ Reports

    Maria Verónica Muñoz-Nájar Luque
    Center 41

    Maria Verónica Muñoz-Nájar Luque

    Art, Civility, and Religion in the Amazon Margins


    Unidentified artist, Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo with Indigenous Children, after 1730, oil on canvas, Blanton Museum of Art. Courtesy of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, photo by Vallery Taylor Gallery

    This dissertation examines visual representations of the tropical lowlands produced in the Viceroyalty of Peru during the Bourbon era (1700–1821). This project traces the history of colonial Amazonian art, considering new modes of image-making that arrived with European missionaries and state officials who settled the uncharted region in a quest for spiritual and territorial expansion. In particular, I focus on the visual culture produced in the Mantaro Valley and Mojos, two vibrant, intellectual hubs situated in the central and southern reaches of the Amazon basin in present-day Peru and Bolivia. There, the artistic training of the local population—in genres such as botanical studies, illustrated cartographies, landscape paintings, and anatomical drawings—was deployed as part of a sociopolitical strategy to instill “civility” in the Natives. 

    My dissertation opens with an analysis of aesthetic modes representative of the Amazonian territory. From painted maps to panoramic landscapes, artworks portraying the tropical lowland’s topography demonstrate that environmental location played an integral role in artistic expression across cultural boundaries in the Amazon. Traditional academic discourses on the matter have revolved around cartographies created by European explorers, as well as their relation to topography, nature, and power, sustained by the belief that Amazonian scientific cartography was absent before the arrival of the Spanish. My project dismantles this theory by engaging with the worldview of Indigenous peoples, such as that of the Yanesha community, who continue to identify the rain forest as a sacred territory capable of transmitting historical memory. The consideration of this Indigenous Amazonian knowledge vis-à-vis European colonial agendas substantiates the view that Native peoples have the ability to document their geography, genealogy, and mythology through the production of pictorial landscapes. 

    The second chapter of the dissertation analyzes the quintessential stereotype of American Natives—seminude figures clothed in feathered headdresses—through a subaltern lens. I employ Hiroshige Okada’s concept of “inverted exoticism” to assert that, through intercultural contact with Europeans, Amazonian artists appropriated Western stereotypes of exoticism and incorporated them into their Indigenous identity. This perspective has important implications for colonial art scholarship. In Latin America, art history has maintained a close relationship with the construction of mestizo and creole national identities, nuancing readings of viceregal Peru’s multiculturality. In this sense, Amazonian visual culture invites us to look at the “local” in a broader, more “global” comparative context. 

    The third chapter pivots to Mojos, a region located in the Amazonian area of present-day Bolivia. Part and parcel of the Bourbon reforms, in 1790 the Spanish governor Lázaro de Ribera established several drawing schools there. He believed that the Natives’ dedication to the study of academic models, such as those promoted by prints after Charles Le Brun or Guercino, was instrumental toward cultivating in them a sense of civility and loyalty to the Spanish Crown. In contrast to European artistic tradition, where the rhetoric of invention opposed the process of replication, the inclusion of Mojos students’ signatures on each academic copy questions the concept of creativity in the Amazon vis-à-vis the emergence of a style known as “Tropical Neoclassicism.” To showcase the success of Indigenous artistic education, in 1794 Ribera commissioned an illustrated manuscript for King Charles IV comprising 86 plates that represent Mojos culture. Ultimately, Charles IV exhibited this manuscript in Madrid’s Real Gabinete de Historia Natural, incorporating the Amazon into the encyclopedic collection that served as a microcosm of the Spanish Empire. 

    The final chapter of the dissertation establishes the role that visual economies of the Amazon region played in Bourbon Iberian art. It explores why and how the reception and exhibition of Amazonian “exotica” in Madrid served as a vehicle to disseminate tropical lowlands motifs in the Old World. This wave of exoticism left an indelible mark on the artistic landscape of Europe, as demonstrated by the new iconographies of Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo. During the 17th and 18th centuries, artists such as Carlo Maratta and Sebastiano Conca represented the bishop of Lima preaching to a metropolitan crowd. However, a mid-18th-century painting by an unknown artist, Saint Toribius of Mogrovejo with Indigenous Children, establishes a new model: Mogrovejo is portrayed catechizing two infants who are depicted in accordance with Amazonian stereotypes as displayed in the Real Gabinete. This painting reveals that the assimilation of artistic idioms in the Spanish world was a porous and bidirectional process that allowed Amazonian creations and iconographies to influence art-making in the Iberian Peninsula. 

    [University of California, Berkeley]
    Twelve-Month Chester Dale Fellow, 2020–2021 

    In fall 2021, Maria Verónica Muñoz-Nájar Luque will return to Berkeley to finish her dissertation and to teach as a graduate student instructor. 

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