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Casta Painting

Luis BerruecoLast half 18th century

Museo de América

Museo de América

The canvas is divided into two horizontal parts, each of which is divided into four. Each of the eight smaller images depicts scenes of miscegenation. In the scene to the left of the viewer, in the upper part of the canvas, there is a woman holding onto a child and a man on the other side. The woman is carrying a tray full of tamales and the man is loaded down with a basket in which there are, among other things, many fabrics. In his right hand he is holding a tray with a display of buttons. These elements clearly make reference to his trade. The scene adjacent to the previous one portrays a man and a woman dressed in elegant clothes. The mulatto, who wears in a dress coat and covers himself with a wide cape, could be the coachman of a stately home. The depiction of the woman can be directly related to images of the saints dressed in rich clothes. Also notable is the black circle she has on her temple, as do the other Spanish women and the mestiza who figure the other miscegenation scenes in this canvas. It was an adornment in fashion in Mexico at the time and it was known as a chiqueador. It was generally a piece of black velvet that was glued to a woman’s face to feign a mole, considered to be a sign of beauty. Beside the previous scene there is another with similar characteristics. The man wears a big blue velvet cloak, a long dress coat and lace stockings, his head is bare and he has his tricorne hat under his arm. On one side the hilt of a sword can be seen and in his right hand he is holding a cane. His son is next to him, dressed in the same attire and leaning affectionately on his mother’s lap. The upper part ends with a tender scene between parents and son. The three of them appear sitting in the middle of the countryside, next to a jar and a basket full of tortillas. In the lower part, in the corner to the left of the viewer, there is an indian family wearing the traditional dress: the woman and the little girl in huipiles, and the man in a cape and hat with his long hair next to his face. Beside them is the Spaniard, dressed in the European style next to the indian woman dressed in the huipil. Between them is the small mestiza with a skirt pulled in at the waist, white apron and the traditional shawl. The next scene depicts the Spaniard with an ample cape, a hat and scarf over his head; to his side, the small castizo boy and the mestiza, the latter dressed in the unique pullover skirt under which we can see the sleeves of her blouse. The last scene unites the usual characters: man, child and woman richly dressed. The castizo with a Mexican scarf tied around his neck; the Spanish woman with a sumptuous dress in the European fashion, a black shawl and a fan in her hand. The small Spaniard with a dress coat, powdered wig covered by a tricorne. Each of the scenes is identified with inscriptions which make reference to the degree of miscegenation according to their ethnic branches: Indians, European and African. This is a typical feature of a pictorial genre developed in the viceroyalty of New Spain throughout the 18th century. This genre known as “casta paintings” arranges series generally comprising 16 paintings in which the most common unions are ordered. Luis Berrueco, the author of this series, comes from a dynasty of painters from Puebla and has a considerable number of followers. To him we owe the first series of “casta paintings” commissioned in Puebla, the second most important city in the viceroyalty of New Spain.

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