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From a very young age, Uruguayan artist Juan Manuel Blanes developed a large part of his artistic production in Argentina. He painted historical themes, portraits and allegorical compositions and was admired by intellectuals of the era. He gained a privileged position in the Río de la Plata’s 19th-century art scene. His historic paintings are characterized by an inclination toward documentary, a reflection of the classic education he received in Italy. He never would abandon this academic style, except in a few allegorical paintings that maintain certain romantic accents. Painted in Florence, Italy, is part of a series of canvases of an allegorical nature dealing with Latin American themes. In these paintings, the characters and theme refer back to a dichotomy between civilization and barbarity. Barbarity referred not only to the Indians (an issue that was already resolved, anyway) but also to rebellious gauchos, civil wars and the disorder in the interior of the country. Civilization, in the allegory presented by the artist, is represented by a nude woman besieged by barbarity. The cautiva is a recurring theme in art from the Río de la Plata, an erotic myth that worked as a catalyst to arouse hatred toward indigenous peoples. In the center of the canvas there is a semi-nude white woman with her head raised looking skyward, ready to meet her fate with resignation. She is the cacique’s quarry and prize, and he observes her with intent curiosity. In the background the Indian village can be seen to the right, and a group of Indians on horseback, the raiders returning to the village, to the left. The painting is realistic, and it demonstrates Blanes’ great virtuosity, as much in the composition as in the drawing, and his excellent handling of light. All the works from this series are illuminated with a clear, diaphanous light that brings viewers to recall the desert. Although the artist has placed the focus of the composition on the female figure, the captive, he does not neglect the desert theme, which appears as the other great protagonist in this piece.

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