Authors: Workshops, Signatures and Attributions

By Colonial Museum

The attribution, which is to say, the act of determining the author and date of the artwork based on its stylistic features, is a common methodology in New Granada’s Colonial Art Study. 

Coronation of the Virgin of the Rosary (Ca. 1585) by Angelino MedoroColonial Museum

Even though in several cases this method has been useful, in others it has not, since many attributions have been made based on critical perceptions that don't take into account the complex figure of the colonial "painter," who differs greatly from the contemporary figure of the artist. Through five paintings of the Colonial Museum collection, we will see how this method is used and we will also explain the different criteria that is taken into account when an attribution is made and how it can change over time. This exhibit showcases how the way we approach colonial art many times responds to 20th century ideas.

Boy with Thorn by Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y CeballosColonial Museum

Signing a painting in the style of Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos

During the colonial period, it was uncommon to sign paintings because it implied paying taxes, among other limitations. However, from time to time, we do encounter some signed works, as is the case of ‘The Child of the Thorne’, signed by Gregorio Vásquez de Arce y Ceballos (c. 1638-1711) at the bottom right hand side of the canvas.

This painting depicts a childhood scene, where a young Jesus pricks one if his fingers while weaving a crown of thorns.

This scene refers to the Passion and death of Jesus.

This is one of the few works signed by Vásquez, and it has helped define his style, for instance, the almond shaped eyes, which is characteristic of his work.

The oval face of the Child

The delicate way the hands are shaped, as well as the earthy color palette.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Siglo XVII) by Baltasar Vargas de FigueroaColonial Museum

Stillness: a feature of Figueroa’s Workshop

Artist Baltasar Vargas de Figueroa (1629-1667) was part of one of the biggest workshops in Santafé. He worked alongside his grandfather, Baltasar de Figueroa  and his father, Gaspar de Figueroa. These three painters shared similar styles and pictorial formulas across several of their works. As a result, an important set of works have been attributed to this workshop. 

One the main characteristics that distinguish the style of these artists is the not so naturalistic treatment of the characters, which we can see in the oval-shaped faces of the Virgin, the Child, and the angel.

Also, the long tapered fingers of the characters is a marker that this painting originated from Figueroa's workshop

There is also a lack of dynamism in the scene, which evokes a sense of quietude and emphasizes the contemplative nature of the piece.

Finally, the chromatic contrasts and the palette, which is comprised of dark, earthy colors and rich red tones further accentuate the contemplative nature of the painting.

St. Jerome Penitent by Italian anonymousColonial Museum

The Penitent Saint Jerome: a difficult search

Due to stylistic choices, this ‘Penitent Saint Jerome’ is attributed to an unknown Italian painter. 

One of the reasons behind this attribution is the use of sfumato, a technique that softens the transitions between colors to create a sense of remoteness and contrast, which can be appreciated in the background.

Secondly, the chiaroscuro, which is the contrast between light and dark, creates a dramatic effect that can be appreciated in the contrast between the bright pink robe and the dark cave that envelops the Saint.

There is also a bible, one of the iconographic symbols that singles out this Latin translator of the Holy Scripture.

We also see a skull, symbolizing the contemplation of death.

At the feet of the Saint we see a lion, representing the strength with which Jerome defended the Church.

Finally, the great level of detail of the half-naked body, the wrinkles on the saint’s face, and the folds of his tunic are naturalistic in their representation. All of these elements are characteristic of a 17th century Italian artist, which justifies the attribution.

Coronation of the Virgin of the Rosary (Ca. 1585) by Angelino MedoroColonial Museum

How to make an attribution? The case of Angelino Medoro

Angelino Medoro (1567-1631) was one of the first European painters to travel to the Spanish Americas. He was known for his mannerist style,  a pictorial language that began at the end of the 16th century and was characterized by figures with exaggerated gestures. Paintings that follow this style, such as the ‘Coronation of the Virgin of the Rosary’, have been attributed to him.

This mannerist language can be seen in the limbs of the naked Child Jesus, who is delicately holding an orb,

in the long neck of the Virgin

on the Rosary falling from her milky white hand,

and lastly on the angels holding the Virgin's crown aloft.

The use of the colors also follows this mannerist style, the Virgin’s red tunic contrasts with her dark green mantle.

These chromatic choices generate a visual effect between light and dark that make the folds of the fabric stand out and evoke a sense of movement.

Saint Bartholomew by AnonymousColonial Museum

How do you change an attribution? The example of Saint Bartholomew

Attributions change thanks to research, restorations or archival discoveries. Such is the case of this portrayal of ‘Saint Bartholomew’, which was initially attributed to Gregorio Vásquez. 

In this canvas, the saint is shown as an old man who holds on one hand a knife, symbolizing his martydom,

and in the other, his tunic.

The face of the character is highlighted, which invites the viewer to gaze at him. This particularity means that this work was possibility inspired by Jusepe de Ribera’s engravings. (1591-1652).

It is possible to question whether Vásquez is truly the artist of this piece once we begin to pay attention to a few details. For instance, the gaze and face are naturalistic and are similar to other pictorial formulas used by Ribera to incarnate holiness.

The same applies to the dirty tunic,

and the wrinkles on the saint's face, a stylistic choice that makes the divine earthy.

In addition to these stylistic features, there is also the fact that this oil painting is very similar to a work housed in the Prado Museum of this same subject that we know was made by Ribera. All of these elements combined point out that this work was possibly made in Ribera’s workshop or by another Spanish painter who knew his oeuvre.

Rest on the Flight into Egypt (Siglo XVII) by Baltasar Vargas de FigueroaColonial Museum

We want to share with our public how the authorship of a Colonial piece is generated and the different challenges that curators face. Colonial art is a field where unknown artists prevail, and while this methodology is popular and useful, in some cases it has been employed to exalt certain figures and ignore the reality of the context. This situation has led to many works being  reviewed and dated once again, for in some cases the attributions have been made with mistaken assumptions. 

Credits: Story

Director of Museum: María Constanza Toquica Clavijo
Museology: Manuel Amaya Quintero
Editorial: Tanit Barragán Montilla
Administratior of Collections: Paula Ximena Guzmán López
Curators: Anamaría Torres Rodríguez, Diego Felipe López Aguirre
Communications: Juan Camilo Cárdenas Urrego

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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