The Asian Influence on American Arts

Discover the role that Latin America played in the arts as a bridge between Europe and Asia.

By Museo de América

Museo de América

Painted silk (18th Century)Museo de América

Maritime Trade and Artistic Transitions

The Asian influence reached Latin America through the maritime trade established between the ports of Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco on the west coast of Mexico. Large ships named galleons sailed this course, which was known as the Manila Galleon Trade Route.

Painted silk (17th Century)Museo de América

The Manila Galleon Trade Route was not only used to transport merchandise, but also cultural and artistic ideas. In Latin America, the demand for Asian goods was so great that, in many viceroyalties, a local production was begun that was heavily influenced by Asian art.

In terms of administration, the Philippines formed part of the viceroyalty of New Spain, whose capital was Mexico City. Apart from political relations, they also established commercial and cultural relations that would later be reflected in the arts.

Painted silk (18th Century)Museo de América

The galleons carried people, merchandise, and luggage. The Philippines was a cultural meeting point, and its capital Manila was the port from where the galleons set sail.

They transported a variety of objects, from spices such as pepper, clove, and cinnamon, to silks, porcelain, marble, lacquer, fans, furniture, and decorative objects. In many cases, the final destination was Europe, via vessels on the route to the Indies which set sail from the port of Veracruz and docked in Spain.

Chest (18th Century)Museo de América

Trading in merchandise—both artistic and functional—enabled the populations of the American viceroyalties to learn about and appreciate oriental products.

On arrival in Mexico, many of the products were sold in the market of El Parián, named after the original El Parián market in Manila.

Sewing box (17th Century)Museo de América

The demand for Asian goods was so great that, in many viceroyalties, a local production was begun that was heavily influenced by Asian art, as demonstrated by these objects made in New Spain.

Sewing box (19th Century)Museo de América

Oriental Lacquer in American Viceroyalties

America was fascinated by objects made from lacquered wood, which arrived on the galleons from Manila and were sold in El Parián. Soon, craftsmen began to use their local techniques to imitate the lacquer, using pre-Hispanic, European, and Asian shapes and designs.

Batea (18th Century) by José Manuel De la CerdaMuseo de América

In the viceroyalty of New Spain, lacquer was obtained from a mixture of animal fat, vegetable oil, mineral powder, and pigments, as seen on this tray.

Desk (17th Century)Museo de América

In the viceroyalty of Peru, they used Pasto varnish…

…made from the resin of the mopa mopa tree, native to the region of Pasto in the south of Colombia.

Tray (17th Century)Museo de América

This typifies the capacity of the American viceroyalties to absorb different cultures. Tangible examples of this are the chest and bowl included in this section, coated in Pasto varnish (a resin extracted from the Mopa-Mopa tree).

Earthenware jar (17th Century)Museo de América

The Influence of Chinese Porcelain on the Pottery of New Spain

Another fusion that arrived via the Manila Galleon Trade Route is that of Chinese porcelain, which was soon copied by other ceramic production centers in New Spain.

The Chinese porcelain that arrived via the Manila Galleon Trade Route was soon copied, primarily in the city of Puebla. Known as Talavera Poblana, this ceramic was characterized by its white glaze. The oriental influence is evident in the Chinese-style decorative motifs on a white background.

This influence is also evident in other ceramic production centers such as this jar from Tonalá; it imitates the shape of Chinese earthenware jars and is decorated with Chinese lions.

Holy Child of Cebú (18th Century)Museo de América

Art Travels: Kakemonos

The Asian influence on American visual culture can also be seen in kakemonos: pictures that hang vertically on paper or silk, without a frame, mounted on rollers that enable them to be folded for storage or transport.

Kakemonos originated in China, and from there spread to Japan and all across Asia. In America, these creations were copied as they could easily be transported in a case, making them very practical for paintings that needed to be moved.

Kakemono designs such as this one with the image of the Christ child Santo Niño del Cebú arrived in New Spain from the Philippines, and introduced the influence of this type of traveling art throughout Latin America.

Miraculous image of Our Lady of Mount Farelo (18th Century)Museo de América

The influence arrived in Cusco, where this Peruvian kakemono with the image of Our Lady of Monte Fariña was painted. It was later sent to Spain, as indicated on the painting label.

Saint Rose of Lima (18th Century)Museo de América

Marble sculptures with Christian iconography

These objects, made by Chinese craftsmen, were key to conveying Christian culture in Latin America. The images were sought after for their use in evangelizing and religious education, both for public worship in churches, and in private.

Ivory pyx (18th Century)Museo de América

Chinese craftsmen began the production of marble images with Christian iconography for the Portuguese in Macau or Canton in the mid-16th century.

When the Spanish arrived in the Philippines, they began to trade with these images from China.

Jesus blessing (17th Century)Museo de América

In light of the high demand, the Chinese merchant craftsmen, known as Sangleys, opened numerous workshops in Manila, where they produced Christian images in marble.

These sculptures were sought after for their use in evangelizing and religious education, both for public worship in churches, and in private.

Saint Rose of Lima (18th Century)Museo de América

Images of Saint Rose of Lima—the first saint of the Indies and patron of Lima and Peru—were highly sought after for worship throughout the Americas, the Philippines, and the East Indies.

The saint, with her Dominican habit and crown of thorns, has very characteristically Asian features, including wide, half-closed eyelids, a folded bottom section, short fingers, and square fingernails.

Lodging Request (1676/1725)Museo de América

Paintings with mother-of-pearl shell applications

Many artists traveled to New Spain to take advantage of the demand for Asian-influenced artwork. Among these new objects were paintings that included the inlaying of mother-of-pearl shell, known as "enconchados".

Mery Magdalene (1676/1725)Museo de América

These "enconchados" contain a layer of paint with fragments of mother of pearl, on a plaster base, which is applied to a wooden backing, and usually covered with canvas. These items were produced in Mexico between the mid-17th and 18th centuries.

Conquest of Mexico (1676 - 1700)Museo de América

The enconchados tended to have religious themes, with scenes taken from the gospels. They usually exist in series or sets that tell the life story of the Virgin or Christ.

There is, however, an inherently American theme, narrating the Spanish conquest of Mexico with other indigenous groups who were enemies of the Aztecs.

It is a series of paintings presenting scenes from the main events of the history of the conquest, complemented by explanatory labels with the message of the painting.

Royal sealed folding screen (17th Century)Museo de América

The First Globalization: the Art of Folding Screens

America as a Conduit of Asian Influence to Europe.

These double-sided pieces of furniture originated in China and later spread to Japan, where they were given the name bio bou. In Spanish they are known as biombos, which translated from the Japanese means protection from the wind.

In Japan, there was a great tradition of constructing folding screens, which was adjusted to create a design for exportation, which included special features. This art is known as Japanese Nanban art.

Viceroy Palace in Mexico (1676 - 1700)Museo de América

The court of the viceroy and its surroundings played a fundamental part in the dissemination of artistic objects.

Viceroy Palace in Mexico (17th Century)Museo de América

The viceroy, vicereine, and numerous officials that lived in the palace represented in the folding screen, accumulated numerous artistic objects in their assets.

The mobility of these high-ranking officials, who carried their most prized artwork in their luggage, was another way of transporting creations and knowledge to far-off lands within the Spanish Empire.

Credits: Story

Curation and texts: Ana Zabía de la Mata

Coordination: Susana Mayor Amieva

Documentation: Clara Aranda

Photographs: Joaquín Otero, Gonzalo Cases, Ana Pérez

Museo de América

This exhibition is part of the First Voyage Around the World project.

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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