- Francisco Clapera, Spanish, 1746-1810
- Born: Spain
- Work Locations: Mexico
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, a new and unique genre of painting developed in Mexico. Designed to depict and classify the miscegenation occurring between the three main racial groups (Spaniards, Africans, and Indians), these sets of paintings (usually fourteen to sixteen) contain a wealth of information on the daily life, diet, occupations, clothing, habits, utilitarian objects, and recreations of the era. Often commissioned for export to Spain, casta sets advertised the monetary wealth and natural abundance, in both products and people, of the American territories. The emphasis on ostentation and public display of wealth and abundance in castas became a conscious construct of Mexican self-image and can be associated with the growing nationalism of the late colonial period in Mexico.
At the same time, the new genre of casta painting also reflects the desire to reinforce the stratification of social classes, a European system that was fast breaking down in the New World as a result of various factors, including racial mixing, access to wealth (especially among miners and merchants), and social mobility. The paintings increasingly attempted to reinforce upper-class conceptions of social stratification by privileging family groups that included a Spanish male—showing them early in the series (usually in numbers one to six) and furnishing them with details that suggested a more affluent lifestyle than that of other racial mixtures.
Like most castas, Clapera’s series of sixteen (2011.428.1-.16), of which this painting is a part, portrays families in domestic settings engaged in private activities, thus providing a rare glimpse into the daily life of eighteenth-century Mexico. Others show occupations and serve as a document to life in the colonial era. The clothes, activities, and utensils reveal the hybridity of Mexican culture of the eighteenth century in their mix of European, Asian, and Mexican material culture.
Not much is known about Francisco Clapera other than that he was born in Barcelona, Spain in 1746 and trained in painting at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid where he graduated in 1768. While the exact date of Clapera’s arrival in Mexico, via Peru, is unknown, by 1790 he was teaching painting at the Royal Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. Two of the sixteen paintings in this casta series are signed by the artist.
This set of casta paintings is one of only a handful of complete sets still intact in the world and it is the only one in the United States.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015