Portraiture became increasingly important in colonial Latin America where local artists generally followed the canons accepted for official portraiture in Europe, with figures portrayed in three-quarter view gazing directly at the viewer and flanked by drapery. However, in the Americas the focus on social standing often overshadowed any effort to convey the essential personality of the subject. Although colonial artists accomplished a physical likeness, the faces often show little expression. Instead artists focused their attention on depicting rich details of luxurious clothing and objects that allude to the subject’s abilities or accomplishments. Sometimes coats-of-arms or cartouches with inscriptions outlining the sitter’s heritage or honors were included.
This portrait depicts a young Mexican woman, probably from Mexico City, during the early 1700s. She wears a powdered wig and a spectacular red dress of embroidered silk imported either from China on the famous Manila galleon ships used in the Asian trade across the Pacific, or from Spain, possibly Valencia, known for its luxurious silk production in the eighteenth century. She stands in front of a harpsichord and points to a page of sheet music, indicating that she was a musician, and possibly a composer herself. Scholars in Mexico suspect the sheet music may be a composition written specifically for the Cathedral of Mexico; they are trying to identify it.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015
- "Treasures/Tesoros: The Arts of Latin America, 1492-1850," Los Angeles County Museum of Art, August 3-October 28, 2007 (originally organized by the Philadelphia Museum of Art)
- "Glitterati: Portraits & Jewelry from Colonial Latin America," December 2014 - December 2016, Denver Art Museum.