Journeys to New Worlds

Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art from the Roberta and Richard Huber Collection

Journeys to New Worlds: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art from the Roberta and Richard Huber Collection

Afunny thing happened on my way to the museum, I found myself waiting on line for a new show in Philadelphia, and in front of me was a line of people from all corners of the globe, Africans, Latin Americans, I even heard a few Portuguese words as we waited to get into the exhibit. The show in question was “Journeys to New Worlds: Spanish and Portuguese Colonial Art from the Roberta and Richard Huber Collection”, and upon later reflection I realized how appropriate the place and setting for this exhibit was. As we here in the America take for granted that we live in such a unique melting pot, our colonial ancestors did not, and worked very hard to keep perceptions of class, race and religion, in line with their perceived notions of the new society they were building in the colonies. The art of this exhibit, exemplifies that world view in stunning variety and detail, and affords us a glimpse into the minds of a ruling class, which in many ways has not been phased out in the new world.

The Archangel of your dreams

What is truly magnificent of this exhibition is how the colonial period of Latin America was steeped in religious symbolism that permeated every aspect of the arts, and objects that surrounded them. From religious paintings, and furniture, to sculptures and even decorative objects used in the everyday. Each of these items is rich in baroque details, but also says something about the owners and creators of these objects. The Latin American class system was rigid hierarchy of rule, that started with a white upper class that dominated the church and government, and ended with a lower landless and even slave class dominated by native peoples and african slaves. In between a multitude of variations of class existed, with the more creole or mestizo (people of mixed european and native ancestry) occupying a key position in this social ladder. This art both triumphs this diversity, as in the religious paintings made by Native painters in Jesuit schools, with unique indigenous qualities, but also displays the irreverence that the colonials had to the people they subjugated, as in the “Casta” paintings which show the class system based on different racial makeups of people and used to signify among other things, where they could sit in churches along the rigid social lines.

Roberta and Richard Hubler amassed an amazing collection of art, and this exhibit brings together some truly remarkable pieces from the 16th through 18h centuries from both Spanish speaking, and Portuguese speaking America. Fans of religious art, or even South American history will be keen to catch a glimpse of this show, and see artwork that is rarely seen outside of national collections in South America.

The exhibit runs February 16, 2013 – May 19, 2013 at Exhibition Gallery, first floor, Perelman Building as part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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