Tuesday, July 23, 2013

TheRoot.com: 'Interracial Families in 18th-Century Mexico'

Unknown artist working in New Spain (Mexico), De español y negra mulata, oil on canvas, 36 by 48 cm (Museo de America, Madrid)

The Root

This image is part of a weekly series that The Root is presenting in conjunction with the Image of the Black in Western Art Archive at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research.
One of the most typical, revealing products of colonial Spanish culture was the casta painting. This Iberian term means "lineage," or "race," and in art refers to the comprehensive representation of mixed-race couples and their offspring. Produced in a series usually consisting of 16 family groups, casta paintings categorize the uniquely complex degree of racial variation that arose within the multiethnic population of the viceroyalty of New Spain, now Mexico. These works were produced almost exclusively in the major artistic and governmental centers of Mexico City and Puebla during the 18th century. About 100 sets of casta paintings survive today from what must once have been a considerably larger number.

The example shown here, No. 4 in its series, initiates the process of black and white racial mixing. We see the union of a white Spanish man and a black woman with their mulatto daughter. The scene takes place in the family's kitchen. A tile stove is seen on the right, with food steaming in large pots. The well-dressed man is being accosted by his wife with a knobbed kitchen implement. Their little girl tries in vain to restrain her mother.

The Image of the Black in Western Art Archive resides at Harvard University's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute is Henry Louis Gates Jr., who is also The Root's editor-in-chief. The archive and Harvard University Press collaborated to create The Image of the Black in Western Art book series, eight volumes of which were edited by Gates and David Bindman and published by Harvard University Press. Text for each Image of the Week is written by Sheldon Cheek.

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