Exhibition Review: Gliterrati: Portraits and Jewelry from Colonial Latin America, Denver Art Museum
A Glittering Glimpse Inside Colonial Latin American Life
Step inside the vivid walls that enclose the Glitterati: Portraits and Jewelry from Colonial Latin America exhibit, at the Denver Art Museum, and be transported into the fascinating world of Colonial Latin America. Curated by Donna Pierce, the exhibition showcases art from the world-renowned Spanish Colonial art collection owned by the museum, providing insight into the opulent lives of the “glitterati” from the 18th to 19th century Latin America. The abundance of information regarding the historical and regional context of the artwork provided on wall plaques throughout the exhibit, combined with the curator’s spacious arrangement of the pieces, creates a stimulating display of colonial art and allows each work to be appreciated on an individual level.
Glitterati is comprised of six separated rooms that are connected into four different colored sections, which present a mixture of paintings, sculpture, jewelry and personal objects, along with furniture. Each section is enclosed by brightly colored walls which enhance the vibrancy of the art displayed and create a warm atmosphere for viewing. Ornate filigree arrows guide viewers through the rooms but there is no suggested order indicating where to start.
Upon walking into the first room of the exhibit, viewers are greeted with a large display of 14 portraits of Inka rulers, set against an azure blue background. Next to the portraits is a glass case containing several silver and gold tupu and ttipqui pins, traditionally used by the Inka to fasten robes and cloaks. This display allows viewers to compare the artistic depictions of the pins to the objects themselves, providing historical and relational context to the pins which would not be impactful without it.
Many paintings in the exhibition are portraits of more affluent figures in Colonial Latin America adorned with beautiful jewelry, and others are of a religious nature. The homogenous display of portrait paintings alongside personal adornments and furniture creates carefully curated scenes throughout the gallery, allowing viewers to form a deeper connection with the artwork. One such scene is presented in the azure colored room. Two portraits, one of Maria del Carmen Cortez y Cartavio and the other of her husband Simon de la Valle hang above a light green settee, alluding to how the paintings may have been originally displayed. These portraits were created in Peru around 1760 by an anonymous artist, and exhibit characteristics common to European Baroque portraiture such as stark black backgrounds, elaborate clothing, and three quarter view which allowed for more engagement with the work.
Both the female and male wear elaborately embroidered clothing and are shown with books, indicating their higher social status as not everyone was literate during this time. The Portrait of Maria del Carmen Cortez y Cartavio depicts the beautiful ornate jewelry worn by the elite. She wears multiple strands of large pearls around her neck and wrists that were exported from Venezuela and widely available to people of all social classes; however, it is the two large, ornamented gold crosses: one around her neck and one attached to a rosary, that are indicative of her higher social rank. In his portrait, Simon de la Valle wears a gold metal adornment on his right breast, indicating his military rank and social class.
The availability of pearls, coral, and various other jewels during the colonial period is shown by Manuel de Arellano in Rendering of a Mulatta, displayed in the crimson room of the exhibit. He depicts a woman of African and Spanish descent dressed in a flowing light blue dress and wearing a six-strand pearl necklace. Arellano’s portrayal of the mixed heritage woman differs from the other paintings displayed in the crimson room because she is represented as a more affluent woman, holding a higher social position.
An emerald green gallery of smaller artifacts including jewelry, regalia, religious relics, and figurines is housed at the heart of the exhibit. These objects are labeled with a numerical system and descriptions are provided in the booklets that accompany each case, helping eliminate some initial bias from the viewer by allowing them to view the objects as singular forms without context. A plethora of silver items is indicative of the metal’s abundance in this region and its prominence during the colonial time.
The Glitterati exhibition successfully displays a large collection of artwork and artifacts without being visually overstimulating, however, it fails to provide the museum attendees with a glimpse inside the lives of the people indigenous to Latin America or those of lower social class. While the influence of European artistic styles is apparent throughout the exhibition, not many parallels are drawn between the influence of art and culture native to the region, despite the proximity of the Pre-Columbian art section located on the same floor. The inclusion of more art and objects of personal use created by the native people before and during the colonization, along with more scholarly and historical information, would provide greater understanding of the changes occurring in Latin America during this time.
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