Learning from Spanish Colonial Art

On Aug. 14, the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas in Austin opened Painted Cloth: Fashion and Ritual in Colonial Latin America , an exhibition that engages with rare textiles and garments, presented alongside painted depictions of colonial Latin American dress, focusing on clothing as a primary marker of identity and capturing the complex relationships between race, gender, religion, and class in 18th-century Latin America.

To learn more about the exhibit, AL DIA News interviewed Mexican born Rosario I. Granados, Associate Curator of the Art of the Spanish Americas at the Blanton since 2016, whose main scholarly work is related to gender, religion, and art in Latin America.

“We walked a lot as a family in downtown Mexico City when I was a child. Seeing the cathedral and all those other colonial churches sparked a deep interest in the period from a very young age,” Granados recalled.

Her mom worked at the Museo Nacional de la Culturas for years, and that helped to increase her own interest in art and museums. By the time she started college, Granados knew she would specialize in the Art of the Spanish Americas.

“I was fascinated by the identity struggles experienced at the time by people of Indigenous and Spanish descent. They were not from here, not from there, not from anywhere. That was defi nitely the last push that made me want to pursue further studies on Colonial Art,” she explained.

After graduating in Colonial Art a the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City, she jumped to London, UK, where she took a MA in Flemish Art at the prestigious Courtauld Institute of Art, and then to Harvard, where she fell in love with her then-roommate: a Mexican-American from Los Angeles pursuing a doctorate in architectural history at MIT.

Around the same time, she decided not to continue working on Flemish art, but go back to Latin America, “as it was definitely closer to my heart, and a big plus: I did not have to study German or Dutch!” Granados said. “In that sense, you can say that my Mexican identity certainly has shaped my scholarship,” she added.


Eventually, Granados focused on the colonial period, a very long and signifi cant era in the history of Latin America.

“For better or for worse, those three centuries define many of the primary identity markers of the region, from language and cultural practices like food and music to its current racism,” she said. “At the same time, not all marginalization of Indigenous communities comes from that period, but also from the 19th century’s policies that aimed to make all citizens equal once independence from Spain was attained.”

On the other hand, Granados also said that it is a period full of contradictions.

“More nuance is necessary to fully understand what Latin America is today. From the art of this period, we can learn about the transatlantic trade and racial relationships, but also about imagination and human resilience… like from the art of everywhere else,” she said.

The idea of an exhibition focusing on fashion and rituals in Colonial Latin America started early on, after she started working at the Blanton in 2016.

“I knew I wanted to make a show that would be attractive to wider audiences and not only those already interested in Latin America. Spending many months looking at ‘Our Lady of Bethlehem’ with a donor from the Thoma Foundation collection (one of the works included in the exhibition), gave
me the idea that fashion and ritual would be that universal topic that would allow us to do it,” she explained. “This painting is not only my favorite, but is the alpha piece of this whole project that aims to attract wider audiences and share the beauty of the art and complex historical background of colonial Latin America.”


According to Granados, the exhibition can help the audience learn how to look closely and refl ect, connecting the historical, religious, and aesthetic realms.

“We can learn about the multicolored, polyvalent Latin American society, past and present. We can reflect on how to be more critical of our modern consumption/production of self-portraits. We can learn how relevant the textile arts are for different societies (the Inca, the Aztec, the colonial society) and how ancient traditions are kept alive.” she said.

Granados also hopes that the audience can reflect on what “colonial” means in different historical contexts. By including casta paintings in the show, which depict families of mixed race, “we are presenting an opportunity to reflect on race as a concept and the effects of such cultural interlacing.” 

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