In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840

  • Introduction

Latin American Studies Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
Dennis Carr
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0044


Between 1565 and 1815, the Spanish viceroyalties of New Spain and Peru imported vast quantities of Asian export goods shipped across the Pacific, becoming one of the most important trade hubs in the world. At the same time, the Portuguese established key port cities at Salvador and Rio de Janeiro in its colony of Brazil that profited from direct trade with Asia from the east across the Atlantic. In both of these major colonial centers, the exotic, beautifully crafted Asian imports—predominantly silks, porcelain, furniture, lacquerwork, and other decorative arts—had a profound impact on the visual and material culture of the regions, capturing the imaginations of consumers and artisans alike. This happened over a century before the rage for all things Asian—commonly known as “chinoiserie”—swept Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries. This later phenomenon had a dramatic effect on all of the European colonies in the Americas, particularly British North America, where colonists embraced the new fashionable styles drawn from Asian art, as well as imported commodities, such as tea from China and spices from across Asia, long before direct trade routes opened up with the newly established United States after the American Revolution. Economic and social historians, art historians, anthropologists, and material culture scholars have addressed the topic of Asian influence in the colonial Americas for over the past century. Their inquiries into both the trade itself and the artistic impact of Asia throughout the hemisphere have shed new light on this critical early episode of globalization. In particular, recent scholars have been intensely interested in the notion of artistic hybridity and how cross-cultural interactions are key to understanding cultural identity and artistic production in this period. The colonial Americas is an exceptionally rich place to study this phenomenon, given the diverse nature of the population and the central role that trade and exchange played in colonial society. However, because of the wide geographical expanse of this area and the diverse nature of colonial rule as exercised by different, often competing, European governments, no single written source covers this broad topic. Rather, as this bibliography sets out, the subject is best explored through a wide range of scholarship approaching the topic from many different angles, building up to a composite view. This article is divided geographically and thematically, arranged into sections covering the major political regions in the colonial Americas: the Spanish viceroyalties, Portuguese Brazil, and British North America.

Spanish America

The subject of Asian influence in the Spanish viceroyalties in the Americas and the direct trade from the Spanish Philippines has interested generations of scholars, beginning with such early essays as Walter Hough’s “Oriental Influences in Mexico” (1900), but it has been only relatively recently that published scholarship has more fully explored the complexities of the topic. Among the most recent important contributions have been a number of major exhibitions on the subject of the Manila Galleon trade and colonial art in Latin America. Intended for general audiences but also filled with engaging new research, and often lavishly illustrated, these exhibition catalogues are useful starting points for most readers. Providing intellectual support for these exhibition projects and concomitant with the rise of academic interest in the topic, recent scholarly conferences have produced edited conference proceedings (see Edited Collections). Much of the other literature on this topic relates to specific subjects, and this article is organized by thematic groupings considered to be the most relevant to readers. First and foremost is the Manila Galleons trade that served as the metaphorical umbilical cord connecting Spain’s far-flung colonies across the Pacific. It was the means by which most Asian export goods entered Spanish America. Another grouping within that section covers the Asian Slaves that were part of the cargos of many of the Spanish vessels. The complex, and oftentimes controversial, issue of Asian slavery in the Spanish viceroyalties and the related topic of general emigration from Asia, which is only now being more fully understood, provides a surprising counterpoint in the literature to the many sources on black slavery in America and the better-known slave trade across the Atlantic. The powerful Religious Missions that spread throughout Spanish America and many parts of Asia served as another important mode of transmission of Asian objects and culture. Numerous studies of New Spanish and Peruvian art are media specific; therefore, this article organizes the remaining sources into the following major categories: Biombos (folding screens based on imported Japanese screens), Enconchados (inlaid shellwork objects imitating Japanese lacquerwork), Furniture and Indigenous Types of Painted Lacquerwork, New Spanish Talavera emulating Chinese blue-and-white export porcelain, and locally produced Textiles based on imported examples.

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