In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Exhibition Catalogues
  • Museum Catalogues
  • Catalogues and Inventories of Historic Sites and Regions
  • Edited Collections
  • Studies on Inventories and other Related Documents
  • Periodicals

Latin American Studies Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
Jorge F. Rivas-Pérez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 October 2011
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 October 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0052


The origins of what we now denominate “Spanish colonial decorative arts” can be traced back to the last decade of the 15th century, when Spanish craft uses and customs were transplanted to the New World. The development of arts and crafts in Spanish America presents a special case within the context of the Americas. Among the most-distinctive aspects of the development of Spanish colonial decorative arts is the impact of local pre-Columbian craft traditions. In no other American colonies would native traditions come to play as essential a role as they would in those territories controlled by the Spanish Crown. The creation of new and original artistic traditions with their own specific decorative vocabulary, distinguished from both Iberian and Native American precedents, took several centuries and many generations of craftsmen to fully evolve and flourish. By the third decade of the 19th century most Latin American territories had gained independence from the Spanish Crown. The emancipation process, in most regions accompanied by civil wars followed by dramatic economic and social upheaval, deeply transformed the productive structures and in many cases put an end to more than three centuries of craft production rooted in the Spanish tradition. The nationalistic context in which most of the scholarly research has been conducted since the late 19th century fails to authentically reflect the original conditions of artistic production in the colonial era. Spanish territories were organized rather differently than present-day Latin American nations; production, trade, and consumption of goods were developed in accordance with this former geopolitical organization. To fully understand the phenomenon of Spanish American decorative arts, it is imperative to be aware of the original organization of the colonial territories and to expand the study frame to include the Philippines—which was then under the jurisdiction of New Spain. It is also important to note the variety of terms used to denote the Spanish Colonial period in the specialized literature. The general and ubiquitous “colonial,” the more geopolitically exclusive “viceregal” (notably applied to Mexico and Peru), and the sometimes misleading—due to prevailing durability in postcolonial cultural semantics—“Hispanic,” e.g., “del período hispánico,” are all in customary usage. With an emphasis on late-20th- and early-21st-century scholarship, and with the exclusion of research devoted to architecture, painting, and sculpture, this bibliography encompasses the examination of principal expressions of Spanish American arts and crafts produced between the 1490s and 1820s. The reviewed publications are in Spanish, unless otherwise specified.

Introductory Works

Our forebears who pursued the study of the decorative arts have bequeathed to us an imprecisely defined and variedly denominated area of inquiry. Contemporary scholars must achieve a familiarity with a diverse terminology. To varying degrees coextensive with “decorative arts” (artes decorativas) are the “minor arts” (artes menores), “industrial arts” (artes industriales) “utilitarian arts” (artes útiles), and “mechanical arts” (artes mecánicas). Some late-20th-century and early-21st-century literature includes Spanish colonial decorative arts in a general overview of colonial art: for example, Gutiérrez 1995, Bailey 2005, and Trusted 2007. However, a general critical survey devoted entirely to the decorative arts of the Spanish colonial era is yet to be published. Instead, the subject is usually addressed in one or more discrete chapters dedicated to specific countries in the general surveys of colonial art. Accordingly, some national decorative arts traditions have profited from outstanding introductory texts, while others have gained little or no benefit from the broad scope of the literature. The decorative arts of New Spain have achieved supremacy in the available texts, ranging from Manuel Romero de Terreros’s pioneering Las artes industriales en la Nueva España (Romero de Terreros 1982) to the more recent overview on New Spain contained in Rivero Borrell 2002, referenced under Exhibition Catalogues. Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes 1983 is the most complete and up-to-date source for the viceroyalty of La Plata. The viceroyalty of New Granada and the captaincy general of Venezuela are adequately reviewed in Arbeláez Camacho 1968 and Duarte and Gasparini 1974. The viceroyalty of Peru is a special case. Although Peruvian fine art has been extensively studied (with the exception of silverwork), the subject of decorative arts has been largely neglected. As a result there are no satisfactory general surveys of Peruvian decorative arts. However, the short and concise text by Francisco Stastny in Majluf, et al. 2001 provides a welcome modicum of remedy. Martínez Castillo 2000 is a basic introductory text to Honduran colonial art. Unfortunately, the scarce literature on colonial art in other regions includes little or no useful references for the study of decorative arts. Consequently, exhibition catalogues (see Exhibition Catalogues and museum catalogues (see Museum Catalogues), discussed in detail in the next sections, serve as important alternative resources. Of these, Rishel and Stratton-Pruitt 2006 and Fane 1996, both cited under Exhibition Catalogues, are notable for their prescience and breadth.

  • Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes. Historia general del arte en la Argentina II. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1983.

    A collection of essays on colonial art. Includes excellent sections on furniture (pp. 121–248) and silverwork (pp. 235–482), both by Adolfo Luis Ribera. It is considered among the best sources of Argentinean decorative arts from the Hispanic period. Very good illustrations of furniture and silver artifacts, many in color, complement the essays.

  • Arbeláez Camacho, Carlos. El arte colonial en Colombia: Arquitectura, escultura, pintura, mobilario, orfebrería. Bogotá, Colombia: Ediciones Sol y Luna, 1968.

    A fundamental general survey of Colombian colonial art. It includes chapters on furniture and silverwork. Good as a beginner’s introduction to the subject. Good-quality illustrations of furniture and silver, some in color.

  • Bailey, Gauvin Alexander. Art of Colonial Latin America. London: Phaidon, 2005.

    A very broad overview of Latin American colonial art. Decorative arts are discussed as part of the general discourse. A useful appendix includes a glossary, brief biographies of artists, a chronology, and maps. In English.

  • Duarte, Carlos F., and Graziano Gasparini. Arte colonial en Venezuela. Caracas, Venezuela: Editorial Arte, 1974.

    A good introduction to Venezuelan colonial art. It covers a wide range of decorative arts topics including furniture, ceramics, and silverwork. Very good-quality illustrations, some color.

  • Gutiérrez, Ramón, ed. Pintura, escultura y artes útiles en Iberoamérica, 1500–1825. Madrid: Cátedra, 1995.

    A broad overall survey of Spanish colonial art that includes decorative arts as well. Several chapters are of interest for this bibliography: chapter 18, on decorative arts in New Spain; chapter 19, on utilitarian arts in New Granada and Quito; chapter 20, on utilitarian arts in Peru; chapter 21, on utilitarian arts in Chile; and chapter 22, a general overview on colonial silverwork. With illustrations. A good introductory text for undergraduates and graduate students.

  • Majluf, Natalia, Cristóbal Makowski, Francisco Stastny. Art in Peru: Works from the Collection of the Museo de Arte de Lima. Lima, Peru: Museo de Arte de Lima, 2001.

    A concise general overview on Peruvian art. The colonial art chapter by Francisco Stastny (pp. 83–125), which includes furniture and silver, is an excellent introduction for undergraduates. Good color reproductions. Spanish edition available.

  • Martínez Castillo, Mario Felipe. Por las rutas de la plata y el añil: Desarrollo del arte colonial religioso Hondureño. Tegucigalpa, Mexico: Grupo Financiero el Ahorro Hondureño, 2000.

    This work figures among the few available publications on Honduran colonial art. A short introductory text framing local colonial art is followed by a photographic survey of religious art. The review includes furniture and silverwork.

  • Romero de Terreros, Manuel. Las artes industriales en la Nueva España. Mexico City: Banco de Mexico, 1982.

    Foundational work for the decorative arts of New Spain. The author examines in detail the diverse craft specialties in colonial Mexico. Chapters on jewelry, ironwork, bronze, arms saddlery and carriages, carving and inlaid work, furniture, ivories, ceramics, glass, and textiles. A useful appendix on featherwork, gild ordinances, and Chinese porcelain in Mexico. With illustrations. The 1982 edition of the book includes an additional collection of writings.

  • Trusted, Marjorie. The Arts of Spain: Iberia and Latin America 1450–1700. London: V&A Publications/The Hispanic Society of America, 2007.

    Presents an excellent general overview of the arts of the Spanish Empire. A wide range of media are examined, including architecture, painting, engravings, sculpture, books, textiles, furniture, and ceramics. Chapters 5 and 6 are of interest for the study of decorative arts in the American colonies. In English.

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