Casta Paintings

I was drawn to the series of Casta Paintings largely due to my own initial reaction to seeing them.  I realized that I found them strange. I am so used to seeing only white faces in European art, which obviously during a time of intense colonization was not representative of the makeup of the ever expanding European world. The erasure of racial diversity is so prevalent that their presence in our historical artifacts in startling.

To those who lived during the time of Casta paintings would have been more than surprising, they would have been upsetting. The colonizers worldview was motivated by a persistent goal of conversion and assimilation. There wasn’t any leniency in the us and them mentality. The possibility that new peoples could refine or teach the Spanish colonizers was not compatible with the pervasive sense of superiority that is imperative in order to justify imperialism.

The disdain for non-European, indigenous, black and multiracial peoples was so deeply ingrained that Spaniards feared that children who had been born simply in proximity to those not of Spanish descent might be somehow be tainted. This was seen as a dangerous idea in a culture that above many other issues valued “purity”. People are scared of what they don’t understand and the Spanish colonizers were so cloistered that they just could not comprehend an interracial society that not only functioned but flourished. To them it seemed like a recipe for corruption of a society that they viewed as superior to any other that could exist anywhere else in the world.

The only way Spanish colonizers could concede to having their pure Spanish society tarnished by “inferior” races was by perceiving foreigners as only existing in service positions.  This speaks to the way colonizers understood the societies they came across on their “adventures” as resources that could be used and exploited. Regardless of who had built the empire the Spanish colonizers laid claim to all the people, places and cultures they encountered.

I also see Casta paintings becoming a form of colonizer propaganda. By painting pictures of “exotic” peoples surrounded only by beautiful fauna, flora, smiles and sunshine imperialists could mask the pain they caused and portray a very rosy version of conquest. This could become more important especially as more authors and activists began to raise concerns surrounding the ethics of the colonialists activities.

Art speaks to the political and social climate in which the artist, subjects, and audience. The layers in these paintings fascinates me and I’d love to spend more time observing and studying them on my own time.


Filed under Uncategorized

2 Responses to Casta Paintings

  1. Linda

    Hi Isabel, I enjoyed reading your blog post about this weeks topic and thought it was interesting that you could offer new insights (new for me since my knowledge about Latin America is still limited, so please bear with me) about the relationships between the spaniards, the coloniser,and the new people, the colonised.
    I also think your analysis of the paintings in terms of propaganda makes sense and it makes me interested in finding more articles that look deeper into the background and purpose the creators of the paintigns had in mind. Did you use any extra sources for your article that you would be willing to share with me?
    Linda 🙂

  2. elena faraci

    The idea of the casta paintings as propaganda for Europeans is interesting, and something I hadn’t considered. Since the focus of the paintings were the races of the people portrayed in them, I never thought to pay much attention to their surroundings. I wonder if, as well as showing off how beautiful Latin America was to the Europeans, they may have also served as a way to assure the Europeans that white people and other races were separated. In Spain at the time, the crown cared so much about racial purity, so it might make sense that Spanish colonizers would try to downplay their own connections to other races by showing them as segregated and occupying different classes and jobs.
    I agree that it would be interesting to study the casta paintings more, especially now that I’ve realized how much I missed the first time that I looked at them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *