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Constructing the Pre-Columbian Past: Peruvian Paintings of the Inka Dynasty, 1572-1879

  • Author(s): Stephens, Janet Garver
  • Advisor(s): Klein, Cecelia F
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation examines a genre of art, paintings of the Pre-Columbian Inka dynasty, that were produced in Peru for three centuries, beginning with the earliest years of colonial rule and enduring into the first decades following Peru's independence from Spain. The genre emerged from the chaos of conquest and is notable for the diversity of its patronage. The paintings were collected by indigenous descendants of the Pre-Columbian Inka rulers, the Spanish colonial government, creoles (American-born Spaniards), and even foreign travelers. Furthermore, paintings of the Inka could be found in a variety of contexts, both public settings and private spaces, including the homes of indigenous elites in Cusco, indigenous parish churches in Lima and elsewhere, Lima's cabildo (city hall), in the residences of elite creoles, and even in the royal collection in Madrid, Spain. Because it focuses on understanding the significance paintings of the Inka accrued in those multiple contexts, the study gives insight into how representations of the Inka past were used to articulate political, cultural and social identities that were constantly in flux.

Throughout this study, paintings of the Inka are read in conjunction with other sources in order to flesh out the discourses with which they intersected. These sources include: other artworks that are contemporary with the genre; historical documents, among them colonial accounts of Inka history written from the perspective of indigenous and European authors, archival documents including legal proceedings and wills, and traveler's accounts of Peruvian society.

My study advances how paintings of the Inka provided a historical basis that legitimized their patrons. Rather than seeking a unified theory of the genre and its significance, the dissertation highlights how the paintings' meanings were dependent on the diversity of their contexts of reception. While, in general, the subject matter and style of the paintings changed little over time, the period of the paintings' production was marked by dramatic historical and political shifts, ranging from the years in which Spain's power was being consolidated to those in which Spain's hold over its Peruvian territories was in decline. Because paintings of the Inka were a means through which the paintings' patrons could locate themselves historically and culturally within Peruvian society, the implications of the paintings likewise transformed. Paintings of the Inka could convey their subjects as noble ancestors or defeated enemies. They could uphold the legitimacy of the Spanish conquest of the Inka or question the limits of Spain's power. By focusing on how the paintings created meanings that, in some instances, intersected and overlapped, while in others were divergent and contradictory, the dissertation advances understanding into the shifting perceptions of the Pre-Columbian past, and the vital function of that past in constructing one's place in the present.

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