Regarding Pedro Germano Leal’s writing sample To the New World, on the Ship of Theseus: An Introductory Essay to Emblems in Colonial Ibero-America (Work in Progress).

I chose to comment this text because of its interest in the ‘pictorial clash’ between cultures from the arrival of Europeans to the New World and Pedro Germano Leal´s proposal of seeing emblems as the paradigm of this clash. I have synthesized my interest in this text in four main point which I find very important, not only for the study of emblems in the New World or Iberian Americas, but for other genres as well.

The first point I want to emphasize is the consideration the author makes in every region for the existence of previous visual and writing representation systems. As Hill Boone and Cumins (1998) have accurately observed, this particular preexistence or non existence has a big impact on the nature of the visual culture that arises from the colonization of the visual production in the first decades of colonial rule in Iberian America. As Ramón Gutierrez (1995) suggested this consideration enables us to consider colonial image as a variable product due to the characteristic of the incoming ideas, the preexisting ideas and the purpose of the final product. I think that going deeper in the nature of the mixture will allow us to understand better the final visual result, which is our final goal. What Germano Leal then contributes is an example (in an overview) of how this situation works in very simple terms for the regions he proposes to work on.

The second point I find essential to the understanding of image dissemination key to the process of cultural colonization is the existence of printing facilities and specially the lack of printing options thus regulating very closely local production. The fact that within the immense Viceroyalty of Peru there were so little printers and some of them where shut down to control the ideas flow is not a new observation but it is often left out in the basic considerations for image propagation in Hispanic America. I find that local literary studies, especially the ones interested in the Siglo de Oro literature have established that the main printing option for local creation was the metropolis and not local printers. Thus for emblematic studies within the Viceroyalty of Peru, particularly for the Audiencia de Charcas, we have to look in emblem books printed in Europe as the source and in painting as the resulting local product, not printed products.

And this is why I think it is key to stress what Germano Leal states at the end of this writing sample which is that in the Viceroyalty of Peru, emblems are no longer a printed genre but a painted one, and this translation and sort of media migration I believe is essential to fully understand the phenomenon and to seek and find the answers to our emblematic questions in other places, not only the printed images.

I would suggest that we also consider the life of jeroglificos and emblems within written sources. For instance, the use of emblems of jeroglificos in ephemeral architecture in the Audiencia de Charcas is often mentioned by different chronicles such as Fernandez del Aguila of Arzans Orsua y Vela for both La Plata and Potosí in the seventeenth and eighteen centuries. But what is truly fantastic is to find them in people´s houses among their possessions through inventories and testaments. Some references show us that people keep this images but with little to none references as to clear if they are printed engravings, paintings or books or the reasons why they have them (as opposed to religious devotional images). And that is another immense world to search for an emblematic visual culture.

The fourth, and last, point I think needs to be emphasized is that, as Germano Leal states, emblems were a rhetorical device to influence and to produce a mediation. I have had the chance to study a case of the use of emblems within a rather rare painting by Melchor Perez Holguin, the Entrada del Virrey Morcillo a Potosí 1716. Within the depiction of the Viceroy Morcillo entering Potosí in three different scenes the author has painted a series of emblems, found in Alciato, Ripa and Juan de Solórzano. I argue that the use of this emblems is disposed as a speculum principis to advice and warn the new Viceroy of the measures needed for Potosí to maintain its position as the jewel of the crown. However the emblems are nowhere to be found in the written account of things, leaving us with the doubt whether they were really there hanging in the streets of Potosí in April 1716 or only in Holguín`s painting probably commissioned by the wealthy silver miners azogueros. Therefore the emblems and their conveyed message work as a persuasion tool for educated eyes, European or mestizo maybe, to mediate the interests of the miners and the crown through the Viceroy.

Finally as the author expresses, the success of the application of this tool could be a thermometer to measure how well inserted it is in colonial society and the symptom of the emergence of a new hybrid cultural identity. To find that this phenomenon is not particular to local contexts but common to the Iberian American realms is truly a decisive contribution and an eye-opener to the strength of the visual colonization of the New World.


*Please pardon my english, I thought it would be a good exercise for me and accesible for the whole group.