Perspectives on Global Art History (from the 16th to 18th centuries). Considerations on Claire Farago’s Reframing the Renaissance

A scrutinizing of the nationalists political interests in the historiography of art history allows reconsidering the art history’s epistemology as well as to guide the intentions to think over the capacity of images and objects in a specific cultural context. By doing so it is possible to rethink categories such as agency, patron, artist, and artwrk in different geographies in order to achieve a more complete art history discussion. In the dialogical process between the (material) configuration of a artwork as well as that (cultural) configuration of the individual, cognitive operations set practices of perception with specific socio-cultural values.


In this way, Farago mentions that the mid 14th century in Europe was a crucial moment for the change of status of art along with that of the artist from the one they possessed in the Middle Ages, due to the influence neo-aristothelic theories of vision exerted in the practice of seeing, and in the role of imagination in the visual appreciation.


Since then, vision became the privileged sense to achieve knowledge; it acquired relevant impact for the development of optics, including the modelling of a kind of imagination along with a particular abstract thought. From that moment on, discussions towards mental operations increased —such as reasoning, memory, and imagination—, as well as the debates on the nature of the images together with it’s convenient applications. Some examples can be named, from Leon Battista Alberti’s works on optics (Della pittura. 1435), to the use of images for meditative purposes in San Ignacio de Loyola’s manual (Exercitia spiritualia, 1548); in America, specifically for the evangelization, in the adoption of images from Diego Valadés’ Rethorica christiana (1579), and later, the usage of images for the Counter-Reformation, all which served as educational manuals for the practice of seeing.


Turns out inevitable to consider the physical as well as cultural violence of the conquest in the analysis of art history in America, for it involved the implantation of religious beliefs, along with a social and cultural policy, from where an inequitable cultural exchange initiated (Mundy & Hyman. 2015).


I consider that the discussion towards the cultural identity in conjunction with the characteristics of a society should focus on the understanding of the process of conformation of style and taste, made through the exchange of goods, rather than focusing to identify the ‘purity’ of a society’s cultural manifestations. These processes are particularly interesting in the studies of human figures represented in maps from the 17th century as studied by Markey, L. (2012). Stradano’s Allegorical Invention of the Americas in Late Sixteenth-Century Florence. Renaissance Quarterly, 65(2), 385-442; also Carreón Blaine, E. (2013). Barbie en Palenque, o la manufactura de lo intangible. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, 1(1), 65-91). I think some reflections can come out from a study of the use of grotteschipictoric elements of creative freedom in convent’s mural paintings from the Spanish vice kingdoms in America during the 16th century.


To identify the cultural role of an artistic work it is necessary to address to the reception it received from its audience. Farago proposes to question the paradigms of art history as well as that of the artist’s status. In addition, Mundy and Hyman mention the difficulty to determine the status of the artist plus that of the artwork in early New Spain (Mundy & Hyman. 2015, p.311), given the lack of documentation presenting the reception of the artwork, or expressing opinions about the artist or its practice.


In contrast, it is possible to find a considerable number of documents describing royal and religious celebrations; some of them give explanations of ephemeral triumphal arches, imperial welcoming, and funerary tumulus, celebrated publicly from the 16th to the 18th centuries in cities under the Spanish kingdom (whether in American or in Europe). Although most of these texts are panegyrics, they reveal the performativity character of the public celebration with its description of ephemeral architecture along with its iconographic motives —only in few cases they included diagrams or drawings—. These texts are especially valuable for the analysis of visual motifs based on iconographic manuals from the Renaissance (Filippo Picinelli, Vicenzo Cartari, amongst others) employed by the craftsmen/artists, which constituted the base for the configuration of style before the creation of the Royal Art Academies. Michael Cole has mentioned the importance in the comparative study of the royal celebrations in the Spanish kingdoms (Cole, M. (2013). Toward an Art History of Spanish Italy. I Tatti Studies in the Italian Renaissance, 16(1/2), 37-46). Dealing with this topic there are a series of investigations of great interests for the global study of ephemeral art, as well as for the study of the conformation of style in the Spanish vice kingdoms: Farré J. (2008). Pedagogía de virreyes y Arcos de Triunfo en la Nueva España a finales del siglo XVII. Destiempos, 3:14, 267, 268; Chiva Beltrán, J., El triunfo del virrey. Glorias novohispanas: origen, apogeo y ocaso de la entrada virreinal. Castellón de la Plana: Universitat Jaume I. 2012; Rodríguez de la Flor, F., Era melancólica, Figuras del imaginario barroco. Palma de Mallorca: Edicions IUB, 2007. Mínguez, V., González P., Rodríguez I. La fiesta barroca : el Reino de Valencia (1599-1802), Castelló de la Plana: Publicacions de la Universitat Jaume I. 2010, Bussels S., Spectacle, Rhetoric and Power. The Triumphal Entry of Prince Philip of Spain into Antwerp. Amsterdam-New York: Rodopi. 2012; also Stuart McManus, Empire of Eloquence: Humanism and Iberian Global Expansion, a project that dwells on the use of rethoric of classical tradition in the Spanish evangelization in America and Asia.


It is possible to enrich the discussion about artistic as well as cultural exchange (like religious and secular architecture, easel paintings, ceramics, furniture, including decorative objects), the traffic of ideas, along with the predilection of certain materials for the elaboration of artistic objects. I think that the examination of folding screens with representations from New Spain or from Europe, can be a good opportunity to develop a study in this sense, like the Biombo de las batallas de Alejandro Farnesio, made by Juan y Miguel González (1690-1697).


Given the predominant extension of the Spanish kingdom from the 16th to the 18th century, I estimate that the study of private art collections of viceroys, nobles, as well as court officials that inhabited in different cities of the empire —expecting the corresponding difficulties to approach to these archives—, should be considered to valorise their possible influence in the configuration of the taste in the cities they resided.


Modern global life, with its overflowing technology that shortens distances, should invigorate the critic to traditional models of centre-periphery in art history, with the objective to cogitate the different tones that result from human interchange. Global histories are becoming more frequent. As Farago mentions, the Kunsthistorisches Institute and the Villa I Tatti foster Renaissance’s projects that don’t adhere to traditional geographical and periodical borders. Projects like Connecting Art Histories funded by the Getty Foundation promote works in this sense. Furthermore, we find more museums’ expositions in Mexico City that deal with global art exhibitions, like the “La pintura de los Reinos. Identidades compartidas en el mundo hispánico” (2010-2011) showing art work from Mexico, Peru, Argentina, Bolivia, United States, Spain, Austria, Italy and the Vatican, that visited Madrid, Mexico City, and New York; as well as “Tornaviaje. La nao de China y el barroco en México (1565-1815)” an exhibition of art work and instruments from Spain, Asia and New Spain, presented in the Museo Franz Mayer in 2016.