Mayer Center, Department of Latin American Art

Collection Highlights

unknown maker

Virgin of the Victory of Málaga (Nuestra Señora de la Victoria de Málaga)

Painted representations of sculptures of the Virgin Mary were common in both Spain and the Americas. The sculptures were believed to hold miraculous powers to aid the devout, and they were dressed in gold and silver cloth to express their holiness. In the painted versions, artists were careful to render the fine textiles and objects used to embellish the sculptures, as verisimilitude was important to worshipers who knew them only from paintings.

 

As indicated by the inscription along the bottom edge, this is a painting of a famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary from the city of Málaga in Spain. Although the artist is unknown, the canvas was painted in the Viceroyalty of Peru in the late 1600s or early 1700s. The extraordinary use of gold and silver for the textiles and architectural elements is characteristic of artistic centers in the Andean highlands, such as Cuzco and Potosí. The landscape fragments at the bottom indicate that the original canvas was larger and included scenes depicting miracles performed by the Virgin of Málaga.

 

Jorge F. Rivas Pérez, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Latin American Art

unknown maker. Virgin of the Victory of Málaga (Nuestra Señora de la Victoria de Málaga). Late 1600s or 1700s. Oil paint on canvas with gold leaf. Gift of John C. Freyer for the Frank Barrows Freyer Collection. 1969.345.

Serafín Antonio Almeida

Easy Chair (Butaca)

This easy chair, a low armchair with a tall, inclined back, was a furnishing for personal use and was destined for the most intimate spaces of colonial homes; those in which rigid Spanish etiquette, which required an erect posture when seated, could be cast aside. Its form is unique to the New World and derives from a small, typical ceremonial seat called ture, used by the pre-Columbian cultures of the Caribbean. The name butaca comes from the word putaca, seat, in the language of the Cumanagoto Indians of the northeastern coast of Venezuela. In this butaca, which dates from the late 18th century, the traditional typology of the easy chair is adorned with the fine neoclassical inlaid marquetry work typical of Serafín Antonio Almeida, the maker of the piece.

 

—Jorge Rivas Pérez 2017

 

 

Serafín Antonio Almeida (Venezuelan, 1752-1822), Easy Chair (Butaca), Venezuela, 1795-1800. Cedar veneered in gateado and carreto woods, fabric upholstery. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Rafael Romero, 2017.121

Cristobal de Villalpando

Joseph Claims Benjamin as His Slave

Cristóbal de Villalpando (ca. 1649-1714) is considered the most accomplished artist of the colonial period in Mexico as well as a pioneer in developing a painting style decidedly divergent from European traditions and unique to Mexico.  Although compositions are based in part on engravings of paintings by Rubens, Villalpando and his followers moved beyond the European tradition by tightening the focus of the composition and moving it to the front of the picture plane, creating a shallow space for the action, and emphasizing a horizontal stagelike format.  They also retained many traits from Mannerism, long out of favor in Europe, such as contrived body and hand positions with elongated limbs as well as diaphanous and surreal textile colors. This example, signed by the artist, comes from a well-known series by the artist on the Life of Joseph of the Old Testament.  It not only serves as an outstanding example of his oeuvre, but also demonstrates the interest in Old Testament iconography common in Latin America in the late Baroque period.
--Donna Pierce, 2015

Cristobal de Villalpando (Mexico), Joseph Claims Benjamin as His Slave, 1700–1714. Oil paint on canvas. 
Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2009.761 

Saint Ferdinand

This statue of Saint Ferdinand, the King of Castile and León in Spain, was originally part of an altarscreen installed in the Cathedral of Querétaro, Mexico, around 1750. Many cathedrals in Spain and Latin America installed main altar pieces dedicated to royal saints. Statues of Saint Ferdinand were often paired with ones of his friend and cousin, Saint Louis IX of France. The altarscreen was replaced with a Neoclassical one in the nineteenth century. The Denver statue was collected in Querétaro in 1920; its matching statue of Saint Louis is in a private collection in Mexico City.
     As in Europe, the statues in Latin American altarscreens were carved of wood. Fabric areas were treated with a technique known in Spanish as estofado, in which tissue-thin sheets of hammered gold were applied to a red gesso ground. Next, paint was applied over the gold leaf. Then the paint layer was stamped or etched through to reveal the gold underneath, in imitation of the elaborate brocade fabrics of the period. Areas depicting skin, such as the faces and hands, were created using a different technique known as encarnación, in which white gesso was painted in flesh tones, shellacked, and gently sanded. The process was repeated until the buildup of layers achieved a glowing surface imitating real skin. 
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

. Saint Ferdinand. circa 1730. Paint, gesso, gold leaf and fabric on wood.. Gift from Sam Houston in honor of Helen Bonfils. 1956.91A-B.

Luis Garcia Hevia, Uncertain

Woman with Earring

While colonial portraits aimed to show the status of the sitter rather than a physical likeness, a focus on realism and individual identity emerged in the early 1800s with the independence movement in Latin America. This post-colonial artist painted a highly individualized portrait that captures the essence of this elderly woman. Although the prominent gold and pearl drop earring hints at her wealth, this stand-out element also contributes to the woman’s confident—almost defiant—attitude.
-- Julie Wilson Frick, 2017

Luis Garcia Hevia, Woman with an Earring. Bogotá, Colombia, about 1850. Oil paint on canvas. 31 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Dr. Belinda Straight; 1984.718.

Matteo da Lecce, Mateo Pérez de Alesio

Virgen de la Leche

  This late 1500s painting on copper panel by Mateo Pérez de Alesio (also known as Matteo da Lecce) represents a Nursing Madonna (Madonna Lactans), known in Spanish as Virgen de la Leche, a very old iconography of the Madonna and Child in which the Virgin Mary is shown breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Pérez de Alesio, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the art of painting in colonial Peru, drew inspiration for his composition from a work by Scipione Pulzone, a renowned Neapolitan painter active in Rome in the last third of the 16th century. The Virgen de la Leche was a popular devotion in Lima and Pérez de Alesio painted several versions of this iconography, all of them roughly the same size and on copper panel.

  Born in Alezio, Southern Italy, circa 1547 to a Spanish father, Antonio Pérez, and an Italian mother, Madama Lucente, Pérez de Alesio grew up on the fringes of the Spanish empire in Italy. While still a teenager, the aspiring artist moved to Rome to learn the art of painting. In the 1560s he has been documented as working for Cesare Nebbia painting the murals of the famed Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome, the retreat commissioned by the powerful Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (1509–1572).

  He was an ambitious young artist eager to make a name for himself; in 1574 Pérez de Alesio, together with the painter Guidonio Guelfi del Borgo, received the important commission to paint a fresco for the entrance of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican to replace a damaged work by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Between 1575 and 1576 the artist worked on the fresco decoration of the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome. Like many painters of this era, Pérez de Alesio moved to different places looking for job opportunities. He worked on the island of Malta between 1577 and 1581 on the fresco mural decoration of the Throne Room of the Grandmaster's Palace, Valletta. Returning to Rome the painter produced and published a series of 15 large engravings of his work in Malta: I veri ritratti della guerra, & dell’assedio, & assalti dati alla isola di Malta dall’armata turchesca l’anno 1565. In 1583 Pérez de Alesio moved to Seville where he received several important commissions including a fresco depicting Saint Christopher (1584) for the Cathedral.    

  Around 1589–90 Pérez de Alesio, together with an assistant named Pedro Pablo Morón, immigrated to Lima, Peru. They traveled to the New World as part of the group that accompanied the powerful Viceroy García Hurtado de Mendoza. Pérez de Alesio became the official painter of the Viceroy and in 1590 painted his portrait. In January 3rd, 1598 he married in Lima Doña María Fuentes de la Cadena with whom he had children. His career in the “City of Kings,” (as Lima is known) was very successful as he was an artist who managed to fully express the religious feeling of his time. Between 1590 and 1606 Perez de Alesio produced works for many important churches including the Convent of Santo Domingo, the church of La Merced and the Cathedral in Lima. He died in Lima before 1616.


― Jorge Rivas Pérez, 2016

Mateo Pérez de Alesio / Matteo da Lecce, Peru, Virgen de la Leche, about 1600. Oil on copper. Denver Art Museum: Purchased with funds from Frederick and Jan Mayer, Alianza de las Artes Americanas, Carl Patterson, David and Boo Butler, Spanish Colonial Acquisitions and Deaccession Funds including by exchange the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Renchard Family, 2016.213
 

platter

When the Spanish arrived in Peru in the early 1530s, they found that gold and silver were abundant and that the Indigenous peoples were highly skilled in working these precious metals. Silversmiths from Spain began to settle in Peru and introduced a system of workshops based on the guild model. They brought new forms, styles, and metalwork techniques with them. As a result, hybrid styles emerged. Artists reworked European ornamental repertoires by incorporating local elements developed in workshops across the Andes.

 

This deep rectangular tray with a wide border, exceptional for its size and weight, was made in Alto Peru, in present-day Bolivia. It exemplifies a type of dense, gaudy decoration that often includes classical putti and a green man—a half human with leaves emanating from its lower body—as well as representations of local flora and fauna, in this case, sunflowers, birds, owl, deer, and a boar intertwined with vines and leaves. The decoration surrounds a nude youth wearing a camel-hair robe and holding a staff in his hand, attributes which identify him as John the Baptist.

 

Jorge F. Rivas Pérez, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Latin American Art

Unknown artist, Platter, Bolivia, 1725-1750. Silver. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Robert Appleman family, 1986.456

Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga

Apparition of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano

Sebastián López de Arteaga was born in Seville, Spain, and trained there as a painter in the 1620s. Inspired by the works of his great Sevillian contemporaries Francisco de Zurbarán and José de Ribera, his paintings showcased a dramatic chiaroscuro, or intense contrast of light and dark. Like many artists looking for opportunity in the Americas, López de Arteaga emigrated in about 1640 to New Spain, where he had a successful career. He died in 1652 in Mexico City.

This large painting depicts the apparition of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano to a local bishop and is signed at lower left. Based on its subject and dimensions, it is likely part of a group of works commissioned from the artist in 1650 by nuns of the Order of Saint Clare to decorate a sizable retablo in their convent in Puebla, Mexico.

Jorge F. Rivas Pérez, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator of Latin American Art

Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga, Apparition of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano. Mexico, about 1650. Oil on canvas, 75 x 61 in. Gift of Frank Barrows Freyer Collection by exchange and Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer; 1994.27.

Juan Javier Salazar

La Portola

Juan Javier Salazar (Lima, 1955-2016) is a conceptual and visual artist that lives and works in Lima, Peru. Salazar employs diverse media which often includes the manufacture of ready-made or handmade utilitarian objects that often reference ancient artifacts and recall the rich material cultures of pre-Columbian Peru, such as this vessel inspired by Moche “horseshoe” pottery. Salazar’s handmade objects frequently question, with irony and sarcasm, a wide range of social and political issues including views of national identity, urban life practices in poor urban areas, especially recycling and upcycling, notions of place and history, and the nature and circulation of objects in contemporary Peru.

--Jorge Rivas Pérez, 2016

Juan Javier Salazar, La Portola, 2016. Glazed ceramic; 7 x 4 x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Natalia Majluf in honor of Jorge Rivas, 2016.302. © Estate of Juan Javier Salazar

Juan Rodriguez Juarez

St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor

Descended from a long line of artists in colonial Mexico, Juan Rodríguez Juárez was the most accomplished artist of his day. His great grandfather, Luis Juárez, founded the family dynasty of painters in the early 17th century. In addition, Juan's grandfather, father and brother were also well known artists. Signed by the artist, this painting joins others in the Denver Art Museum collection signed by his great grandfather, Luis Juárez, and by Juan's brother, Nicolas.
     St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617), the first saint born in the New World, lived her entire life in Lima, Peru. Known for her Christian devotion as a child, she entered a Dominican convent (seen in the background) at an early age. In the painting, the band of rose thorns she wore around her forehead in imitation of the Crown of Thorns is visible. She had a particular devotion to the Christ Child, as evidenced in this painting which is based on a famous one by Murillo now in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid. In addition, the accomplished modeling of the white fabrics creates a strong sense of volume and recalls the works of another great Spanish artist, Zurburan.
   Unlike the Murillo prototype, Rodríguez Juárez has superimposed a portrait of a donor figure in the lower right corner of the composition. The lovely portrait depicts a young woman, probably named for the saint, wearing an elegant dress decorated with embroidery and lace and elaborate jewelry of gold, pearls and emeralds, both typical of the upper classes in Spain and Mexico around 1700.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

Juan Rodriguez Juarez, Mexico, St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor, Circa 1700
Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2014.216
Photograph courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

unknown maker

Cross finial

When Hernán Cortés and his small army arrived in Mexico in 1519, to their delight they found that gold and silver were abundant. American Indians had a long tradition of metalworking techniques, including filigree, casting, and hammering. Silversmiths from Spain began to immigrate to the Americas shortly after the conquest and introduced European forms and styles. Through time the synthesis of New and Old World styles became integrated, culminating in the lush excesses of colonial Baroque and Rococo metalwork.
     The emeralds in this cross have been identified as coming from the famous emerald mines in Colombia, with some of them from the large Muzo mine, known for the exceptional quality and clarity of its stones. In microscopic analysis, the tear-shaped emeralds show evidence that they were originally cut with Pre-Columbian quartz stone tools to form beads. In the colonial period they were reshaped with metal tools to be incorporated into the cross to serve as an ornament at the top of a crown for a statue of a saint or the Virgin Mary. The pearls have been identified as Venezuelan, perhaps from the famous Island of the Margaritas off the coast.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015
 

Cross Finial. Colombia, about 1600. Gold, pearls, and emeralds. 4 x 1 1/2 in. Gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Renchard family; 1990.526

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Publications

Symposia

The Mayer Center symposia are held annually, alternating between Latin American art and art of the Ancient Americas topics. Past Latin American Art symposia topics include:

  • Materiality: Making Spanish America (2018)
  • Circulación: Movement of Ideas, Art and People in Spanish America (2016)
  • New England / New Spain: Portraiture in the Colonial Americas, 1492-1850 (2014)
  • Festivals and Daily Life in the Arts of Colonial Latin America (2012)
  • At the Crossroads: The Arts of Spanish America and Early Global Trade, 1492-1850 (2010)
  • The Arts of South America, 1492-1850 (2008)
  • Asia and Spanish America: Trans-Pacific Artistic and Cultural Exchange, 1500-1850 (2006)
  • Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life, 1521-1821 (2004)
  • Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art in the Collections at the Denver Art Museum (2002)
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Scholars wishing to access the Mayer Center Latin American Art department collections and/or library holdings must contact the Mayer Center well in advance of a visit. If approval for a study is granted, the collection/library will be made available as the staff of the DAM's schedule permits. Please plan accordingly.

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The gallery for this collection is closed during the Martin Building renovation project. Standing seven stories tall, the Martin Building will house collection galleries, a conservation laboratory, interactive classroom space, a family activity center, two restaurants, and the brand new Anna and John J. Sie Welcome Center. It will reopen October 24, 2021.