Portrait of Don José Bernardo de Asteguieta y Díaz de Sarralde (1749 - 1812)
- Rafael Ochoa, Venezuelan
- Born: Caracas
- Active Dates: 1787-1809
Local artists in colonial Spanish America generally followed the official portraiture canons that were customary in Spain. Figures were usually portrayed in frontal or three-quarter view gazing directly at the viewer. Although colonial artists achieved a great degree a physical likeness, sitters often look hieratical and show little facial expression. In sharp contrast to the rigidity of the portrayed, painters focused their attention on meticulously depicting clothing, furniture and objects that allude to the subject’s material world, social standing and career accomplishments. As seen in this portrait of a judge in Caracas, coats-of-arms and cartouches with long inscriptions outlining the sitter’s heritage, family, education and honors were often included.
The inscription in the cartouche identifies the sitter as Don José Bernardo de Asteguieta y Sarralde, born in Foronda in the province of Alava (Spain), states that he began his studies in Murcia and received a bachelor's degree in law at the University of Granada, was appointed Oidor of the Real Audiencia of the Philippines (Manila), served as General Judge of the Assets of the Deceased in Caracas, and lists other posts he held. It also states that he married Doña Jerónima de Guerra, daughter of the Marquises of Guerra from Granada. After living for several years in Caracas, Asteguieta y Sarralde was transferred to Guatemala where became the last head of the Real Audiencia of Guatemala, the highest judicial body of the Spanish colony.
Very little is known about the artist Rafael Ochoa other than that he was a “pardo” (black) “Maestro de Pintor” (Master Painter) and gilder active in Caracas between 1787 and 1809, where he also worked as appraiser in wills. That would explain his connection to Asteguieta y Sarralde who was the General Judge of the Assets of the Deceased.
The painting is signed and dated on the reverse with a large inscription inside a rectangular cartouche that reads: “Rafael Ochoa, de calidad Negro: lo hizo en Caracas Año 1793,” (Rafael Ochoa, of Negro quality: he made it in Caracas year 1793). Not only does the inscription on the verso state that it was painted by Ochoa in Caracas in 1793, but it also indicates that Ochoa presented himself as a black artist, which was an exceptional artist’s statement during the colonial era. This is the only known signed portrait by Ochoa and one of the few surviving portraits of colonial Venezuela. As a result, it will serve as an important reference in the future identification of this artist’s body of work.
--Jorge Rivas Pérez, Frederick and Jan Mayer Curator and Head, Latin American Art, 2017
- “ReVision: Art in the Americas” — Denver Art Museum, 2/16/2020 – 11/8/2020