Rococo Architecture and Spirituality in South America

Lead Research Organisation: University of Aberdeen
Department Name: School of Divinity, History and Philosop


This groundbreaking multidisciplinary study of Rococo church architecture and religious culture in South America will challenge the field in three significant ways. First, it will dispute the consensus among Latin Americanists that the 18th century was dominated by Iberian Baroque by highlighting the prominence of the International Rococo, not only in urban centers, but also in peripheral missions where it was transformed through contact with Native American cultures and resulted in novel categories of artistic blending (known often as 'hybridity'). Second, it will break with the prevailing viewpoint of historians of both European and Latin American art that Rococo was merely a visual manifestation of a frivolous and decadent age. A primary goal of this study is to understand the socio-religious motives for the importation of this style into an ecclesiastical setting: I will show that it was the expression of a new mysticism promoted by the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the institution most responsible for introducing Rococo into Latin America, and that a favourable religious and political climate made Brazil and Spanish South America particularly receptive to this new spirituality. Finally, this will be the first large scale study to acknowledge the substantial contribution made by non-Iberian European artists and architects-primarily Central European and Italian Jesuits-to Latin American art. By exploring the legacy of the Rococo in South America, I will demonstrate the extraordinary artistic wealth of the Southern Cone (primarily present-day Argentina, Chile and Paraguay), a frontier region in colonial times that is still widely considered to be of little cultural significance. My ultimate hope is to drive the scholarship, with its increasingly narrow focus on New Spain (Mexico) and Peru (primarily Cuzco), past its cultural frontier and encourage future studies of hitherto uncharted parts of Hispanic America and more trans-Atlantic inquiries-an approach that remains inexplicably uncommon. This interdisciplinary project will not only integrate different art historical fields in novel ways but will also interact with church and social history, literary and post-colonial studies, and anthropology, opening up new horizons in these fields. I was inspired to begin this project after reading innovative new work on Brazil by Myriam Ribeiro (2003) which astonished Brazilian scholars by revealing that the so-called 'Brazilian Baroque,' a style label with enduring nationalistic ramifications, was in reality a form of International Rococo and profoundly influenced by French and Germanic models. My study will extend beyond the scope of Ribeiro's work in two significant ways. First, it will embrace the reception of Rococo in all of South America, thus breaching a boundary between studies of Portuguese and Spanish America that remains entrenched. This breach is crucial for this study because Brazilian Rococo had a powerful impact on the Rococo in Spanish America, both through the migration of its artists (such as Pedro Carmona, a Brazilian retablo maker at El Pilar in Buenos Aires in the 1770s) and illicit trade. Second, unlike Ribeiro, I will consider Rococo in both urban and mission contexts--the latter my focus for over a decade.

I will undertake this research by investigating three kinds of visual/textual sources. First, I will complete my photo survey of rococo motifs from churches and church furnishings in South America to enhance my existing database. Second, I will continue to investigate manuscript sources in archives in Italy, Argentina, and Brazil, such as the Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu in Rome, the Archivo General de la Nación in Buenos Aires, and the Colecção Pedro de Angelis in Rio de Janeiro. Finally, I will revisit and review in more detail 18th century treatises on the spiritual rococo, anthropological literature,and church history studies at the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris and the British Library.

Planned Impact

The monograph and the public lectures resulting from it will benefit a wide non-academic community. I will work closely with non-governmental organizations such as the Fundacion Espigas in Buenos Aires, whose remit is to increase awareness within Argentina of the nation's artistic patrimony and which funds lectures, conferences, exhibitions, and other cultural events. Not only would I be contributing to their goal through knowledge sharing but I would also disseminate my conclusions further through public lectures they host both at their institution and at the Museo de Bellas Artes, lectures that are open to the general public (I have already delivered a public lecture at the Bellas Artes on hybridity in colonial Latin American arts). By engaging in discussions with museum curators at places such as the Museo Isaac Fernandez Blanco (also in Buenos Aires)--the only museum dedicated to colonial art in Argentina--I will be contributing to knowledge about objects in their collections and helping them conceive new ways of displaying and labelling them for the general public. I have previously consulted with this museum during their construction of a themed installation about the impact of Asia on the arts of Latin America, now a permanent component of their galleries. Their collections of rococo Jesuit missionary church furnishings from Paraguay and Argentina is one of the best in the country and forms a key part of my research. In Chile, where I am already working with scholars in the Chiloé Missions Study Group at the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in Santiago on retrieving historical information about the archipelago's colonial-era mission churches, I will assist them in interpreting, dating, and conserving this group of churches protected by UNESCO. This coming November I will present research on the churches of Chiloé at a conference in Santiago that not only includes scholars but also architects, conservators, and museum professionals. In Paraguay, by delivering public lectures at the Museo de San Ignacio Guazu--a Jesuit museum and cultural center in a poor and predominantly Native American region of the country--I will be able to teach the local Guarani people about their colonial heritage and make them aware of the importance of preserving their patrimony. This goal is especially important as the region is rife with robberies of colonial objects and I believe that a greater awareness of their importance and value will encourage local authorities to increase security and help combat this unfortunate development. In researching my book 'Art on the Jesuit Missions in Asia and Latin America' (University of Toronto Press, 1999) I already worked with that collection and established a new chronology for much of the wooden sculpture there.

In the UK I will present my research to non-academic groups such as ARTES, a hispanic-studies society based in London who have invited me in advance to speak about this book project, and the Aberdeen Italian Circle, to whom I have given two lectures on interactions between Italy and South America during the Baroque and Rococo eras. I also intend to contribute to secondary school teachers' continuing professional development (CPD) by providing short courses in Latin American and Native American cultures for the Aberdeen school system. I was especially active in this kind of training and development for teachers while at Clark University (Worcester MA, USA), where I provided classes on Latin American and Asian visual culture to Worcester county secondary school teachers as part of a national curriculum on non-European cultures. As schools are increasingly responding to the need for more multicultural curriculum, this kind of didactic material will be welcome. Although the monograph itself will take a few years to be published (final publication is currently scheduled for 2014) some of my activity wit


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