Columna P. Enrique Grez López

Posted On 2021-11-23 In Colums - Fr. Enrique Grez

Tornaviaje. Latin American, Sacred and Intercultural Art

Fr. Enrique Grez •

The Tornaviaje was the return trip to the mainland for the Spaniards who had made the voyage to the New World. The galleons brought not only gold and silver from America. Among the cargo was also a valuable culture that was emerging. —

Anónimo Novohispano, Dominio público, via Wikimedia Commons

Anónimo Novohispano, Dominio público, via Wikimedia Commons

The Prado Museum’s fall 2021 exhibition is a cultural treat. It is a broad exhibition with more than 100 works from all over Latin America. Although there are works of a historical, civil or decorative nature, it is the genre of sacred art that stands out as the highest expression of Ibero-American genius.

As we walk through the halls and corridors, the fascinating world of yesteryear appears to us, populated by saints, blessed and pious, exotic animals, shiny fabrics and lush fruits, forests, mines and cities built on the mysterious ruins of others. This creates what García Canclini calls a hybrid world in which there are calculated and negotiated exchange relationships on many levels.

Old Europe gives its own through the science and techniques of the Old World emigrated in the minds, hearts and hands of the Spaniards. The native peoples bring their own noble materials, knowledge and world views. The Creoles and Mestizos stir this stew in which everything is cooked. In this Latin American art, there is a measured fusion of materials (feathers, pigments, woods, metals), techniques (from insect inlays to baroque chiaroscuro), symbols (local animals like the llama and European ones like the horse), venerations (the American Copacabana and the Spanish Immaculata), and pragmatics (the objects can be used either for processions, private venerations, survival of the defeated culture, or social recognition of the returnees).

Let’s take just one example. In one of the last rooms we find the cycle about the life of the Virgin Mary. It shows different scenes from her life: her conception, the Presentation and the Assumption, among others. The paintings are done in techniques that combine styles from China, Mexico and Spain. The use of mother of pearl and floral ornaments with small birds and imitation coral comes from the East. Delicate works, sweet faces and drawings that emphasize the curves of the body come from New Spain. Europe adds Christian themes and compositions. We witness a carnival of cultural negotiations across the board; a precious compilation intended for Christian worship, but full of allusions to mestizo cultures.

We Americans live with the question of who we are. Diverse in past and present, we never fully recognize the rich, painful and joyful sources of our culture. Ours is Amerindian, but also Asian and African, and of course Iberian…which is “a lot to say”: a bit Roman and Phoenician, Greek, Celtiberian and Jewish, Muslim, Visigothic, and who knows how much more. How did we become what we are? In this presentation of intercultural art we see, as in photographs, scenes of this slow process. Here, in a dance of codes and materials, our many pasts and the infinite hope that grows out of our “in-between-ness” are woven together. It’s a beautiful lesson for the present.

Technical Data

TITLE: Tornaviaje. Ibero-American Art in Spain
LOCATION: Prado Museum, Madrid. Spain
DURATION: from October 5, 2021 to February 13, 2022
COORDINATION: Rafael López Guzmán
DESCRIPTION: Exhibition of artworks of Spanish-American origin


This column is about an art exhibition taking place in a particular city. It goes without saying that not all readers will be able to visit it. To ensure that distance is not a barrier to enjoyment, we recommend a visit to the museum’s website, where some of the most outstanding works can be admired. The column is also an invitation to view related works of art that are in close proximity.

Original: Spanish. Translation: Lindsay Burger, Ohio, USA

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