Folding screen with the Siege of Belgrade (front), Mexican, c. 1697–1701. Oil on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Brooklyn Museum, gift of Lilla Brown in memory of her husband, John W. Brown, by exchange.
Objects in gold and silver, inlaid and gilded furniture, sumptuous fabrics, Asian porcelains, dazzling portraits-the Spanish colonial elite had it all, and flaunted it proudly within the confines of their private houses. Though surviving in relatively large numbers, these riches have been largely understudied until recently but are now enjoying a renaissance in collecting and scholarship. Drawing on its own strong holdings (supplemented by loans from the Hispanic Society of America, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Roberta and Richard Huber, and other private collectors), the Brooklyn Museum has organized a traveling exhibition that celebrates the colonial home as a principal repository for these arts.
The show and its excellent accompanying catalogue explore how Spanish Americans-by the eighteenth century, among the world’s wealthiest people-used these objects of conspicuous consumption as displays of power within their houses. The extraordinary mother-of-pearl-inlaid Mexican folding screen shown here, for example, commissioned by the viceroy of New Spain about 1700, is examined for the first time in its original domestic context, separating a grand reception room from a more intimate women’s sitting room or state bedroom.
“Overall,” says Richard Aste, curator of European art at the museum and organizer of the show, “the exhibition is about things and about how Spanish Americans used their things to underscore their status within the empire’s socio-racial hierarchy.”
Doña María de los Dolores Gutiérrez del Mazo y Pérez by José Campeche (1751–1809), c. 1796. Oil on canvas. Brooklyn Museum, Lilla Brown gift in memory of her husband, by exchange.
Behind Closed Doors: Art in the Spanish American Home, 1492-1898 · Brooklyn Museum · September 20 to January 12, 2014 · brooklynmuseum.org