La ciudad literaria de Julio Ortega

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Transatlantic Representations

Posted by on February 3, 2006

Julio Ortega

(Translated by Philip Derbishyre)

Brown University


In Cesare Ripa’s Iconologia (Rome, 1603), the emblem of Abondanza
is a Roman matron, who offers a serene prodigality in the cornucopia full of
fruits, grapes and olives which she holds in her right hand, while in her left
she carries a stalk bearing ears of wheat, some of which are falling to the
ground. ‘Bella, & gratiosa si debe dipingere l’Abondanza, si come cosa
buona, & desiderata da ciaschduno, quanto bruta, & abominevle e r riputata
la carestia, che di quella e contraria,’ as the author emphasises. She has
classical attributes, namely a garland of flowers and a green raiment embroidered
with gold that represent the fertile countryside and ripe fruit and these stand
in implicit opposition to dearth and scarcity. The edition of Pietro Paolo
Tozzi from 1616 is supposedly ‘expanded’ but in fact gives us a much reduced
version of the previous text on Abundance. The image is also different. The
first was a solid matron, whilst the latter is a young woman who looks directly
at the viewer. The pose is the same ( figura serpentinata ) but now
she is bending her right knee. The images also differ in that the cornucopia
is more detailed, and therefore more decorative. The stalk of wheat is no longer
resting on her left arm, but is held aloft, and several ears fall on to the
earth, which one guesses to be fertile. Everything leads one to believe that
this edition was more popular that the former. In other editions the figure
of the young woman predominates, with the cornucopia held in her right hand
and leant against her shoulder, whilst her left holds a thick stalk of wheat.
The manipulation of the figure by various printers points up their instrumental
character. Humanist images are grounded in the applied arts: they may be allegorical
drawings and moral lessons, but in the last analysis they are produced by print
shops and publishers. Their conventional character comes over in the fact that
whilst the story is more or less the same, the image varies from edition to
edition. The first two editions of Ripa’s book had no illustrations, just the
allegorical descriptions, which the author says he has taken from sculptures
and coins from classical antiquity, as well as Greek and Roman authors. In
1603 he published the first illustrated edition of his Iconologia ,
which was aimed at historians, poets, painters and sculptors who were interested
in the use of allegorical figures. Other expanded editions appeared under his
direction, and they multiplied after his death, appearing in different countries
and different languages. A particularly rich version, because of its wealth
of detail, was that of Hertel, published in Augsburg , 1758-60. It is revealing
that the allegorical figure, this time in a dramatic and ornamental Baroque
version has managed to eliminate Ripa’s text altogether. The illustrations
were done by Gottfried Eichler the Younger and each of them was accompanied
by an allusive caption in Latin with its German translation, a description
of the ‘fatto’, described in the image. In the edition put together by Edward
A. Maser (New York, Dover, 1971), there are also succinct explanations of the
emblems which are based on the previous editions. In this encyclopaedia of
Baroque culture, Abundantia appears as the decorative centre of a moral fable,
the tale of Croesus, king of Lydia . Croesus displays his wealth to the Athenian
wise man Solon, who tells him that no amount of treasure will save him from
a bad end, if that is what is in store for him. Solon points to a funeral pyre
in the background, where the Persian conqueror Cyrus has already condemned
Croesus, who thereby finds his end. Abundance bears her attributes as if detached
from the drama that develops in the background: she is just passing through
these dramas, but teaching the eternal lesson that all goods are transient
and perishable. This association of Abundance with Fortune is not unusual,
but it is more commonly associated with allegories of peace. In fact, the emblem
is based on the pattern of attributes: its didactic function is realized as
attribution. The history of the emblem from the beginning of the Renaissance
to the beginning of the 20 th century follows the evolution of applied arts
in their passage through print technology and industrial production where they
gravitate towards the decorative arts, in their forms, consumption and meaning.
The emblem whose origin lies in a convergence of philological taste and didactic
moralizing, comes, in the first place, to confirm the power of imperial authority
and colonial functionaries, and then subsequently, regionalist and nationalist
imaginaries. Eventually it becomes public art, occupying a position somewhere
between the ephemeral frieze and the rhetorical fresco, in the newly built
palaces of the modernist, bourgeois state, where it speaks in the name of an
idea of Progress, but with a neoclassical inflection.


In the Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography (Helene E. Roberts,
ed. Chicago-London, 1998, I, 19-22) just as in the Lexicon Iconographicum
Mythologiae Classicae
(Zurich, Artemis, 1981, I, 1, 7-10), one can see
the range of artistic images of abundance – the principal paintings and sculptures,
how the images were to be read morally, and what their decorative function
was. According to Greek mythology, Cronos, the god of Time, devoured his children
because he was afraid that one of them would depose him. But Rhea, the Earth,
fled to Crete in order to protect the child she was carrying. There she gave
birth to Zeus, who showed his gratitude to her by turning her into a constellation,
and turned one of her horns into the cornucopia, the horn of abundance. In A
Dictionary of Symbols
, Cirlot reconstructs the fable according to which
the goat Amaltheia fed the infant Zeus with one of her horns, which was always
full of milk. The cornucopia has other allegorical associations with charity,
peace, the richest parts of the world, prosperity and the zodiacal sign of
Capricorn. It is associated with Ceres and Pomona , and is less a goddess than
a personification of the attribute of plenty, the cultivated countryside and
the harvest. Outside Italy , the allegory took on other values. In the bourgeois
world of 17 th century Holland – one of the few regions of prosperity amidst
generalized European crisis and poverty – painters adapted the idea of abundance
to indoor scenes, and still life became its major expression, displaying the
worldly luxury of domestic life and the moral lessons the scenes taught. Reworking
the vanitas tradition, the painters put to one side the skull that
Spanish painters had used to stress the fleeting quality of time, and in its
place placed various insects, most commonly the fly.

From the Sun to the Heart

In Henkel and Schone’s Emblemata (1682), a monumental encyclopaedia
of different European images, we come across numerous representations that
take the horn of abundance as their metafigurative sign. That is, the horn
of abundance is itself a changeable element of the grammar of the emblem: its
decorative character is self-referential. In a curious emblem entitled Hec
Splendente (16), dedicated to Joan-Goergium March, the gentleman’s virtues
are proclaimed in two circular but articulated images, the sun and the heart.
These are respectively cosmically and intimately central, one in the sky, the
other in the body. The image suggests the symmetrical union of the sun and
the heart thanks to the presence of a prominent cornucopia, fresh from the
hands of the goddess. This mystical union flows from the audacious link made
by the decoration and thus combines earth and body through a fertile rhetoric.
Another emblem that includes the horn of abundance has Diligence or Conscientiousness
as its message. On a carriage drawn by ants (emblems of conscientiousness)
abundance bears the cornucopia in one arm, whilst she raises the ear of wheat
in the other hand, in a gesture that emphasizes action. Seated to one side
and humiliated, laziness suffers the pangs of hunger (1563). Ceres, the goddess
of agriculture is associated with peace. The fertility of agriculture is represented
by the ears of wheat (1560). In all these treatises on iconography, however,
we have only come across a single reference to the New World . This is in the
emblem ‘Noui Mundi Nouus Athlas,’ (S. Soto, 1199), dedicated to Hernando de
Vega, governor of the West Indies under Philip the Second. The panegyric is
elevated in tone: it compares the governor with Hercules (You from Heaven/with
greater glory measure the New World ) and there is a drawing of two pillars
tied by a banner which declares Non plus ultra. Andrea Alicato’s Emblemata (1531)
was undoubtedly the most widely circulated and influential book of emblems
in Spain and went into numerous editions that differed greatly from each other.
Diego López gave a detailed commentary on it in his Declaración
Magistral Sobre los Emblemas de Andrés Alciato
(An Authoritative
Declaration on the Emblemata of Andrés Alciato)
(1655; reprinted
with an introduction by Duncan Moir (Menston, Yorkshire, Scolar Press, 1973)).
López presents emblem 177, ‘Ex Bello Pax’ as ‘Great abundance that is
the outcome of peace.’ This emblem, reproduced in every edition of Alciato’s
book, shows a soldier’s helmet, bloodstained in war, but in peace turned into
a honeycomb. López concludes: ‘All abundance is a product of peace,
whereas from war we gain only scarcity and deficit…’ (605-607). Another of
Alciato’s emblems, ‘Virtuti, Fortuna comes’, presents two horns of abundance
as Amaltheia’s horns; two intertwined snakes represent peace, and the winged
cap of Mercury the god of eloquence, represents economic success ( Emblemata ,
1550, trad. de Betty I.Knott, introduction de John Manning, Scolar Press, 1976,
130; this is the same as the 1551 edition, and is reproduced with a preface
by Pierre Laurens, in which he discusses various editions of the text: Paris,
Klincksieck, 1997). Fortune thus produces the abundance of peace thanks to
intelligence and eloquence. In his entry ‘Abundantia’ in the Lexicon Iconographicum Rafael
Fontan Barreiro traces the origins of its representation through two developments
of the trope: private abundance and public abundance. After cataloguing the
classical works in each development, he notes that in the private realm the
image of abundance refers back to the Campagna, and appears amongst the Lares
where it is meant to benefit the material life of the family. By contrast,
public, official abundance derives from the emperor Trajan and his triumphal
arch, and is spread along with the coinage, on which his name is inscribed.
The imperial instrument of a politics of charity, abundance very quickly reveals
its value in propaganda and control. But the emblem that unites sun and heart
already shows that classical spaces were founded on an emblematic metalanguage,
with figures referring to its combinatory system, decoratively audacious and
full of epigrammatic wit and iconic ability.

Barbarous America

A century after Alciato, with his taste for archaeology and a propensity to
moralize, Ripa develops an iconographic system which is much closer to the
senses and to the physicality of sensory images. Cornucopia is generous in
its emblems. This is certainly the case with those dedicated to the regions
of Italy, beginning with the figure of Italy herelf, ‘ bellísima donna
vestita d´habito sontuoso,’ who bears the sceptre of imperial rule in
her right hand and in her left the cornucopia, which indicates the wealth of
the world over which she reigns. ( Iconologia, 1618; ed.
de Piero Buscaroli, Torino, Fogola, 1988, 230-232). Cornucopia will quickly
become an attribute of the various regions of Italy. But when Ripa decides
to include the figures that represent other parts of the world, he is in no
doubt that Europe is superior to them all: ‘Regina di tutto il Mondo’ and for
that reason she appears flanked by two cornucopias, one brimming with grain
and the other with grapes. Asia carries a bunch of flowers and grasses, and
Africa a cornucopia full of grain. America, by contrast, bears no symbol of
abundance: indeed, she bears the very opposite signs. In her right hand a bow,
and in her left an arrow. ( Iconologia, 1603; introduction by Erna
Mandowsky, Hildesheim-New York, Georg Olms Verlag, 1970). Ripa is quick to
praise and he is lavish in his descriptions, but he can find no virtue in America.
He sees her as a naked woman: she is savage with fearsome features, and is
depicted in a blend of colours. She is a warrior, the fiercest of them all:
beneath her foot lies a human head pierced by an arrow. The condemnation is
plain: these barbarous people eat human flesh. Furthermore, they go about naked,
even if they cover their private parts. For once the system appears not to
function: it is limited by the divergent interpretations of contemporary history.
Although Ripa notes that there is nothing in the ancient writers about this
recently discovered region of the world, he claims that it has been documented
by the ‘best modern historians’ and even thanks a neighbour whom he has questioned
on the matter. But this material ends up in the emblem as a condemnation: after
all, the emblem is produced for moral purposes, for the praise of the good
and of goods. It is not meant to reveal the strangeness of the other. Given
the choice between the Edenic ‘noble savage’ and the ‘natural man’ lacking
in morality, Ripa chooses the latter, condemning a savage America, which is
almost unrepresentable in the graphic language of the emblem. In Hertel and
Eichler’s 1758-60 edition, the emblem has changed register if not meaning:
America is now a dark-skinned native, covered with tattoos, representing the
chief of an exotic tribe, surrounded by precious stones, pearls and gold dust,
the latter alluding to the legend of El Dorado. A slave attends him, giving
a note of civilized luxury to the scene and making it even more incongruous.
There is still a human head next to the native, pierced by an arrow, although
this time it is by the side of the figure. At the edge of the image is a stake
from which hangs a human arm, the sign of the cannibal feast, and in the background
we can see some Indians worshiping a calf, demonstrating their paganism. An
alligator, which protrudes from the image, is a symbol of American nature,
primitive and dangerous. The Latin tag says: ‘Everything here is in abundance,
especially the gods that blind superstition has created.’ The diptych in German
reads: ‘Because superstition prevails here, the treasures of this land are
hidden.’ Both sentences derive from the Reformation and introduce the gaze
of the trader and businessman, who berate superstition as a barrier to progress.
Once more America introduces a tension into the system of representations that
reproduce normative versions of control and management of natural resources.
It is no coincidence that these are related to the engravings of Theodore de
Bry. These were made for a market that sought after exotic material, but are
now transformed into evidence of barbarism, in the eloquent contradictions
of bourgeois values. Bry also supported the attempts to discredit the Spanish
colonial enterprise, which was now dismissed as itself barbaric. There is an
underlying irony here: between the 17 th and 18 th centuries, America was conceived
not as a territory where barbarism reigned, but as the source of wealth which
drove forward the development of banking and finance capitalism. Although the
17 th century was one of inflation, crisis and poverty in Spain, in northern
Europe it was one of prosperity and civilization, in part due to the gold from
the Indies which nourished the power of the Italian banks. The ‘polemic on
the New World’ has been extensively documented by Antonello Gerbi in his The
dispute of the New World, the history of a polemic, 1750-1900
(1973) . As
the older humanism gave way to the newer capitalism, the images of America
became exotic rather than barbarous, but were no less fertile.

Self Portraits

Barbarism is often represented by the naked human body. At the beginning of
the Conquest, the natives were thought to be ‘Epicurean’, that is, licentious,
for preferring to go about naked. In his description of the emblem ‘America’,
Ripa vilified the savage, primarily for being ‘naked’. And although it was
the case that throughout the 18 th century, the statues and statuettes that
were used to represent the continents in public art were of clothed figures,
this image of nudity continued but more as a feature of exoticism rather than
of moral or religious condemnation. So much so, that nudity lost its novelty
and became just another rich language of domestic decoration. Ripa’s emblems
underwent another transformation in George Richardson’s Iconology (London,
1777-79 & 1785, 2 volumes). M.R. DeLong and P.A. Hemnis have commented
on the contrasts of clothing and nudity in the emblems of the continents in
this English work (“Historic costume and image in emblem analysis,” in Ayers
L. Bagley et al, eds. The Telling Image, Explorations in the Emblem, New
York, AMS Press, 1996, 117-126) and note that ‘Europe is represented by the
figure of a magnificently robed matron wearing a queen’s crown. The most fully
covered, she is characterized as the repository of culture, renowned for learning
and arts, genius and industry… By contrast, America is the least covered of
the images personifying the continents. She is said to have “tawny complexion
and a fierce aspect,” although her pictured countenance appears calm and peaceful -a
discrepancy here between text and image…Richardson states that some of the
inhabitants of this continent are very much in the dark with respect to the
knowledge of the true god and religious worship. Thus the implication is unmistakable:
clothing connotes culture, breeding, and superiority; nudity here implies the
opposite, i.e., the primitive, the savage, or at best, unbridled opportunity.’
Not for long, however, since the transfer of the emblem to artisanal production
presupposed the reproduction of the object, and with this new ornamental sense,
moral emblem was replaced by stage prop. The emblem establishes hierarchies,
that is, it valorizes, approves or disapproves, and acts as an instrument of
ideological normativity for the subject of control. The artisanal or semi-industrial
figure, by contrast, through its permutations of the sign, subverts the saturated
representations of authority, and manages to introduce a non-conflictual relation
to the image of the Other, an image no less exotic, and perhaps even more decorative,
but already part of the gallery of domestic decoration.

We can see this in the porcelain ‘Figure of America’ (Meissen, Germany, 1746-50),
modeled by Johan Friedrich Eberlin and Peter Reinecke from a drawing by Gottfried
Bernhard Gotz, which is now in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Design in New York.
It is the porcelain rather than the woman which is naked: the wild features
have become calm, and instead of the bow and arrow, she carries a parrot on
her right hand and holds a curved cornucopia in her left, which is full of
different types of grain. She is therefore an almost playful representation
of the signs that confirm her as a commonplace figure. The horn of abundance
has been restored, not only because her fertile nature has been acknowledged,
but also because the horn of plenty is now a stage prop. But the exoticism
of the figure is fully indicated by the alligator on which she is sitting.
This incongruity reveals the fantasy character of the representation: gracefully
seated in the primordial animal kingdom (the alligator looks like a domesticated
dragon), and bearing the proofs of her fertility in the plant kingdom, this
American goddess no longer belongs to barbarism but to culture, that is to
the control of natural forces by the decorative function of representation,
which makes them legible, useful, beneficial, and in the end ornamental. America
already has its place in the European imagination, no longer antagonistic to
Europe, but complementary. The statues of America also show this, as can be
seen in the courtyard of the Orangerie Museum in Paris. America’s torso is
nude, just like her companions, and now she carries a shield on which are engraved
the names of the countries of America, and at her feet are spread out the fruit
of plenty, dominated by the pineapple, an emblem not only of the New World,
but of the Baroque itself. We have thus moved from the decorated bourgeois
interior to an external, public homage to the republic. Here abundance is dispersed
to the various national coats of arms and the grandiloquence of the state:
it is a reference that is beginning to be redundant.


The ‘Roman’ style that was taken up in Spain in the 16 th century was lavish
in the provision of mythological characters and allegorical scenes for the
frescos, friezes and facades of the houses and palaces of the ruling classes.
The imperial nobility took over the representation of Rome as a privileged
point of reference that confirmed the centrality and superiority of Spanish
power. As they were transferred to Spain, these Italian forms acquired a certain
cumulative quality, an acting out, or over-performance of the combinations
that aligned mythology with religious art, classical allegory with heroic history,
and star charts with lessons in morality. The façade of the University
of Salamanca, the frescos and allegories of the palaces of Charles V, the arches,
catafalques and even the houses of the nobility, all reveal the taste for this
multicolored lavishness from Rome, where cultural history became a way of decorating
the present, situated somewhere between solemnity and pastiche. However, the
artistic skill in the delicate detail, the theatrical over-accumulation, left
no space free: even the corners of the staircases were decorated. The density
of allegory imposed various coded readings on to these forms, saturating the
works with propositions and an almost discursive determination. In his study, Pintura
y escultura del renacimiento en España, 1450-1600 (Painting and Sculpture
in the Spanish Renaissance, 1450-1600)
(Madrid, Cátedra, 1993),
Fernando Checa observes that the classical humanist programme was realized
with such a wealth of detail that one of the lines from Dante’s poetry was
given allegorical form in the decorations of the Library in the University
of Salamanca. In passing, Checa lists the inevitable appearances of Abundance
in this decoration. The Granadan castle of La Calahorra has a frieze concerning
abundance on its patio façade, which in 1509 was ‘imported directly
from Italy and erected by Michele Carlone and others…Santiago Sebastián
has demonstrated that the mythological sculptures of the one of the doors have
their origin in the so-called Codex Excurialensis , a sketchbook produced
in Rome during the 15 th century by members of Ghirlandaio’s workshop’ (85).
In one of the ‘Allegories of Peace’ on the façade of the Palace of Charles
V in Granada we also have an image of Abundance amongst the allegories of the
Emperor’s military and moral victories (181). In the Casa Pilatos (Pilate’s
House) in Seville, the frescos (produced in 1530) celebrate the triumphs of
the four seasons, represented by Pomona, Janus, Ceres and Flora. The subject
of the triumphs comes from Petrarch and the inscriptions from Ovid, Checa notes
(202). The Triumph of Ceres is certainly an apotheosis of abundance. In her
wide-ranging work, La mitología en la pintura española del
Siglo de Oro (Mythology in Golden Age Spanish Painting)
(Madrid, Cátedra,
1985), Rosa López Torrijos mentions a 16 th century drawing by Becerra,
in the Escorial, ‘in which there is a goddess crowned with ears of wheat, carrying
the horn of abundance in her hand’, and another (Prado F.A., 798), which ‘represents
Ceres, also crowned with ears of wheat and holding a sickle in her right hand’
(256). Juan van Hamen’s 1620 picture known first as ‘The Sacrifice to Ceres’
and now as ‘The Sacrifice to Pomona’ is an interesting case. The confusion
in the title stemmed from the obvious horn of abundance. But the absence of
ears of wheat or corn and the presence of autumn fruit confirms that the painting
depicts the second goddess, concludes López Torrijos.

As Carolyn Dean points out, once these models, especially in religious iconography
were transplanted to the New World, they became the conflictual space of the
new identities that began to form there. Therefore, ‘the history of Spanish
colonial art is more complicated than a history of Spanish arts in its colonies’
(“The Renewal of Old World Images and the Creation of Colonial Peruvian Visual
Culture,” en Diana Fane, ed. Converging Cultures, Art and Identity in Spanish
New York, Brooklyn Museum, 1996, 171-182). An illustrative case
is that of art, ‘documenting God’s actions in Peru,’ which had as a consequence ‘a
geographical locus of divine power.’ Dean explains that ‘The most famous of
saintly visitations occurred in 1536 during the long siege of Cuzco organized
by the rebellious Inca ruler Manco. According to legend, both Saint James and
the Virgin Mary appeared at critical points in the battle for Cuzco, the ancient
Inca capital. As a result of his efforts during the siege, Santiago Matamoros
(“Saint James, Moor-slayer”) was turned into Santiago Mataindios (“Saint James,
Indian-slayer”). Mary was acclaimed for having appeared atop the Inca tower
(the sunturwasi ) where Spaniards had taken refuge. She extinguished
the fire set to the thatched roof by the rebels and flung dust (or hail) into
the eyes of the enemy troops, causing them to flee…Interestingly, Guamán
Poma´s illustrations of the siege underscore that it was a supernatural
force that saved the Spaniards; his interpretation of the apparitions of both
Mary and James show only the conquering divinity and the rebel Inca -the Spaniards
are absent from his commemoration of the event. In the accompanying text he
also emphasizes how the natives were defeated by divine intervention (rather
than superior Spanish military technology).” Dean concludes that the native
artist subtly contradicts the Eurocentrism of the Spanish accounts of the 1536
apparitions, which emphasize the heroism of the conquistadors. But perhaps
the drawings are a more complicated account of the colonial process, describing
a situation that is more conflictual than the military event. In the first
place, this process is not a one-off confrontation but a drawn-out negotiation.
Even the very protocol of the drawing, whose Spanish format is adapted by the
native artist, now forms part of the new American language. This is a language
of appropriation and reorganization, which is as a consequence of colonial
experience and unfolds within the very system that it contradicts. In the second
place, the absence of Spaniards from this encounter between Indians and religious
figures suggests another point of view, that of the mestizo , who
thus takes responsibility for the saints and the Indians, as if he were reappropriating
superior religious forces in order to reenact and exorcize them on his own
account. This is a situation of greater conflict because it absorbs the oppressor/oppressed
mechanism into a symbolic resolution, into its own space where the binary undergoes
productive transformation. In this case, it is the space that documents the
new subjectivity of cultural hybridity and historical subalternity. In both
drawings, the Indians who stand on the ground form the new, local aspect of
the miracle. ‘Miracle’ means ‘to see more’: the one who confirms the exception
is the interbred native, the new subject who is produced from both worlds.
This subject stands on the shore of potential: with the Spanish language and
the allegorical language of the tools he has appropriated, he works so that
his own culture – regional and Andean – is assured a place in the midst of
the new order and the new disorder.


The process of colonization was carried out at the cost of native systems
of representation, which were dismantled in the conversion of the native population
to Christianity. By ‘ridding the country of idols’ and occupying the spaces
of the native imagination and religions with new arrays of images, and thus
making translation into a dramatic transformation of forms and contents, the
Catholic pantheon slowly but surely replaced the native equivalents. In many
cases, despite the very fragmentation of beliefs, the natives succeeded in
modifying the new images so that they formed a parallel system with their own:
various figures of this double system flowed from one to the other, with a
doubling of their protective vocation. Today we know that this mechanism of
evangelization and conversion, with its erasure and rewriting was not necessarily
a ‘spiritual conquest’ but took place on the well-worked religious landscape
of Meso- and South American religious cultures, where gods of different origins
and powers were superimposed on each other and tolerated by local languages
and beliefs. The map of the cosmos was articulated by notions of lineage and
the cycle of life was connected with that of the land and its demands. In the
end native religious sentiment was regional and learned to cohabit with the
imperial religions. The monological tendencies of colonial Christianity mean
that the great dramas within Catholicism will occupy a shared space, and messianic
movements and clandestine cults will respond to this violence. The role of
painting and art in this conflictual process demonstrates both the dominant
religion’s capacity for destruction and the adaptive capacity of native religious
practice. In his book La colonisation de l´imaginaire, Sociétés
indigenes et occidentalisation dans le Mexique espagnol, XVI-XVIII siècle
Translated as The Conquest of Mexico: The Incorporation of Indian
Societies into the Western World, 16 th to 18 th Centuries
)Paris, Gallimard,
1988) Serge Gruzinski gives a detailed discussion of the place of painting
and writing in these processes. He claims that native artists incorporated
the technologies that the conquerors brought from Spain. They also turned a
novel gaze on their own world: the Nahuatl for example have a relation to the
image that can no longer be characterized as indigenous (37). Even the natives
who were taught in the college of Santa Cruz, thus counting as amongst the
first American letrados , maintained the old traditions and knowledge
alongside their Western education. The letrado Indians and mestizos of
the College of Tlatelolco, who acted as translators and wrote their histories
in both languages, defended their family privileges and their standing as aristocrats.
Painting lineage thus became a means of proving the legitimacy of this intermediary
local nobility, who adapted so as to maintain their former privileges. But
from at least 1540 a ‘radically new culture’ had begun to emerge, expressing
a clash of codes and describing the fate ‘of the old forms and their preservation’
(90). Gruzinski concludes: ‘When the Italian Quattrocento juggled
with modes of representation using old or new systems depending on the object
being painted, it drew from the same cultural source, in the same society:
it took its inspiration from different, but despite everything, related sources.
The exceptional interest of the Mexican experience resides in the conjunction
of practices that one could believe to be irreducible, bringing together traditions
developed without any earlier contact. There was a multiplicity of expressive
media: glyphs rubbed shoulders with the alphabet and musical notation; the
painted picture met the engraving; oral transmission oscillated between pre-Hispanic
or Christianized forms; plain chant and polyphony followed upon ancestral dances…Multiplicity
also of languages: Latin and Spanish were added to the Indian languages, dominated
by Nahuatl which served everywhere as lingua franca ‘ (62). Multiplicity
which also reached the calendar, the repertoire of time, economic practices,
and native ‘paintings’, those graphic forms and iconographies that hardly deserve
the generic name of ‘painting.’ All of which explains why the native world
had a ‘double gaze’ on things (64). A gaze that reveled in the pleasure of
form, the play of adaptation, the conjuncture of disparate codes and the decorative
line in which another language is quoted. This language is already a different
form of expression, lacking canonical authority, perpetually open in its flexible
adaptability. The wondrous quality of its fruits – the meeting of name and
thing in abundance – are already reappropriated by the new cultural subject,
the being produced in both registers. This subject decorates the space where
he displays his incorporated forms and materials as if demonstrating in line,
clay and colour that both worlds were his. The everyday pottery of Puno, in
the Peruvian altiplano, found a favorite emblem in the bull. At once a chthonic
figure, yet at the same time inexplicable and because of this richly decorated
in spells, the bull is a graceful animal. That is because its model is the
pottery figure of the llama. The native artisans produced a bull based on the
model of this lithe and alert figure: it is much more Andean than Spanish,
even retaining the circular depression on the figure’s back, which the tiny
Inca figurines of the llama had for offerings, as Dawn Ades points out in her
Introduction to Art in Latin America (New Haven, Yale University Press,
1989, 5).


In his suggestive study, La península metafísica, Arte,
literatura y pensamiento en la España de la Contrarreforma
Metaphysical Peninsula: Art, Literature and Thought in Counter-Reformation
(Madrid, Biblioteca Nueva, 1999), Fernando R. de la Flor discusses
the ways in which the natural world was read in the emblems of the period.
Having already devoted an important study to the topic ( Emblemas, lecturas
de la imagen simbólica (Emblems, Readings of Symbolic Images)
the author reviews previous studies on the Golden Age and modern Spanish
emblem in the chapter ‘Mundus est fabula, The Reading of Nature as Politico-Moral
Document in Symbolic Literature’. He suggests that the emblem is a coded
representation of nature whose function is both political and metaphysical.
De la Flor thus constructs emblem discourse as a double reading of the natural
world: an upwards reading, as the writing of God, and a downwards reading,
as a lesson on the fall of Man. In the last analysis, the politico-moral
vision that the emblem translates is a microcosmic vision of the human. This
persuasive analysis thus suggests an important coherence within the encyclopaedia
of emblems, that body whose main function would be to construct its own formal
unity, projective meaning and circular, totalizing reference. The emblem
is also historically situated, both geographically in Spain and culturally
in a no less historical vision of nature. Two facts support the author’s
hypothesis about the over-coding of the emblem: the hieroglyphic and allegorical
character of emblems, and the prevalence of a metalanguage of symmetrical
and harmonious forms in the work of Luis de Granada, its most important exponent.
This is obviously in addition to the mystical or spiritual literature that
provides the basis for the emblems’ main articulation.

Another reading of the corpus of emblems might disturb de la Flor’s proposed ‘semiotic
machine’. Firstly, from the perspective of cultural history, emblems would
reveal that their symbolic claims are constructed, that is they are rhetorical.
The normativity that they dictate functions as a self-referential system, but
often demonstrates its limits in reality. It is revealing that Ripa’s iconography,
for example, introduced regional differences into the representation of nature,
not merely between continents, but between the different parts of Italy. And
it is equally revealing that successive publishers adapted the emblem system
to the interests of their public, which were inevitably economic. More interesting
still is the function of the emblem of the New World, where it is both part
of the language of power and a sign of its legitimacy and self-affirmation.
Secondly, from a perspective of cultural criticism, the emblem must inevitably
be defined in terms of its system of reproduction. It cannot be understood
historically and culturally without its use value, without the evolution of
the graphic arts and printing, and without the commercial bourgeoisie that
cultivated it. It is no coincidence that the clergy in their evangelical programme
made the allegorical emblem into one of the main tools of their mission and
practice as translators.

In her book Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance (New
York-London, Norton, 1998), Lisa Jardine has discussed the complex system of
production within the art market and the artisanal sphere, and in printing
and the workshops producing luxury goods. She explains how works of art that
we admire today for their virtuosity, ‘were part of a vigorously developing
worldwide market in luxury commodities. They were at once sources of aesthetic
delight and properties in commercial transactions between purchasers, seeking
ostentatiously to advertise their power and wealth, and skilled craftsmen with
the expertise to guarantee that the object so acquired would make an impact’
(19). This analysis of production and consumption does not deny the superior
quality and value of the works of art (and their possible readings), but it
does dismantle the network of power that shapes the market. In a lucid discussion
of the readings and interpretations that shape the study of cultural history,
Peter Burke looks at the various theories concerning cultural encounters, and
concludes that ‘We have returned to the fundamental problem of unity and variety,
not only in cultural history but in culture itself. It is necessary to avoid
two opposite oversimplifications; the view of culture as homogeneous, which
is blind to differences and conflicts, and the view of culture as essentially
fragmented, which fails to take account of the ways in which all of us create
our individual or group mixes, syncretisms or syntheses” (“Unity and Variety
in Cultural History,” in Varieties of Cultural History (Ithaca, Cornell
University Press, 1997, 211). It is symptomatic that in his introduction Burke
places his own perspective at some distance from the two extremes of ‘constructivism’,
which assumes the discursive construction of the social and ‘positivism’ which
considers documentary sources as true and real. This is because the critic,
in adjudicating between the forms and meanings of the ‘encounter’ between two
worlds, situates himself before, after or between them. He thus professes one
or other model of reading a cultural history, which, in its complex nature,
escapes a single reading, or single predetermined mode of processing facts
and connections.

The art historian Julián Gállego proves to be an accomplished
reader of the complexities of such connections in his indispensable Visión
y símbolos en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro (Vision and
Symbols in Golden Age Spanish Painting)
(Madrid, Cátedra, 1996).
His method is characteristic of his perspective as puzzle-solver. What he looks
for in painting, he says, is both the elements taken from other spheres of
culture (the contexts and intertexts that painting represents) and those plastic
elements that have symbolic significance (rather than a ‘pure’ art, we have
something closer to literature and to ‘wit’). He situates himself as a reader
of the symbolic background of each form, in such a way that even a supposed ‘realism’,
such as that of Velázquez, reveals itself as full of ‘references and
allusions.’ For Gállego, plastic forms ‘hide’ their signification ‘under
the appearance of an everyday, even banal, reality’ (13). He observes the importance
of Aliciato in the sources of Spanish ‘symbolic culture’ and the way in which
he became a ‘stock figure’ for writers and painters. But he was not the only
Italian emblemist to be taken up in Spain. There was also Paolo Giovo, who
dedicated one of his imprese to Alcito: ‘he dedicated the Caduceus
to him, the Wand of Mercury amongst the Cornucopias overflowing with fruits,
which was a symbol of fortune, in the Imprese of 1551′ (47). Gállego
put his own method of symbolic reading to the test when he came to deal with
literary satire on mythological fables and heroes. In The Journey to Parnassus ,
(1613) Cervantes reduces the gods to human size, and in Everyone’s Hour (1650)
Quevedo turns the Olympians into laughing stocks, doing the same to Ripa’s
emblems en passant (63). To explain this Spanish skepticism towards
the classical repertoire, and to determine the ‘authentic intentions of painters
who dealt with pagan themes without any real seriousness’, Gállego postulates
two causes: the economic crisis of 17 th century Spain, and the ideas of religion.
The first cause is clearly connected with America, but Gállego does
not engage with the question, even when discussing still lives, and the sorts
of fruit they contain. Yet the situation of Spain during the Golden Age was
proverbial: gold and silver from the Indies enriched a minority and impoverished
the rest of the country. After all, ‘What is Spain in the 17 th century? A
collection of different realms: Castile, Navarre, Aragon, Valencia, Cataluña
united under the same crown, but separated by fueros [tax and legal
exemptions], coinage and customs’ (63). The wealth of America stayed in the
hands of the merchants of Seville or flowed out across Europe. Artists and
writers suffered under this poverty yet had to praise their patrons. Like Velázquez
when he wanted to be admitted to the Order of Santiago, artists had to prove ‘that
they had never painted for a living’, that is, that they could not be confused
with tradesmen (65). For religious reasons, painters had to show that they
were not heretics or pagans, and were only using mythological themes for entertainment.
Later, mythology would be admitted into artistic imagery in Spain, but only
as ‘Christianized’ (79). It could also be argued that some mythological figures,
like those of Velázquez, were represented through a ‘realist’ gaze in
order to explore the limits of verisimilitude, that is, the enigma not of the
eternal symbol but of the human sign. They were disturbed by the moment of
the look. But Gállego’s symbolic method saturates both genealogy and
context of the art object. This is obvious in his interpretation of flowers
and fruits with no other origin than their profusion amongst the ‘Moors of
Andalucia, whose poets tirelessly and with infinite inspiration celebrated
their gardens’ (197). ‘Poor in other products, Spain had always been rich in
fruit and flowers’, he says, although he then observes that ‘it is not so easy
to read the flowers that appear alone in a jug or a basket. Nothing
stops us thinking that they have a meaning that goes beyond their mere beauty’
(200). The severity of this gaze, which intensifies the associations of the
Baroque, explains why the fruit from America escape his vision, and why the
signs of abundance are only a contrast to poverty, or a sort of decorative
hyperbole. For that very reason, it is hardly surprising that when he interprets
Zurbarán’s famous still-life, he decides that the cup of chocolate is
really a cup of water. His explanation is the following: ‘I would hazard a
guess that the Contini still-life…is a homage to the Virgin: the dish of citrons,
a fruit still used today in Italy in Easter ceremonies; the basket of oranges
and orange blossom – virginity and fertility; the cup of water – fertile purity – placed
on a silver platter with a rose – Divine love…’ (202). Carried away by his
systematic symbolic reading, that turns the physical world into a language
saturated with allegorical intent, the critic has no place for the incongruous
American object and elects to empty this historic cup to fill it with water:
it becomes an epiphany of God rather than the New World. However, even if we
accept that the three units of this still-life (whose powerful reference to
the domestic economos is proper to Baroque empiricism) form an offering
to the Virgin Mary, it is still possible to suggest another reading. If the
oranges and orange blossom correspond to the Virgin, the cup of chocolate on
the silver platter might well correspond to a mother newly delivered of her
child. After all, American chocolate was well known for its restorative abilities.


In 1908, while examining the collection of manuscripts in the Royal Library
of Copenhagen, Richard Pietschmann, the director of the Göttingen Library,
discovered an unknown chronicle, the Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno written
by the Peruvian Indian Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala. The 1200 page work
with four hundred full-page drawings was published in a facsimile edition by
the Institute of Ethnology in Paris in 1936. A critical edition was published
only in 1981, edited by Rolena Adorno and John Murra. This is a multiple text:
its Spanish, Quechua and Aymará titles, phrases and paragraphs are phonetic
transcriptions, a multiple inner translation. They are also inscription and
drawing, a true iconography of speech. The book was composed between 1584 and
1615 as a Letter to the King, denouncing the Spanish conquest of Peru and proposing
the reorganization of colonial society. On the last page, Guamán declares
that he is standing at the door of the Viceroy’s palace in Lima to deliver
his letter, having traveled the central Andes for thirty years and having written,
he tells us, of the things “seen by his own eyes”. In a letter sent in February
1615, the chronicler had to remind the King about his work. The urgency of
his message possesses him: “The afore-mentioned Indians complained to the said
author as the their lord; he calmed their lamentation and affliction and consoled
and appeased them, saying, ´My son, entrust yourself to God and the Virgin
Mary; soon we will have help.'” Injustice, though, is a loss of meaning: “And
there is no remedy,” the author repeats like a litany. Existence itself becomes
absurd: “They persecute the poor of Jesus Christ; sometimes it is cause for
laughter, at other times it is heart-rending and cause for pity. This I have
seen with my own eyes.” Beyond the testimony of violence itself, the text is
full of its transformative and instrumental possibilities.

Gustavo Gutiérrez in his book on Las Casas ( Las Casas, In search
of the poor of Jesus Christ,
1933) sees “revealing convergences between
the principles enunciated by Las Casas in his Doce dudas and Guamán´s
position” (449). He also observes that for Guamán, God became a human
being, but a human being who was poor. In his encyclopedic reordering of
Andean knowledge, in his need to preserve memory as cultural model, Guamán
constructs a reading that addresses all readers in a book that is the equivalent
of every book. He is aware of the boldness of his undertaking, and he is
promptly obliged to defend his grand design, by telling us of “the uncultivated
state of my understanding and blind eyes and little seeing and little knowing,
and not being learned nor a doctor nor a graduate nor a Latin scholar.” With
this rhetorical strategy, he first puts forward a definition of the Andean
writer/scribe. If he is neither learned nor a doctor, neither a lawyer nor
a humanist, who is he? Who is this bearer of encyclopediac knowledge, who
claims he knows nothing, this prodigious writer, who claims he cannot write?
He is “the author,” the father and son of that text in which he recreates
himself. His appropriation of the Code par excellence, the Spanish language,
is a kind of willful pillage; his linguistic competence is limited but his
performance is unrestricted. He is, then, the other author, the new author,
the author as difference. The archive of the hegemonic culture has no room
for this writer who exceeds the Code. Characteristically, it is not the interpretation
of truth found in the hegemonic archive that the author revises, but rather
its classifications, regulations, and procedures for distributing information.
He writes his own Andean multi-ethnic and pluri-lingual codification within
the new archive. This organic process is the cultural spectacle of the text,
where information overwhelms chronology, fractures its verisimilitude, and
creates the tools to articulate a nascent discourse. One of these powerful
new tools is the emblem, which Guamán appropriates by producing a
drawing that borrows from the humanist and Christian repertories, but is
used to account for the immediacy of change and denunciation. At the same
time, it also maintains the memory of the lost order as a model for the order
to come. Guamán manipulates these old forms with a certain irony:
in the emblem of the vices and virtues he replaces the image of the soul
being tempted with the figure of the Indian being tormented.

A more daring move will be to make his own life emblematic, that is, to propose
his role as “the author” as another tool of inquiry and mediation. Guamán
Poma drew his self-portrait five times. The first drawing, on the title page
of the manuscript, is already an emblem of the characters implicated in the
textual drama: the Pope, the King, and the Author. The three heraldic coats
of arms of this configuration of religious, political, and scriptural authority
are also present. This is not coincidental: the New Chronicle is
a Letter and, as such, its denunciation presupposes a programme, which Guamán
Poma expects to be implemented by the King. But the author also takes his work
to be a book, a manuscript, whose visual communication is immediate. It is
also a palimpsest of collective memory and a printed book that brings together
all its audiences in a total reading. Another drawing, which clearly refers
to the practice of enunciation is entitled “The Author Inquires.” The text
evolves from the wanderings of the eyewitness who communicates what he sees
as he comes and goes, writing and drawing. But traveling and writing do not
merely represent the will of the witness to record. They are also the fiction
of the text inscribed in the truth of history. This writing subverts the statutes
of the general Code, and superimposes its own liberating energy: the desire
for a material speech marking the trace of the text, in Spanish, Quechua and
Aymará at the same time. The text is in the end a map of reading in
which we the readers are also anticipated, and which we must actualize. The
book, having anticipated all its possible readers takes its place, as the chronicler
says, ‘in the archive of the world.’ ‘The Author Travels’ shows Guamán
Poma, his son, his horse, and his dogs, traveling through Peru and traversing,
in fact, the text. He crosses the textual corpus in the discourse of his own

This biographical perspective accounts for the “I” as a collective “we” that
speaks and is spoken. Hence the powerful final drama of this work, a utopian
construction whose subject or operator can only be potential. The construction
of the work implies the construction of the Author. Another drawing, “His Majesty
Asks, the Author Replies,” presents the author in direct dialogue with the
King of Spain. The protocol of communication becomes fictitious: the Letter,
the very body of the enunciating word has arrived at the foot of the Monarch.
Guamán anticipates the King´s questions and respond to them in
depth. Uchronia (history could have been otherwise with the proper actors in
the drama), and Utopia (the chronicler argues for political reform, restitution,
and good government), are the final task of the text: questions and answers
that design the fictional tools for remaking history. There is still another
portrait in which Guamán Poma places himself among the members of his
family. His father had been “second person to the Inca” in the kingdom of Lucanas.
His own name is emblematic: Guamán (Falcon) and Poma (Lion). A half-brother
of his, a priest, taught him the Spanish language. In the end, eighty years
old and impoverished he arrives at the Plaza de Armas in Lima to deliver his
Letter. He is convinced that, from there, the “world-upside-down,” which denies
abundance, justice, and order, must be ended. “The author returns from the
world to his home,” he tells us, “gray-haired and frail and naked and barefoot.” The
fiction has come to an end: the rest is history.

The Other Abundance

In ‘The First Chapter of the Months and the Years’ in his New Chronicle
and Good Government
, Guamán Poma announces his intention to
discuss the months of the year in the Indies ‘which are different to those
of Castile’, where there are six months of summer and six of winter. Castile
therefore suffers from hunger for half the year, whilst in the realm of the
Indies God has provided gold, silver, fruit, bread, wine and meat the whole
year round. ‘If you sow and labour, there will be no shortage’, he concludes.
This abundance imposes a logic of distribution and justice. Following Las
Casas, Guamán recalls that ‘Food is served to God and His Majesty.
And we adore God with it. Without food there is neither man nor strength.’
The natural order is supported by the divine order, and justice is the correspondence
between the two. With the same reasoning, ‘We must consider the poor Indians
of this realm, seeing how in said months you eat at the cost of the poor
Indians of this realm of Peru.’ Then Guamán immediately draws the
emblems of the months of the year in terms of the different kinds of fruit
that the land produces thanks to the labour of the Indians. The difference
thus lies in the cosmic and ritual function of work, the labour that men
and women dedicate to the process of sowing, cultivation, protection of fruit
and the harvest, and their storage as a communal resource. This production
of abundance, however, takes place against the backdrop of scarcity, and
the injustice and disorder produced by colonialism. Guamán’s account
is at once a lesson about native culture, an example from the book of native
memory, and an almanac of advice about regional produce. But it is also a
submission on the subject of multiple ‘difference’: of climate, produce,
cultures and realms. The emblem is the space where a system of survival is
inscribed within the very account of abundance. Guamán appropriates
the design of the emblem to turn it into a language relevant to contemporary
reality: it deprives it of its traditional symbolism and allegorical meanings,
but continues to use the exemplary character of the picture or
body of the emblem. It uses the motto to place the drawing, and its didactic
function is securely abstracted from Catholic hagiography, since Guamán
often writes the mottos in Quechua. This is well illustrated in the wealth
of detail in the drawing dedicated to the month of May, which is a veritable
recoding of the humanist emblem of abundance. The motto runs: ‘Travaxo, zara
callchai arvi pacha mayo aymoray quilia’ (‘Travaxo/the time of reaping, of
piling up the corn/May/the month of the harvest’ according to Jorge L. Urioste’s
translation in the critical edition produced by John V. Murra y Rolena Adorno,
México, Siglo XXI, 1980, vol 3, 1040-1041). The woman at the centre
of the drawing who is carrying a stalk with leaves of corn is the Andean
equivalent of the Roman matron who represents abundance in Ripa’s Iconology with
a stalk of wheat in her hand. The drawing derives from the emblem, but as
its perspective is that of labour, the native woman is not the symbol of
abundance but the agent of its production. There is a double account here:
the Andean woman occupies the centre of the design, but she is only part
of the action implied in the drawing. This activity includes the Indian on
the left of the drawing, who has one knee on the ground, and who is harvesting
the corn (he is called ‘reaper, callchac ‘). So we have here a young
couple who have gone out to harvest. Whilst he is pulling the corncobs from
the stalks, leaving behind the leaves on the ground, she is making a branch
out of them and taking them to the right of the picture, where we can see
the storehouses for the corn, covered with cones made from the residue the
plant. Labour in the harvest is directly connected to the produce being stored,
to its preservation by and for the community. The model demonstrates its
goodness. The Indian woman who represents abundance here carries these American
plants not as symbol but as sign. They are functional object which labour
will preserve as foodstuffs. The figure of the woman is in movement: although
she occupies the centre of the picture, she moves towards the corn storehouses
with the useful burden she carries. She carries the sheaf of stalks on her
back and holds it with both hands. She is gazing forward with determination,
and walks on. In the eponymous month of abundance, even ‘the boys and girls
who are born are rich, lucky to come into the world in a time of such wealth
of food’, says Guamán. Both nature and the community generate this
abundance, whose ‘strength’ (a concept which he repeats twice in his commentary)
also includes the language of the emblem, now turned into the instrument
through which memory will be preserved and the future reconstructed.

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