Quito School of Sculpture

views updated

Quito School of Sculpture

The history of the Quito School of Sculpture begins in 1535 with the establishment of the first art school in America. The Flemish friar Jodoco Ricke, the Franciscan friar responsible for the school's foundation, brought artists from Spain in an effort to instruct Creoles, mestizos, and Indians in the arts of painting, sculpture, and music. Although the art school was originally adjunct to the convent of San Francisco, by 1551 it became known as the school of San Andrés. Here Ecuadorian artists quickly mastered the techniques of Spanish polychrome wood sculptures. The school produced sculptures and paintings for Ecuador and the rest of the Spanish empire throughout the colonial era.

These artifacts were crafted by native artists who imitated the polychrome wood statues, the old master etchings, and the large scale paintings by Flemish, Italian, and French artists which the early colonists and friars had brought with them to decorate both churches and private houses. Technically they imitated influential Andalusian sculptors like Alonso Cano and Pedro de Mena, continuing the Spanish tradition of pathos and an almost theatrical expressivity. This intense realism included inlaid glass eyes, the use of gold and silver plates to decorate the intricate brocade of the figures robes; and by the eighteenth century the use of real hair, fingernails, and teeth. Most scholars use the art history terms "baroque" and "rococo" to describe the historical development of polychrome sculpture in Quito.

When peninsular sculpture declined, however, Quito entered its "golden age," which coincided with the ascension of the Bourbon monarchs. By 1741 guilds of artists operated independently of the Catholic church and produced for an economically prosperous consumer society composed mainly of lower-class mestizos. These guilds produced Quito's most eminent and well-documented sculptors, Bernardo Legarda and Manuel Chili (Caspicara).

Legarda (1727–1792) is the attributed creator of the ubiquitous Virgin of Quito, which stems iconographically from St. John's Apocalypse. As patroness of the Franciscan Order, she was given a local identity in the early colonial period, and today she is Quito's favorite icon. Legarda sculpted other American imagery, including Santa Rosa De Lima, the first creole saint. The delicacy of her sculpted image is a stylistic approximation of the effeminate qualities of the Caspicara school.

Although much research is needed to prove the numerous attributions made to Caspicara, he is known for his sculptural groups, such as the Assumption of Mary in the church of San Francisco. His work personifies the heightened baroque spirituality. Caspicara's statue of San Pedro de Alcántara, the confessor of Santa Teresa, exudes the austerity, poverty, and contemplative nature of the Spanish mystic.

Due to the lack of primary sources and signed work, more investigation is needed to correctly identify and catalog the vast body of sculpture in colonial Quito. Unfortunately only the names of major artists appear in the scanty records, leaving hundreds of statues anonymous. However, the Quito School continues to the present day with artists who still employ the traditional modes of polychrome sculpture which the early colonists imported centuries ago. The commercial production of sculptures like these reflects free enterprise, private patronage, and the stalwart presence of the Catholic church.

See alsoArt: The Colonial Era .


José Gabriel Navarro, La escultura en el Ecuador (Madrid, 1929).

Gabrielle G. Palmer, Sculpture in the Kingdom of Quito (1987).

Ximena Escudero De Terán, América y España en la escultura colonial quiteña: Historia de un sincretismo (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Gallegos de Donoso, Magdalena. The Development of Sculpture in the Quito School. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank, Cultural Center, 1994.

Vargas, José Maria. El arte quiteño en los siglos XVI, XVII, y XVIII. Quito: Impr. Romero, 1949.

                              VerÓnica Pesantes-Vallejo