cover of book

Pictured Politics: Visualizing Colonial History in South American Portrait Collections
by Emily Engel
University of Texas Press, 2020
Cloth: 978-1-4773-2059-4 | eISBN: 978-1-4773-2061-7
Library of Congress Classification N7596.8.E54 2020
Dewey Decimal Classification 704.942


The Spanish colonial period in South America saw artists develop the subgenre of official portraiture, or portraits of key individuals in the continent’s viceregal governments. Although these portraits appeared to illustrate a narrative of imperial splendor and absolutist governance, they instead became a visual record of the local history that emerged during the colonial occupation.

Using the official portrait collections accumulated between 1542 and 1830 in Lima, Buenos Aires, and Bogotá as a lens, Pictured Politics explores how official portraiture originated and evolved to become an essential component in the construction of Ibero-American political relationships. Through the surviving portraits and archival evidence—including political treatises, travel accounts, and early periodicals—Emily Engel demonstrates that these official portraits not only belie a singular interpretation as tools of imperial domination but also visualize the continent's multilayered history of colonial occupation. The first stand alone analysis of South American portraiture, Pictured Politics brings to light the historical relevance of political portraits in crafting the history of South American colonialism.

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