oil on canvas
Gift of Gerry S. Culpepper
© Phoenix Art Museum. All rights reserved. Photo by Dan Vermillion.
This painting and pair of plaques representing armed archangels illustrate how the same imagery could take on different functions when reproduced across artistic media. The iconography of the ángeles arcabuceros (angels carrying arquebuses, a muzzle-loading firearm) arose in Cuzco and its environs in the Bolivian/Peruvian highlands in the late 17th century. This imagery is prevalent in the Viceroyalty of Peru but not in other Spanish territories, making it a distinctive trait of Colonial Peruvian art.
Research has shown that these hybrid images combine traditions of aristocratic portraiture and images of saints with postures and weapons drawn from illustrated European military manuals. Such works attest to Andean artists’ consumption of imported prints as source imagery and their transformation into original iconographies found only in the New World.
In addition, the plaques demostrate how religious objects underwent metamorphoses at different points of their history in colonial Latin America. The gold images of Archangels Salamiel and Yeriel were created in the late 17th century (circa 1675) as gleaming, decorative elements for a church altarpiece. In the late 18th century, they were affixed to ornate silver plaques (dating to ca. 1780-90) to heighten their effect of sumptuous grandeur at the altar. They are fascinating examples of how colonial art objects were transformed over time as the needs, tastes, and financial fortunes of patrons changed.