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Casta paintings.

3 March 2021

I’ve been meaning to write something longer about the Casta paintings, but my thesis is they we give them more significance than they merit. Oil paintings are a luxury item, and the only buyers were the “one percenters” (the casta paintings in existence were mostly located in Spain, not the Americas… indicating they were high end souveners, not common with local elites) produced by one workshop in Puebla. And, for that matter the whole casta system itself may not have been as important to the people themselves as we might think. We forget the 18th century was an era with a mania for classifying nature (good) and the concept of “race” as an immutable factor was something new. In a way, the casta paintings might be compared to a bird-watching guide (one imagines a bored Spanish bureaucrat checking off his “life list” for running across a zambo or coyote) when the people themselves (and the poor parish priests who had to keep birth records for the 99% of people who didn’t know, or care much, which of the 16 to 32 categories their grandparents might have fallen into) and stuck to the rough categories of Penisulares, criollos (who may or may not have been of “pure” European ancestry), mulato, mestizo, negro and indio.

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