Glittering art from the Americas, Spain and the Philippines arrives in Toronto

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Glittering art from the Americas, Spain and the Philippines arrives in Toronto
Unknown. Silver Mining at Potosi. Courtesy of The Hispanic Society of America, New York, NY.

TORONTO.- This summer, the Art Gallery of Ontario presents an eye-opening exhibition of sumptuous paintings, maps, textiles, jewels, rare daguerreotypes and religious objects from Europe, the Americas and the Philippines, from the collection of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library of New York. Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire opens at the AGO on June 8, 2022.

Curated by the AGO’s Assistant Curator of European Art, Adam Harris Levine, the exhibition presents artworks by revered and unknown Latin American, Filipino and Spanish artists and explores the colonial frameworks that shaped their production and reception. A consultation panel of Toronto-based Latinx and Filipinx scholars and artists worked with the curator to help shape an exhibition that both highlights the beauty of these objects and the reality of their creation. Their voices are heard throughout the exhibition, as part of the exhibitions extensive audio guide.

For nearly four centuries, between 1492 and 1898, the kings and queens of Spain controlled large parts of the world. Their pursuit of gold, gemstones and natural resources created an empire that for a time, spanned both oceans. Art, books and religious imagery were a powerful means of unifying their vast and varied empire, and the Spanish empire encouraged artistic production across its territories. Painters, sculptors, printers, and other artisans travelled extensively, creating, through artistic and material exchange, a rich and complex visual culture.

“These sumptuous and stirring works reveal cross-cultural exchange – of ideas, of people, of materials – on a global scale. As historic as these artworks were, embedded in their creation are issues that we continue to confront today – the persistence of anti-Indigenous stereotypes, of racial categories, of flawed legal systems, of pollution from resource extraction. In them, and in the context of their making, we better understand our present condition,” says Levine. “These four centuries of art provide a unique perspective on the lasting legacies of colonization and the role of art.”

Filipino-Canadian artist and designer Tahnee Ann Macabali Pantig joins the exhibition as guest curator, overseeing the installation of 15 never before exhibited daguerreotypes from the Philippines, dating from c. 1840-1845. Only recently rediscovered, these significant images offer says Pantig “a rare window into the Philippines at a critical time of political and cultural change and an opportunity for those in the Filipinx community to reclaim these images as our own and to consider how colonialism has shaped how we see our history.”

Faith and Fortune: Art Across the Global Spanish Empire from the collection of the Hispanic Society Museum & Library is free for AGO Members, Annual Passholders and visitors aged 25 and under. AGO Members see it first, when it opens June 8, 2022. Same day tickets can now be booked in person and online.

Organized chronologically, the exhibition begins with the earliest episode of colonization — Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Illustrating the formation of the Empire is a selection of ceramics, textiles and religious paintings – objects all made in Spain with materials from the Americas and Asia, reflecting the dominant styles and techniques of European art. A gold pendant in the shape of a centaur, made of sapphires, rubies and pearls, c. 1580-1620 and a disc of gold bullion, dated 1622 from the Thomson Collection of European Art, are just a few of the glittering examples of the gold trade that fueled the Spanish Empire’s expansion.

Impassioned representations of Saint Jerome (1600) and Saint Sebastian (1603-7) by El Greco and Alonso Vázquez highlight a section dedicated to Catholic imagery and its role in empire building. From Peru, a processional shield from c. 1620-1650 depicting the Virgin Mary and the Nativity, of oil on copper and wrought iron, demonstrates the local adoption of and market for religious icons.

Sculpture, ranging from gilded wooden figures to a lacquered portable writing desk and elaborately carved wooden boxes, features prominently in the exhibition. Ecuadorean Indigenous sculptor Manuel Chili’s striking series of four wood carvings The Fates of Man (c. 1775) presents in feverish detail the potential rewards and pains of the afterlife.

A section dedicated to seafaring and map making, features some of the oldest objects in the exhibition, including a series of five charts illustrating the Atlantic Ocean from Iceland to Port of Good Hope from 1558. Diego Velázquez’s full sized portrait of Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares from (1625-26), is one of many works showcasing the Spanish Empire at the height of its power in the 17th century.

Pottery and lacquer ware from Mexico and Columbia, exemplify how Indigenous artisans, working for settler patrons and drawing upon examples and artistic traditions imported from across Asia, the Americas and Europe, created their own recognizable styles. These works, reflect the importance of the Spanish trade routes between Acapulco and Manila.

The exhibition concludes with a selection of never before exhibited daguerreotypes, dating from c. 1840-1845. An early form of photography, using silvered copper plates, daguerreotypes were popular in the mid-19th century. Guest curated by Filipino-Canadian artist and designer Tahnee Ann Macabali Pantig, these images offer stunning views of Manila and its surroundings, including the Marikina River and Laguna province, and are thought to be the work of Jules Alphonse Eugene Itier (1802-1877), a French Government official whose career took him around the world.

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