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Sculpture - Polychrome Wood Sculptures


Colonial Religious Sculptures

Origin I Characteristics I Urgency of the Situation I Legislation I Bibliography

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Click on the photo to see caption and an enlarged version

Virgen Mary,
wood, 58 x 28 cm
Saint Francis,
Archangel Michael,
Saint Anne,
  © Museo de Arte Colonial © CONACULTA-INAH-MEX. Reproducción autorizada por el Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia © Fernando Allen Galiano © CONACULTA-INAH-MEX. Reproducción autorizada por el Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia


All Latin-American countries.


These sculptures come from churches and convents and were made during the Colonial period (16th, 17th and 18th centuries). They tend to be workshop productions and works of unknown authors that present certain uniformity. However, the schools that are differentiated are those from Quito and Cuzco, of great influence throughout America.
They are made from noble woods such as cedar and can measure anywhere from 27 cm to 1.7 m high in the case of life-size images. They are representations of virgins, saints, angels, archangels, crucified Christs, Child Jesus and nativity sets.
They are polychrome, usually over gold or silver plating, with specific colors: the angels and the Child Jesus are a bright pink imitating the skin, archangels are dressed in Roman clothing with floral motifs of varied colors, the Virgin wears a blue or green cloak and Saint Joseph a red cloak, etc. The faces, hands, and feet are of a pearly pink with a brilliant, and sometimes matte, appearance. The garments often show floral and vegetable adornments.
The majority is done in a single piece. Some sculptures can have cloth garments over the sculpted garment or on an unsculpted body (sometimes, they have lost their suits and have the aspect of dolls).The garments can also be of glued, polychromed and quilted cloth.
Sometimes the sculptures have pedestals and silver accessories such as crowns or wings and can have adornments of beads or natural hair. Some have cold, frigid faces since they are made from lead masks painted a skin color and glass eyes.
Deserving honorable mention are the sculptures from the Jesuit and Franciscan missions on the borders of Argentina (Misiones province), Bolivia (Chiquitania and Moxos), Paraguay (states of Misiones and Itapua), western Brazil and northeast Uruguay. Although some sculptures do not differ from the rest of colonial sculptures, there were local workshops with indigenous handwork that sculpted or carved images with a special ingenuous and popular air due to their simplicity, lack of proportions, and sober sense of form.


--Urgency of the Situation  

These images allow us to understand the formation of Latin American thought and artistic development since there were local contributions. The lack of consciousness with regard to their importance, insufficient inventories and safety measures in museums or churches pose a serious threat.
Many were part of altarpieces, complex compositions with paintings and sculptures that covered the walls over altars, which are dismantled and destroyed. Thefts are frequent especially in zones set aside such as ancient missions.
Recently, there have been two sculptures stolen from the Templo Parroquial del Conjunto Misionero de Santos Cosme y Damian (state of Misiones in Paraguay). In Colombia, in 1998, 136 cultural goods were taken from the Museum of Colonial Art in Bogota, of which 39 were quiteñas sculptures. Thanks to the inventory and the Metropolitan Police it was possible to recover some of these figures in August 2000.


--Legislation Protecting these Objects  

See all Latin-American countries.

  • Alfaro, Alfonso & Maquívar, María del Consuelo. Corpus aureum: escultura religiosa. Mexico City, Museo Franz Mayer, 1995.
  • Escudo-Albornoz, Ximena. América y España en la escultura colonial quiteña: historia de un sincretismo. Quito, Ediciones del Banco de los Andes, 1997.
  • Gutiérrez, Ramón (coord.). Pintura, escultura y artes útiles de Iberoamérica, 1500-1825. Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra, S.A, 1995.
  • Querejazu, Pedro (ed.). Las Misiones Jesuíticas de Chiquitos. La Paz, Fundación BHN/ La Papelera SA., 1995.
  • Los siglos de oro en los virreinatos de América: 1550-1700. Madrid, Sociedad Estatal para la Conmemoración de los Centenarios de Felipe II y Carlos V, 1999.




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October 2003