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  • A portrait of Doña Maria Tomasa Durán López de Cárdenas painted around 1762 by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz. (Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Mexico is too often stereotyped as a dusty backwater to the United States, but when the U.S. was still a collection of British colonies, Mexico had imperial pretensions and a flourishing culture that produced dramatic artworks rivaling European Masters.

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan has unveiled a new exhibit that captures the glory of Mexico’s 18th century milieu, during a period when it was known as “New Spain.”

    The first-ever exhibit contains 110 works of art (primarily paintings), many of which are unpublished and newly restored, according to an official statement.

    “The exhibition surveys the most important artists and stylistic developments of the period and highlights the emergence of new pictorial genres and subjects. It is the first major exhibition devoted to this neglected topic,” it continues.

    The period, from 1700 to 1790, ushered in an era of pictorial splendor in Mexico.

    Local schools of painting were consolidated, new iconographies were invented and painters explored new ways to invigorate their art.

    Attesting to their extraordinary versatility, the artists created mural-size paintings on the walls of sacristies, choirs and university halls. And they often produced portraits, casta paintings (depictions of racially mixed families), painted folding screens and finely rendered devotional imagery.

    The volume of work produced by the four generations of Mexican artists that spanned the eighteenth century is virtually unmatched elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world.

    The artists were not unaware of their place in the world and the significance of their art. Many educated painters not only signed their works to emphasize their authorship but also made an explicit reference by adding the Latin phrase: pinxit Mexici (painted in Mexico).

    This expression eloquently encapsulates the painters’ pride in their own tradition and their connection to larger, transatlantic trends, according to the museum.

    The exhibition is made possible by the Placido Arango Fund, the William Randolph Hearst Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Gail and Parker Gilbert Fund, Fundación Diez Morodo, A.C. and Citibanamex.

    It’s co-organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Fomento Cultural Banamex.

    The exhibit runs from Apr. 24 through July 22 at the Met on Fifth Avenue.

    Check out some examples of works from the period below. For more detailed info go to the Met’s Web site.

    Mexico’s Flourishing 18th Century Art (Click Photos to Enlarge!)
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