Antonio de Espinosa

Antonio de Espinosa
6 records
(Mexico, active second half of the 17th century)

The Twelve Months of the Years

Antonio de Espinosa’s career developed in Mexico’s rich artistic center of Puebla. Although not much is known about the artist, documentary evidence suggests that he was an apprentice of the painter Diego de Borgraf (1615-1686) in 1649. A native of Antwerp, Borgraf, arrived in Puebla in 1640 as part of the retinue of the new archbishop of Puebla Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (r. 1640-1654)--an important patron of the arts.

Espinosa’s set of paintings compresses the twelve months of the year into six canvases (two on each canvas), and includes the signs of the zodiac within small roundels at the top. Each painting is meticulously inscribed in Spanish with the name of the months. The first painting of the set (January and February) bears the artist’s signature on the large boulder in the center.

Representations of the twelve months with the seasons and allegorical landscapes were popularized in Flemish painting in the last quarter of the sixteenth century. Espinosa’s renditions recall works by Flemish artists Hans Bol (1534-1593), Lucas van Valkenborch (1535-1597), and Peeter Gysels (1621-1690), which he could have known through prints and paintings imported to the colony--perhaps event at the workshop of Borgraf.

European prints and paintings traveled to Latin America by means of the official market based in the Casa de Contratación (1503-1790) in Seville, but also through a variety of unofficial channels. In this set Espinosa has replaced the European figures in the landscape with a distinctive group of Mexican racial types, which includes African slaves. It is precisely this sort of interpretation of European sources, and the fluid combination of elements that makes Spanish colonial painting so intriguing.

One misconception about Spanish colonial art is that it was predominately religious. This rare, complete set of secular works demonstrates how colonial artists were engaged with a variety of genres. Another misunderstanding is that colonial artists were mostly engaged in copying, but as recent studies have shown, the dependence on prints and other pictorial sources was part of the Western artistic practice of the age on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to inviting further inquiry into the subject of artistic copying and interpretation, the set is an extraordinary example of the seventeenth century Puebla school.

- Ilona Katzew, Curator Latin American Art, 2008