Eighteenth-century Mexico saw the invention of a unique pictorial genre known as casta (caste) painting. Created as sets of multiple images, the works document the process of mestizaje (racial mixing) among Amerindians, Spaniards, and Africans. The story the paintings tell, reinforced by the inscriptions, is that the mixture of Spaniards and Indians gave back “pure” or white Spaniards, while the union of Spaniards and Indians with Africans led to racial degeneration. Paradoxically, the inclusion of local products presentedthe New World as a place of boundless natural wonder and emphasized the colonists’ pride in the diversity and prosperity of the land—a friction that permeates the genre. The figures’ dress and occupations reinforce their social standing.
This casta scroll painting (a typical format to transport pictures) portrays a Spanish male and a morisca—a term that designated the mixture of a Spaniard and a mulatto—with their albino daughter. Miguel Cabrera used different techniques to depict the various figures, which may have some symbolic resonance. For example, while he employed open brushwork for the faces of the Spanish soldier (distinguished by his clothing) and the albino child, he blended the flesh color of the morisca to a high finish. For an artist possibly of mixed background (despite “passing” as Spanish in official documentation), this is hardly an inconsequential detail.
From exhibition Archive of the World, 2022 (for more information see the catalogue entry by Ilona Katzew in the accompanying publication, cat. no. 39, pp. 190–94)
- Gifts on the Occasion of LACMA's 50th Anniversary. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2015.
- Katzew, Ilona, ed. Painted in Mexico, 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici. Exh. Cat. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Mexico City: Fomento Cultural Banamex; New York: DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2017.
- Katzew, Ilona, ed. Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800: Highlights from LACMA’s Collection. Exh. Cat. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York: DelMonico Books/D.A.P., 2022.
- Katzew, Ilona “White or Black? Albinism and Spotted Blacks in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World.” In Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America, edited by Pamela Patton. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2016, pp. 142–86.
Fronek, Joseph. “Observations on Miguel Cabrera after the Conservation of His Casta Paintings.” Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture 1, no. 2 (2019): 122–130.
Ilona Katzew, “Why an Albino? Some Notes On Our New Casta Painting by Miguel Cabrera,” Unframed, April 22, 2015, https://unframed.lacma.org/2015/04/22/why-albino-some-notes-our-new-casta-painting-miguel-cabrera.
- Painted in Mexico, 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, November 19, 2017 - March 18, 2018
- Painted in Mexico, 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici New York, NY, Metropolitan Museum of Art, April 24, 2018 - July 22, 2018
- Painted in Mexico, 1700–1790: Pinxit Mexici Mexico City, Mexico, Fomento Cultural Banamex, June 29, 2017 - October 15, 2017
- Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800*** Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, June 12, 2022 - October 30, 2022
- Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500–1800*** Nashville, TN, Frist Art Museum, October 20, 2023 - January 28, 2024