Theories of Art in the Iberian Worlds


A research seminar on the unexpected theories of the arts born in the context of —and in tension with— the Iberian expansion (1400-1600). This course aims to reposition these reflections within the Renaissance and Baroque debates concerning creation, image production, individuality, nobility/liberality of the arts, etc., while investigating the Early Modern geopolitical atlas that these artistic theories reveal.
Francisco de Holanda, De Aetatibus Mundi Imagines (1545-1573), Madrid, Biblioteca Nacional de España.

In recent decades scholars have focused their attention on a precise aspect of the Iberian expansion between the fifteenth and the seventeenth centuries: the vast circulation of overseas objects as “goods,” with the consequent enrichment of the European collections, the birth of the Wonder Cabinets etc. Beyond these physical movements of new items, from Peru, Brazil, India, New Spain, Sierra Leone, or the Philippines, however, another parallel and equally significant process took place: the production and circulation of texts documenting, describing and analyzing the diversity of these creations, the qualitative exceptionality of their creators ́ abilities, their mythologies, their material specificities, and their possible aesthetic, theological, or political links as well as their key role in the Iberian domination process itself.

These two movements between texts and images are intimately intertwined: as more items were being produced overseas, more texts were being devoted to their existence and production; then as more texts were being written, published, and read, more objects were being desired, commissioned, invented, and shipped. The seminar will explore the variety of these sources -­‐variety of genres (chronicles, histories, inventories, grammars, dictionaries, legal or inquisitorial processes), variety of authorships (conquistadors, missionaries, ambassadors, travelers, visitadores, cronistas, naturalists, historians, collectors, artists) etc.-­‐ in order to examine the relationship between textual and visual production in Early Modernity. The study of these unexpected “theories of the arts” will be continuously accompanied with the discussion of the actual artifacts commented in the sources. We will also consider if there are local specificities in the production of such texts: for instance, is the impressive amount of sources exclusively related to the “American” (New Spain, Brazil, Perú…) artistic processes understandable within a broader Iberian perspective or is there something specific in the observation and examination of the “American” aesthetics?

Last Updated 3 years ago


Students registering for this course need to have an advanced knowledge of Spanish in order to work with primary sources and to follow discussions and presentations. Readings will include some texts in Portuguese, Italian and Latin (when available, translations will be provided). Assignments, final papers and exams can be written in English, Spanish or Portuguese, depending on the student's PhD program.

External Resources

wikischolar site with readings and discussion board will be accessible to registered students.