COLONIAL PRESTIGE EXHIBITED THROUGH ART
In the modern age, it seems that everyone is beginning to shift their artistic focus towards contemporary art. Modern art is sleek, new, and cutting edge, but every once in blue moon it is beneficial to appreciate and observe art that dates back several centuries. Glitterati, at the Denver Art Museum, is a collection of paintings and jewelry dating back to the Spanish Colonial era, from 1521-1870.
During the height of Spanish power and prominence, art was used as a tool to embellish the prestige that the Spanish had in the world. The Spaniards had taken over and created several new colonies, in which art was a major part of daily life. In Glitterati, the viewer is left understanding that exact prestige and power as it is communicated through portraits and jewelry.
When first entering the exhibit, visitors are welcomed by beautiful, ornate, handcrafted tiaras, crosses, necklaces, and rings. The Spaniards were known to favor gold and silver as signs of power, and the exhibit reflects that turbulent lust. There are gold tiaras encrusted with walnut-sized rubies and emeralds found in now modern-day Colombia.
The construction of such detailed jewels almost seems unimaginable for the viewer. It’s as if one can feel the hierarchy radiating through the glass because of the expensive tastes. The exhibit also displays the blur between wealth and the church, as several crosses and rosaries are shown exhibiting pearls, gold, citrine, and emeralds.
As one continues through Glitterati, they are faced with the religious aspect of art during this time period. Since Spain and their conquered lands were predominantly Catholic at that time, the art includes floor-to-ceiling paintings of saints, the Virgin Mary, Christ, and other religious iconography.
In the painting Saint Catherine of Alexandria, by Diego de Borgaf, the viewer is left in awe of the composition of color that Borgaf uses. The mix of bold colors such as aqua-blue positioned next to neutral colors of Saint Catherine, make the painting nearly jump out of the canvas. The viewer, even if not religious, can appreciate the spirituality of the painting.
The theme of power and prestige carries on into the next room, as portraits of the elite are shown in oil pastels on canvas. The aristocratic personas are depicted as being luxurious but unhappy at the same time, as most portraits capture the men and women as extremely stern. One is left to dissect the sociology behind the paintings, wondering if seriousness equals power or vice versa.
Good art has the potential to stick out in a physical sense, but to take it to the next level, an extra element of thought surrounding the art must be added. Glitterati does both of these things. Not only is each piece visually appealing to the viewer, but the viewer is left to self-reflect and to better understand the time period of each piece.
The exhibit is a hidden gem, and is currently displayed at the Denver Art Museum now through November 2016.
Above: Power and prestige were the subjects of much of the art during the Spanish Colonial era.
photo: Ashley Bauler • CU Denver Sentry