Pedro de Osma Museum

27 June 2012


Yesterday in the Larco Museum (which I described in The Larco Museum) the collection extended from the earliest pre-Columbian art of Peru up to about the 1530s when Inca art was being influenced by Spanish colonial art and exhibiting features of fusion and syncretism. Today at the Pedro de Osma Museum I saw that same fusion and syncretism, but coming from the other perspective. The Pedro de Osma Museum extends from the earliest colonial art in the European tradition (most obviously, oil paintings on canvas and wood, but also statuary, furniture, and other pieces of manufacture) up through the eighteenth century. Thus visiting the Museo Larco followed by the Pedro de Osma Museum the next day was not an intention choice dictated by periodization, but it turned out to be a good sequence and I would recommend others do the same. The collections follow one another, but they also overlap, and the point at which they overlap is fusion and syncretism.

There were three really remarkable paintings at the Pedro de Osma Museum. There was an entire room devoted to paintings of angels, and all of these were of great interest, as the angels represented in them were the perfect pictures of court dandies — in contemporaneous attire rather than the flowing white robes we expect to see on angels. In the picture above, the angel is not only in contemporaneous costume, but also is loading a firearm, which again confounds one’s angelic expectations, since the white robes of an angel are usually accompanied by similarly “retro” weaponry like swords and shields. One other painting in the same room also featured an angle with an arquebus. I can remember thinking when I saw Breughel’s painting of the casting out of the rebel angels in Brussels in 1990 that it would be interesting to execute a painting of the casting out of the rebel angels in completely contemporary costumes and weaponry — with contemporary military-style uniforms, machine guns, jets, tanks, and the like. Or, if one prefers a literary approach (more appropriate to me, since I can’t paint), one could re-write Milton’s version of the war in Heaven in Paradise Lost according to contemporary doctrine and technology.

The picture above of scenes from the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola was not among the three paintings that I found to be remarkable at this museum, but it was one of two pictures here that included mother-of-pearl inlaid into the painting itself, so constituting an early exercise in “mixed media” composition. That was interesting in itself. The other two paintings that impressed me were not readily photographable. One of these was “Union of the Imperial Inca Descendants with the House of Loyola y Borja” which the museum described as a conciliatory gesture to a restive population, but which to the modern (and democratic) eye looks like a remarkable exercise in coopting any kind of Divinely constituted authority, even if not the Christian authority of the Catholic Kings of Spain, in the interest of preserving autocracy at the expense of any kind of popular rule. Just as a contemporaneous setting of the fall of the rebels angels would be an exercise, so too would a Marxist interpretation of this painting of royal union across social systems and religious traditions.

Lastly, in the “Allegory Hall” there was an enormous painting (taking up the whole wall at one end of the room) of the institutional church represented as a ship. The mast is a cross, but Christ does not hang on mast/cross. The Holy Spirit appears not near or the top of the painting (usually top dead center, immediately below God the Father), but fluttering like any other bird among the spars and rigging. In the upper left is a representation of Constantinople; there is another city in the upper right corner, but I could not read the writing identifying it. It would be worthwhile to study this enormous painting in detail, as it would no doubt have a lot to say about the particular species of eschatological history that it represents. It is important to keep in mind that broad divisions within categories of thought like eschatological history or naturalistic history are in no sense monolithic, and that within any one tradition there can be differences and even bitter conflicts. This is where the minutae of history comes in, as it allows as to discern the fine-grained features of a particular mind or epoch, and paintings like this reveal to us some of this minutae.

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Grand Strategy Annex

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