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Pictured Politics

Pictured Politics
Visualizing Colonial History in South American Portrait Collections

Featuring almost eighty illustrations from between 1590 and 1830, Pictured Politics is the sole study in English or Spanish to examine the role of portraiture in constructing the history of South American colonialism.

May 2020
184 pages | 8 x 10 | 24 color and 79 b&w illus. |

The Spanish colonial period in South America saw artists develop the subgenre of official portraiture, or portraits of key individuals in the continent’s viceregal governments. Although these portraits appeared to illustrate a narrative of imperial splendor and absolutist governance, they instead became a visual record of the local history that emerged during the colonial occupation.

Using the official portrait collections accumulated between 1542 and 1830 in Lima, Buenos Aires, and Bogotá as a lens, Pictured Politics explores how official portraiture originated and evolved to become an essential component in the construction of Ibero-American political relationships. Through the surviving portraits and archival evidence—including political treatises, travel accounts, and early periodicals—Emily Engel demonstrates that these official portraits not only belie a singular interpretation as tools of imperial domination but also visualize the continent's multilayered history of colonial occupation. The first stand alone analysis of South American portraiture, Pictured Politics brings to light the historical relevance of political portraits in crafting the history of South American colonialism.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Art and Authority in Late Colonial South American Portraiture
  • Chapter 1. New Pictorial Practices: Early Official Portraits in Viceregal Peru
  • Chapter 2. Visualizing Empire’s History: Royal Portraits in the Iberoamerican World
  • Chapter 3. Picturing Viceregal Authority in the Lima City Council
  • Chapter 4. Municipal Collecting: Viceregal Portraits in Bogotá and Buenos Aires
  • Chapter 5. Portrayal in a Time of Transition: Early Nineteenth-Century Portraits
  • Epilogue: The Afterlife of Official Portraits
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Emily Engel
Santa Barbara, California

Emily Engel is an independent scholar based in Southern California who has published widely on visual culture in early modern South America. She is a coeditor of Manuscript Cultures of Colonial Mexico and Peru: New Questions and Approaches and A Companion to Early Modern Lima, as well as the founding associate editor of Latin American and Latinx Visual Culture.


Pictured Politics constitutes an exceptional study of an important corpus of art in colonial Spanish South America, namely, official portraiture. Dr. Emily Engel delivers an unparalleled analysis of the significance, aesthetics, and historical evolution of paintings that virtually everyone with experience in Latin American art history will have encountered in the literature or the museums.”
Jeffrey Schrader, University of Colorado, Denver, author of La Virgen de Atocha: Los Austrias y las imágenes milagrosas

Pictured Politics is a theoretically informed and historically sensitive examination of official portraiture in Spanish South America, interweaving visual analysis with examinations of crucial period documents, all the while engaging meaningfully with art-historical, ethnographical, and related scholarship. Significantly, it also links Spanish South American official portraiture to European and indigenous artistic traditions and collecting practices. The result is a multifaceted examination that takes into consideration the multiple, complex, and culturally diverse agencies that influenced the tradition of portraiture in early modern/colonial and republican-era Spanish South America.”
James M. Córdova, University of Colorado, Boulder, author of The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico: Crowned-Nun Portraits and Reform in the Convent