Portrait of doña Mariana Belsunse y Salasar, mid to late 18th c. Brooklyn Museum of Art, Brooklyn, USA.

Presentation basket, ca. 1822. María Marta.
Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, Berkeley, California, USA.

This portrait of doña Mariana Belsunse y Salasar was painted in Lima, the capital of the Viceregency of Peru, and center of Spanish power in South America. As described in this painting, doña Mariana was an elegant and wealthy woman, signaled by her elaborate brocade dress, jeweled watch and pearls. In the background, the enclosed garden perhaps symbolizes an alliance with the Virgin Mary. The text in the placard at bottom right records doña Mariana’s name and genealogy. Not long after doña Mariana posed for this work, another Mary in Spanish America, this one María Marta, a Chumash basket-maker living in a mission community in California, created a gift basket for a visiting official. She used local grasses and weaving techniques to make her work, and into the upper edge of the basket, she wove her name.

The texts attached to these objects anchor each to a time, a place, and a person, yet both works are open to wider and more contingent meanings. For instance, this juxtaposition reveals how disparate the lives and material worlds of women who once lived in Spanish America were. Set side-by-side, these works also suggest the texture of particular visual experiences (in urban Lima or a California mission) and how the roles of patrons and artisans can be traced through an object. Such histories may seem distant from our own, but portraits and gifts still matter in the 21st century. It is these webs of significance, in the past and in the present, Vistas considers central to the study of visual culture.



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Copyright 2005, Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy
Please credit as: Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara Mundy, Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820.
https://www.smith.edu/vistas, 2005.