The San Antonio Museum of Art is presenting San Antonio 1718: Art from Viceregal Mexico. The exhibition tells the story of San Antonio’s first century through 100 landscapes, portraits, narrative paintings, sculptures, and devotional and decorative objects. Throughout, the works pose identities that are in continuity and tension with mainland Spain, while revealing the lives and times of San Antonio’s earliest inhabitants.
Three hundred years ago, San Antonio was founded as a strategic outpost of presidios and missions, both defending the colonial interests of northern New Spain and advancing Christian conversion. The city’s missions bear architectural witness to the time of their founding, but few have walked these sites without wondering who once lived there, what they saw, valued, and thought. In fact, few works of art from San Antonio’s first century remain in the city.
“Putting this exhibition together was like a five-year treasure hunt in the great museums and private collections of Mexico for works that bring our city’s early years to life,” said Marion Oettinger Jr., Curator of Latin American Art and the exhibition.
The exhibition includes many works that have never been shown in the U.S., as well as items drawn from the Museum’s collection. Highlighting the city’s deep cultural ties with Mexico, San Antonio 1718 features works by New Spain’s most important eighteenth-century painters, including Cristόbal de Villalpando (1649– 1714), Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768), and José de Páez (1720–1790), as well as decorative arts and sculptures by still unidentified artists.
The exhibition is organized in three sections: People and Places, The Cycle of Life, and The Church. It includes portraits of political and economic power, Spanish viceroys and military leaders who helped shape the destiny of the city. It explores the intrepid Franciscan missionaries who spearheaded the evangelization of the region, including Fray Antonio Margil de Jésus, known as the “Patron Saint of Texas,” and the religious figures who anchored their teachings such as the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and her American manifestation, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Other works are more personal: portraits of poised young women whose marriages will solidify their social status; aspirational paintings of young families at home; nuns depicted at the threshold of their vows or at their death; and post- mortem portraits of infants, memorializing a family’s loss.
The exhibition will be on view until May 13 and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with original essays by five renowned specialists in the history and art history of northern New Spain.