The seventeenth century sees the growth of local autonomy and the rise of criollo identities (people of European descent born in the Americas) throughout the Spanish Americas, even as the indigenous population continues its calamitous decline. Writers of noble Inca descent—Garcilaso de la Vega, called “El Inca,” and Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala—compose revealing chronicles about their disappearing culture. Lima, capital of the Viceroyalty of Peru, grows to become the most important city in the Americas after Mexico, and silver-rich Potosí, the source of the viceroyalty’s wealth, is the fifth most populous city in the world by 1620. Silver production begins a precipitous decline after mid-century but the decimated indigenous population in the central Andean region gradually begins to stabilize, and free-wage labor supplants compulsory labor in the mining districts.
The Peruvian heartland is marked by the political and cultural divisions between Lima on the Pacific coast—nearly 50 percent criollo—and Cuzco, the high Andean seat of Inca civilization, where the population is predominantly native. More than in most other regions of the Spanish empire, the indigenous people of the Andes continue to maintain their Prehispanic ethnic identity, exemplified by the continuation of indigenous arts: the production of traditional Inca woven textiles and emblem-rich wooden utensils called keros. At the same time, missionary activities lead to extensive conversions, as evidenced by the rise of local native cults such as the Virgin of Guápulo (64.164.385), Cocharcas, Belén, and most importantly Copacabana. Elites in Cuzco, both native and criollo, succeed in forging an independent political and cultural identity, separate from both Spain and Lima, a separation that continues into the present.
Peru’s illicit trade with Asia, even after Spain prohibits the Manila Galleons from sailing to Lima (1582) and attempts to stop transhipment of Asian goods from New Spain (1604 onward), is a major breach of Spanish control of the American economy. Still more threatening is the contraband trade with Dutch and English merchants who ply the Atlantic and Caribbean coasts, in competition with the inefficient Spanish monopolies. Persistent attacks by pirates and privateers on the Spanish fleet are a constant concern, as are periodic assaults on major port cities and the permanent seizure of numerous Caribbean islands by rival European powers.
In the eighteenth century, Bourbon reforms—intended to reassert the crown’s control of the colonial economy and to combat these challenges to Atlantic trade—encourage the growth of other important centers in the region encompassed by Peru. Among them are the audiencias of Santa Fé de Bogotá and Quito, both of which develop individual artistic styles, particularly in architecture, painting, sculpture, and silverwork. In 1739, they are permanently consolidated to form the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The audiencia of La Plata, centered in Buenos Aires, a city that has grown up on contraband trade, is elevated to a viceroyalty in 1776. Its situation at the mouth of the River Plate estuary gives Buenos Aires access to the vast interior of the continent and had long provided an illegal Atlantic outlet for the silver of Alto Peru (audiencia of Charcas) around Potosí. This high Andean region is now taken from Peru and incorporated into the new viceroyalty. The loss of Potosí and the rise of Buenos Aires lead to a decline in the importance of Lima in the empire. Much Andean silver is now legally rerouted eastward through La Plata, creating new wealth there and contributing to the development of Buenos Aires as a major urban center more closely oriented toward Europe and neighboring Brazil. There, a new generation of silversmiths, unfettered by the Andean Baroque style, embrace the Rococo fashions recently arrived from Europe. The Neoclassical taste favored by the Enlightenment and post-revolutionary culture of Europe eventually imposes a cool uniformity on the decorative arts throughout the New World, supplanting the distinctive styles that have evolved in the various societies of the Americas.
Writings by Garcilaso de la Vega, “El Inca,” are published in Lisbon and Córdoba. Born in Cuzco in 1539 to a Spanish noble and an Inca princess, Garcilaso spends most of his adult life in Spain composing a series of Neoplatonic narratives in which he attempts to reconcile the two parts of his heritage. In the Comentarios reales de los incas, he presents the lost Inca empire as a utopian ideal of Andean society.
The first Jesuit missions are established among the Guarani in the forested interior of what is now Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. The missions ultimately comprise a vast, self-sufficient network in which indigenous tribesmen are educated and protected from enslavement.
Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala writes the Nueva corónica y buen gobierno de las Indias, a 1200-page illustrated chronicle of the history of the Inca and contemporary conditions in Peru. The chronicle is written as a plea for reform addressed to King Philip III by an Inca nobleman from Huamanga. The manuscript is discovered in 1908.
The Dutch West India Company is founded. The Dutch begin to occupy northeastern Brazil in 1630, and in 1634 take Curaçao, from which they challenge Spanish and Portuguese monopoly on trade with the Americas.
The Church of Our Lady of Cocharcas is dedicated, the oldest church in South America devoted to the cult of the Virgin Mary. The church houses the miraculous replica of the Virgin of Copacabana, a statue brought to this Andean village by the Indian Sebastián Quimichi. The statue is the object of its own cult and the subject of innumerable paintings depicting its legend.
An earthquake levels much of Cuzco, leading to the city’s reconstruction in the style of the Andean Baroque.
An earthquake forces reconstruction of many ecclesiastical structures in Lima.
Rose of Lima, an ascetic Dominican Tertiary, is canonized, becoming the first New World saint, patron of Peru, the Americas, and the Philippines.
Bishop Manuel de Mollinedo y Angulo arrives in Cuzco. The bishop’s support for the arts and encouragement of native participation is responsible for some of the city’s greatest treasures.
Complaints of racism and stylistic conflicts spur an exodus of native artists from the Cuzco painter’s guild and the consolidation of the stylistically distinctive “Cuzco School” (64.164.385).
The mestizo painter Melchor Pérez de Holguín works in the wealthy mining center of Potosí. Holguín’s Baroque style will dominate Bolivian painting throughout the later viceregal period.
The death of Charles II, the last Habsburg king of Spain, in 1700, provokes the War of the Spanish Succession and the confirmation in 1713 of the Bourbon Philip V as monarch. The Bourbon monarchy introduces administrative reform and increases colonial revenues. The power of the Council of the Indies is diminished by the new ministries of Spain.
After a period of decline, production of silver in Peru again begins to rise; while some is exported, quantities are retained for domestic and liturgical use within the viceroyalty by both criollo and indigenous populations. Despite the oppressive conditions imposed on natives drafted for work in the mines, indigenous miners are still permitted to refine silver for their own benefit and indigenous communities are able to obtain enough for local liturgical use (1978.303.7) and for personal display (1978.303.5,.6). A distinctive silver style develops in the Potosí region, or Alto Peru, governed as the audiencia of Charcas.
The audiencias of Santa Fé de Bogotá and Quito are consolidated to form the Viceroyalty of New Granada. The new viceroyalty also encompasses the Caribbean coastline of South America formerly under the jurisdiction of New Spain, as a means to combat foreign depredations on Spanish trade.
Juan Santos Atahualpa, self-proclaimed descendant of the Inca, and his followers organize resistance to Franciscans and colonists in the eastern lowlands of central Perú. The movement retains control of lowland areas but fails to establish a base in the critical highland region.
The accession of Charles III to the Spanish throne accelerates modernization of the royal bureaucracy and centralization of power, deeply affecting the entrenched criollo elite in Spanish America and spawning disaffection and revolts through the end of the century.
The Viceroyalty of La Plata is created, with its capital at Buenos Aires, cutting away the southeastern portions of what had been Perú, including Charcas (now Bolivia).
Free trade “within the empire” opens ports along the Spanish mainland (except Venezuela and Mexico), leading to an upsurge in exports and goods imported from Spain and Europe.
A revolt led by Tupac Amaru II (José Gabriel Condorcanqui) against economic abuses initially elicits broad support in the highlands, even among criollos. Divisions between rebel and loyal native elites prevent the capture of Cuzco and La Paz. Repressive measures in the wake of the revolt destroy the wealth, power, and status of the traditional Indian nobility and the longstanding local autonomy of highland communities, and a new class of native governors is appointed by the colonial state.
The comunero revolt in New Granada unites criollo and mestizo farmers in resistance to new taxes. The rebellion prompts some reforms favoring criollos, but the more radical wing of the movement is brutally suppressed.
A slave revolt in Haiti leads to devastation of the sugar industry there and a consequent growth in exports from Brazil.
“South America, 1600–1800 A.D.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=09®ion=sa (October 2003)