History of the Casta
Casta paintings are colonial paintings from the 18th century. They are portraits from Mexico that represent images of mixed race families. The paintings include a father, mother and one or two of their offspring. All paintings include written (Spanish) descriptions of each person’s racial background.
Casta paintings are images of idealised families that promote a form of unity throughout the hierarchical class system or the “sistema de caste” of colonial 18th century society. They present an image of domesticity that masked the racial tensions of the Mexico.
Casta Paintings were developed to show the racial differences between people of mixed identity in Mexico society. Casta paintings are one of the first documented forms of racial classification; they were produced in pictorial form as was customary from the 15th century onwards as a way of telling a story to the wider world. The paintings show a pictorial story familiar to European society and first seen when the story of Christianity was presented to the masses. This form of visual representations, made it easy for all to understand (the educated and uneducated alike).
Initially the Casta paintings were developed to show how racial mixing in Mexico was working and being legitimised by marriage. This can be documented as the first paintings tend to not be numbered and just carried a written description of the individuals included within them, thus avoiding any sense of hierarchy being imposed on the viewer.
One of the first known sets of Casta Paintings commissioned, was painted by Juan Rodriguez Juarez and sent to the Spanish King, Charles III. It is believed that the establishment sent the paintings back, advising that they were showing the dilution of Spanish purity, rather than strengthening the white, Spanish race.
This is where the implementation of the numbers came to be defined, and a hierarchical placing was determined for each individual mix.
There were also alterations in the form and representation of imagery within the Casta paintings post 1770, showing the new rulings imposed onto Mexican society through the change in Spanish royalty/government, going back to the Bourbon’s Rule. The government aimed to legitimise the trades of the country and dominate the wealth of the new world, by promoting produce and material products within the paintings. Also, through the development of a categorisation, the hierarchy system was used as a way of identifying and eliminating the bad traits thought to be developed within racial mixing, that the Europeans felt was destructive of Spanish society (and this was clearly shown within the sets of Casta Paintings developed post 1770).
The addition of trades thought to suit the relevant races or classes were included in the Casta Paintings. As well as the inclusion of objects that gained high revenue for the Spanish government such as tobacco, fruits or textiles. Mixed castes were shown in work attire while the Spanish males were always shown as the dominant controller within the paintings, whether through his position in the family or his military clothing.
Series of Portraits
The paintings were defined in sets of sixteen and then sectioned into further hierarchical series which included; Spanish and Indian mix, Spanish and Black mix and Black and Indian mix alongside all the varied mixtures that could possible develop thereafter or to where they perceived the individual included in the portrait was deemed back to white/Spanish. The Spanish believed that the Indian race could be erased through within three generations, but any mixing with anyone of black orientation could never be removed or diluted back to Spanish.
The paintings came in different amounts and mixtures in different Latin American countries such as Peru and Brazil who developed sets in series of twenty one, which also included grandparents and sometimes included two offspring to the family unit within the paintings.
Mixed family unions
Casta paintings highlight the fact that racial mixing is not anything new. The paintings present a perception of mixed families of the 18th century, by showing the unions developing in various countries within Latin America. They give an insight to where some of the misconceptions about mixed raced unions have come from. You can analyse whether the distribution of the Casta paintings has an effect on contemporary societies, in the context of miscegenation views.
Many paintings included violent scenes, which show females of mixed black heritage attacking a Spanish male.