The ancient and serene colonial-style mansion that houses the Spanish American Art Museum can be found situated between the modern structures of the exclusive Retiro district in Buenos Aires. The thick walls and spacious gardens fashioned in pure Spanish style hold one of the most impressive and unique collections in Latin America: the Colonial Silver Collection.
A silver treasure
In 1545, the Spaniards discovered the Potosí hill, called "Cerro de Plata" (Silver Hill) for the great wealth in mineral it contained. This event marked the world apogee of silver, which lasted nearly three centuries. Thanks to the abundance of this valuable resource produced during the colonial period, the upper classes throughout Latin America were able to acquire many silver objects for their personal use. For the colonial man, owning silver and being able to offer objects made of the precious metal to his place of worship was synonymous with wealth, distinction, and personal success.
The collection of colonial silver objects at the Fernández Blanco Museum surpasses the number of items held in any public collection in South America. It boasts works dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. Many of these pieces were made in workshops found in Lima, Arequipa, Cuzco, La Paz, Potosi, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Chile, Buenos Aires and the Franciscan missions of Paraguay. The collected works cover a spectrum of silversmiths found in South America. In addition the museum displays a group of European pieces that were brought to the territory during the colonial period. This selection represents example from the most important cities of the Iberian Peninsula: Cordoba, Cadiz, Barcelona, Madrid, Porto and Lisbon.
Collected works of paintings
This important collection consists of examples of the Cuzco School paintings, the most important in the continent due to its proto-industrial production system and its capacity to distribute throughout the territory. The Potosi school, which was the most prestigious of the colonial painting schools, following in the style of the Spanish painter Zurbaran, also offers excellent works by great masters such as Melchor Perez Holguin, Gaspar de Berrio and Joaquin Caraval.
Also included are examples of the Mexican colonial school, of the Lake Titicaca School, works produced in Argentina by colonial masters as Felipe de Rivera in Salta, and Angel M. Camponeschi in Buenos Aires, as well as works of Flemish and Seville origin which were brought to the country during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Sculpture, Furniture and Musical Instruments
The process of evangelization in America also stimulated the development of schools to learn the art of sculpting. In them, the indigenous and mestizo artists had the opportunity to copy the peninsular models adding their own ideas and concepts to their work: this resulted in very stylized images, as they exaggerated the naturalistic effects thus causing greater pathos and drama.
The museum has more than 250 pieces of colonial religious images sculpted in wood, alabaster and ivory. Especially noteworthy are the works from the Guarani Jesuit Missions of Peru, Quito, the Bolivian plateau, Brazil, Spain, and the Philippines. Particular attention should be paid to the works from Buenos Aires, which illustrate the high artistic level of development achieved in the region.
The museum’s collection of musical instruments is truly remarkable, highlighting a violin that belonged to the founder, Isaac Fernández Blanco. It is a 1732 Guarnerius del Gesu, and for its quality and condition, it stands today as one of the most important instruments in the world created by the famous luthier of Cremona. Interestingly, the instruments are in perfect condition and every year the Museum organizes a limited number of special concerts in which these historical instruments played. Discover here another great museums found in the Argentinean capital, MALBA. ■
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