While traveling to Cusco, there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself face-to-face with the vivid and earthy tones, gold leaf accents, and unconventional religious forms of The Cusco School’s body of work. This artistic relic of Peru’s Spanish Colonial past still hangs and coats the walls of Cusco’s oldest cathedrals and churches. But what was their purpose and who painted this famous religious art? That we’ll share in this blog post.
What is the Cusco School?
The Cusco School came about alongside the Spanish conquest of Peru in the 1530’s and lasted through the 18th century. As a means of converting the newly subdued Incas to Catholicism, the Spanish came to rely on religious artwork that intertwined Catholic themes with indigenous iconography. During your tour of Cusco, visit the Cusco Cathedral for a look at Marcos Zapata’s mural featuring guinea pig at Christ’s Last Supper to see exactly what we’re talking about. Though this type of painting was what the Spanish had in mind when they taught the indigenous artists how to paint with oils, the natives took their skills in new directions. In the process, they came to be referred to as The Cusco School for their unique, distinctly Cusqueña, style and choice of subject matter.
The Cusco School Style
Influenced by their European teachers, this group of trained indigenous and mestizo artists tended to paint exclusively religious figures, but in rich and dramatic colors, flat on the page, and often with the native flora and fauna somewhere in the backdrop. Gold leaf overlays and tooling were common as were floral borders, while the Virgin Mary, archangels, and saints were usually the stars of their paintings.
Where to Spot Some of The Cusco School’s Work While Visiting Cusco
Walk into any Cusco area church or cathedral built during the Spanish Colonial era and you’ll likely spot a mural or painting from The Cusco School adorning its columns, altar, and arcades. The largest collection, however, can be found within the Cusco Cathedral that towers over the Plaza de Armas. The Inca Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art also house quite a few original Cusco School pieces, both a must-see during any trip to Cusco might we add.
The Cusco School of painting is one of the most uniquely South American styles of painting to come out of the Spanish colonies and one that you can see firsthand during your visit to Cusco and the rest of Peru. Keep your eyes peeled for this distinctive and revolutionary artwork as you explore the city’s sites and scenes.