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OLSON, Christa

FAll 2009, 39:4, pages 307 - 330

Casta Painting and the Rhetorical Body


Late-colonial New Spain was awash with conflicting energies: American-born Spaniards (Creoles), like their North American counterparts, felt a growing desire for independence, yet needed their identification with Europe to cement their sense of superiority over the racialized indigenous, African, and mixed-race lower classes; the Enlightenment brought new fervor for scientific exploration and gave intellectual heft to the desire for independence, yet also facilitated administrative reforms that increased the Spanish monarchy's intervention in its subjects' lives. In the midst of this ferment, there appeared a popular but short-lived genre of art whose depictions of life in New Spain provide a powerful image of the rhetorical role of the colonial body. This article examines how that genre, casta painting, used topoi of family, publicity, and science to constitute and comment upon its moments' racialized common sense. The article suggests that taking seriously the rhetorical contribution of these artifacts contributes to a more complex understanding of Enlightenment rhetoric, particularly in the Spanish Americas.

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