A very rare late eighteenth century Spanish Colonial carved giltwood panel depicting a variety of South American flora and fauna, showing at the top six birds to include from left to right a guan, a pair of Sappho comets (humming birds), an umbrella bird, a parrot and a curassow who either perch or hang from an abundant indigenous floral and fruiting swag. At either end, the swags are looped through rings and issue below an intricate trophy of shells and marine creatures to include periwinkles or whelks, limpets and conch shells to the left, and to the right a starfish, conch shells and other seashells. At lower centre is a monkey with a long mane and elongated tail, most probably a black howler monkey who, holding a walnut and his tail and sits upon a canted globe which is surrounded by shells, notably a horned helmet shell to the left and corals to the right while to the lower left are two fish, one being an arapaima and above it possibly a flying fish. Below the globe are a string of pearls and an eel while to the lower right is an armadillo. In either corner is a squirrel and an exotic bird, probably a toucan. The whole is set within a carved frame
Spanish Colonial, late eighteenth century
Height 90 cm, width 90 cm.
This magnificent and very rare low relief carved giltwood panel, which dates from the late eighteenth century, portrays a wide variety of South American birds, fish, shells and vegetation. Because it directly refers to indigenous South American flora and fauna together with its overall style, it is most likely that the panel was carved by one of the Spanish colonials during their occupation of the region. The presence of the globe also alludes to colonial power when much of South America belonged to the Spanish Empire. Since antiquity, globes were a symbol of sovereignty hence Jupiter, the mythological god of gods, was often portrayed holding a globe as a symbol of his universal dominion. Likewise, a globe became a one of the insignia of the Holy Roman Emperors, while in Christianity, Christ, as Salvator Mundi, is sometimes portrayed holding a globe.
While some of the flora and fauna belong to South American marine and coastal areas such as the variety of shells, corals and some of the fish, others such as the arapaima are freshwater fish. With regard to the various fish and bird species, the majority were to be found in Peru and what is present day Bolivia; among them are the Sappho comets, as well as the guan and curassow (both members of the Cracidae family) as well as the arapaima which is particularly the Amazon. It is likely therefore that the plaque itself originated from either Peru or present-day Bolivia which during the Spanish colonial period was administered by the Real Audiencia of Charcas.
Owing to the high quality of the relief carving and close observation to nature, this splendid plaque was almost certainly intended to be hung in an interior of one of the occupying Spanish colonialists.
Lasting nearly five centuries, the Spanish Empire reached its peak during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries and was at that time the most prominent global power. Its dominance in the Americas spanned the same period and came about after Spain conquered indigenous empires and claimed large stretches of land, beginning with Christopher Columbus in the Caribbean Islands. During the sixteenth century it conquered and incorporated the Aztec and Inca Empires and by the end of the following century it had also conquered the Maya Empire. Thus, at the height of its power in South America, Spain had established dominance from Mexico and southward through Peru, Chile, New Granada, Venezuela, Río de la Plata and Paraguay. However, this all began to come to an end during the early nineteenth century. The Spanish American Wars of Independence resulted in the secession and subsequent division of most Spanish territories in the Americas though they still held on to Cuba and Puerto Rico, which were then ceded to the United States in 1898, following the Spanish-American War. The loss of these territories ended Spanish rule in the Americas even though their legacy continued on, not least in their language and in their arts.
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