Religious Sculpture of the Chiloé Archipelago, From the 17th to the 21st Century
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Despite its central role in religious life of the region, the sculptural tradition of the Southern Chilean Chiloé Archipelago, ranging from the 17th century to the present day, has been vastly understudied. Isidoro Vázquez de Acuña’s 1994 volume Santeria de Chiloe: ensayo y catastro remains the only catalogue of Chilote sculpture. Though the author includes photographs of a vast array of works, he does not attempt to place the sculptures within a chronology, or consider their place within the greater Latin American context. My thesis will place this group of works within a chronological and geographical context that reaches from the 16th century to the present day, connected to the artistic traditions of regions as far afield as Paraguay and Lima. I will first consider the works brought to the Archipelago by religious orders – the Jesuits and Franciscans – as well as influences on artistic style and religious culture throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. I will focus in particular on three works generally considered to be from the 17th and 18th centuries – the Virgin of Loreto at Achao, the Saint Michael at Castro, and the Jesus Nazareno of Caguach – using visual analysis and sifting through generations of primary and secondary sources to determine from where and when these sculptures came. With this investigation as a foundation, I will consider how they inspired vernacular sculptural expression and trace ‘family trees’ of vernacular works based on these precedents. Vernacular artistic traditions are often viewed as derivative and lacking in skill, but Chilote sculptors in fact engaged with a variety of outside influences and experimented with different sculptural styles. I will conclude by considering which aspects of these styles Chilote artists chose to incorporate into their own work, alter or exclude, artistic decisions that shed light on the Archipelago’s religious and cultural fabric.