Thesis Ideas for Image Analysis of Castas Paintings
by Patricia Hartz

The following ideas from our reference websites have been offered to explain the emergence and function of the Casta paintings. Keep these in the back of your mind as you complete your description. When you have given your description some thought, you can analyze the extent to which any of the following thesis ideas adequately explain what you see. Feel free to mix and match these ideas, shaping them to serve you, and MAKE SURE YOU REPHRASE the ideas IN YOUR OWN WORDS, as well as note the website.

It may be that your painting provides evidence for one (or more) of the ideas below, or more interestingly, perhaps provides evidence that both supports and shows divergence from the ideas. If that is the case, then you are in a position to formulate a more sophisticated thesis, possibly of the form: "Although x, yet (or also or but) y."

Thesis Bullpen:

From Lecture Notes from Professor Judith Wilson:

1. The nature of casta paintings is related to the 18th century's interest in classification.
2. Casta paintings reveal the social prejudice of their day (remember the argument about purity of blood at the top of the social hierarchy).
3. The casta paintings reflect absolute social differences based on small/subtle/minor racial/ethnic differences.
4. Casta paintings were regarded as ethnological representations.

From Student Paper website:

1. "[De las Arcos] links the classifying urge behind the paintings to the broader Enlightenment emphasis on classification and organization.  De los Arcos suggests that the meticulous mapping of human ethnoracial characteristics, daily activities, and indigenous flora speaks not only to the Spanish fascination with race, but also to the leading philosophical and scientific preoccupations of the time."

2. "[Iniquez] suggests that Casta Paintings appeared to feed a market for souvenirs. As Spanish visitors or conquerors returned home to Spain, they wanted a memento of their time in New Spain. Casta paintings captured the newness of the "New World", showing native plants and the diverse peoples of the region. By carrying those images back with them to Spain, returning Spaniards would have illustrations for their stories of travels in the exotic "New World."

3. "Fernandez suggests that whatever influences Spanish tradition and consumption might have had on Casta Painting, it should not be seen as definitive of the genre. Instead, the tradition has its roots in the 'New World' and should be seen as an essentially 'New World' genre."

From Katz website:

1. "The Spanish emphasis on social heterogeneity was not meant to imply a harmonious coexistence of the diverse races, but instead to remind both colonial subjects and the Spanish Crown that Mexico was still an ordered, hierarchical society in which each group occupied a specific socioeconomic niche defined largely by race."

2. "Throughout the colonial period Spanish civil and ecclesiastical authorities emphasized racial differences as a way of exerting their control over the population. But the blurring of social boundaries that resulted from race mixing precluded a de facto categorization of the population, which greatly concerned Spanish authorities. Anxiety over this loss of control permeated much of Mexico's reality during the eighteenth century and also accounts in part for the emergence of the distinct pictorial genre produced there known as casta painting."

3. "The emergence of casta painting is in part related to the elite's anxiety regarding the fallibility of this imperial order. For the colonial elite, the classificatory system purveyed in casta painting was devoid of negative connotations. It was a way of creating order out of an increasingly confusing society."

4. "The strategies of self-representation in the casta pictorial genre can be summarized as follows: first, the emphasis on the overall stratification of society through the metaphor of race; second, the highlighting of the wealth and abundance of the colony as a way of proving to Spain that Mexico did not lag behind Europe; third, the deliberate mediation of reality evinced through the scenes selected for representation."