Dazzling golden altarpieces. Stunning images and religious paintings. Stately convents and churches. These are some of the characteristics that describe the invaluable historical and cultural legacy one can see at the historic quarter of Quito and Guapulo. The Quito School of Art was the forerunner of this artistic boom.
Fray Jodoco Ricke, one of the most notable members of the Franciscan Order, founded the first art school in Quito in 1546. It had influence of different artistic movements: Italian Renaissance, Flemish Art, Moorish Art (Mudejar), Oriental influences, Baroque, and the native authentic, according to Martha Garcia, national tour guide, specialized in Quito’s Art.
"Syncretism is the process by which elements of one religion are assimilated into another religion, causing a change in the fundamental principles or the nature of those religions. It is the union of two or more opposite beliefs, so that the synthesized form becomes a new thing. It is not always a total fusion, but it may be a combination of separate segments that remain identifiable compartments," reads the definition on the Creer website.
In the works of the Quito School of Art, many examples of syncretism between the Catholic religion and the Hispanic cultures are present. The figure the sun (Inti) is used combined or replaced with the figure of God in Catholicism. Another example is the use of Indigenous characters interacting with European people in paintings or sculptures. African Americans and Europeans can be seen in the same painting. This shows the strength of the cultural and religious syncretism in the Quito School of Art during the colonial period.
Quito was the entrance door and spiritual center during the conquest of Spain. The size of its historic quarter (375 hectares) exceeds the one of Lima, Cuzco and other Latin American cities.
QUITO’S SCHOOL OF ART SAMPLES
The most important churches in Quito are: San Francisco, the Metropolitan Cathedral, Santo Domingo, San Agustin, La Compania de Jesus, Guapulo, El Sagrario, El Carmen Antiguo, El Carmen Moderno, La Merced, and Santa Clara.
The Quito imagery (sculptures and religious images) had the following representatives: Diego De Robles, Francisco Del Castillo, Father Carlos, Bernardo de Legarda, author of the famous Virgin of Legarda, with its large scale replica: the Panecillo Virgin; Pampite, Francisco Tipan, Manuel Chili (Caspicara), Menacho, and Zangurima, among the main ones.
The Quito School of Art also had great painters as important as Juan De Illescas, Miguel De Santiago, Goribar, Samaniego, Hernando De La Cruz and Bernardo Rodriguez, according to information provided by the tour guide, Martha Garcia.
It is present in several churches, paintings and images of the city of Quito. Baroque, as an artistic style, "begins in Italy in the sixteenth Century and lasts until the eighteenth Century; it spread throughout Europe. Several authors agree to say it was the art of the Counter Reform because it reacted against the severity of Protestantism. Therefore, the Catholic Church encouraged the building of lush temples adorned with a profusion of sculptures and paintings and artists were persuaded to move away from pagan themes, nudes and scandalous scenes," as mentioned in the Comparative Analysis between colonial schools of art of Quito, Lima and Cuzco, by Rex Sosa.
The emergence of the Baroque in Quito occurred thanks to the strong European influence in the Conquest: "a period of construction of lavish monumental churches and chapels began in Rome. The objective was to expand the faith, attract, impress, excite and move the believers, all in a setting of luxury and theatricality," says Sosa’s analysis.
As for sculpture, many works are intended to decorate and complement the architectural complex. "The virtuosity of the movement, generally spiral, is typical of these works that become more urban as they appear in streets, squares and fountains. In this sense, Baroque is an eminently urban art", indicates the analysis.
While walking through the historic quarter of Quito it is possible to see the stateliness and beauty of the facades of museums, churches and convents that are open to the public. Some of these tourist sites are open every day of the week and have affordable prices for visitors.
"The Baroque is characterized by its strength and monumentality, its compositional movement, its dynamism, its expressiveness and treatment of clothes in the sculptures that are also involved in this agitation and shrivel into folds that flutter as shaken by the wind. Figures are shown in violent actions and stress and strain attitudes. It likes the expression of emotional states of mind: ecstasy, fear, anxiety, etc., translated into the characters’ faces," says the analysis.
THE JESUIT CHURCH – LA COMPANIA DE JESUS
It is considered the best religious building in the three Americas by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO, for its acronym in English). "The Compania de Jesus was built between 1605 and 1765. Its architectural design took reference of two iconic Jesuit temples of Rome: Il Gesu and San Ignacio" according to the Compania de Jesus Foundation (FICJ – Fundacion Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus) website. The temple belongs to the Jesuit Order. "The interior has a Latin cross floor, main nave, northern and southern naves, cruise, north and south transepts, chancel, sacristy, ante sacristy and a chapel," according to the FICJ website.
"The central nave is covered by a 26 meters high dome, made of brick, pumice stone and finely decorated with plaster, polychrome and gold leaf in Moorish style," says the website. It is estimated that the temple contains gold of 23 carats in total.
"The facade of the Church is an outstanding work of baroque style, built entirely in gray volcanic stone. Each space is covered with finely carved details such as flowers, angels, archangels, church symbols and several representative images of the Catholic Church and the founder of the Jesuit Order," reports the FICJ website.
"In colonial times the church tower, recognized as the highest of the city, suffered two earthquakes: the first in 1859, after which it was rebuilt, and the second in 1868, year from which it remains as it is known until now, "according to the FICJ website.
"Quito is projected as one of the most faithful and characteristic testimonies of Hispanic Art in Latin America and of its fusion with Indigenous art as can be seen in the lines, materials and symbols that adorn the historic center of the city," says Martha Garcia.
In 1978, UNESCO declared Quito as a "World Heritage Site” for the extraordinary architecture of its religious buildings, its rich Baroque altarpieces, the colors of its religious images and the incalculable legacy of artists who were part of the famous "Quito School of Art".
Quito's colonial quarter, with its artistic and architectural wealth, is open to all tourists who wish to visit it. There are several museums, churches, monasteries and cultural centers open to the public. Getting to know Quito is to admire its history and wealth and to experience unique sensations when temporarily relocating to a complex, but at the same time, very rich past.