While the armies of Francisco Pizarro conquered the powerful Inca civilization by force in 1532, the Conquest served as a genesis for the epoch known as Viceregal. Rising like a phoenix from the ashes, each ancient Andean city was extensively rebuilt to accommodate the arrival of Spanish galleons and settlers. The urbanization was achieved largely through the combined efforts of Spain's regents, talented indigenous Indians and the mestizo who shared blood of both.
The encounter between Spain and the New World resulted in a grafting of European ideas and images to a cultural tap root embedded firmly in the soil of the pre-Columbian past. After the Indian artists withdrew from the Spanish guild in Cuzco (1704), a conventional type of painting evolved in which vibrant images and symbols took precedence over "European" perceptions of reality. While Flemish prints continued to inspire the artists of Cuzco, the tended to alter the compositions and often included indigenous flora and fauna. Most colonial Andean paintings concern biblical and apocryphal themes, but on occasion mestizo artists expressed an interest in subjects drawn from Western history and mythology. The scarcity of such secular works often precludes being able to ascribe an author to them, or even a workshop. The majority of these uncommon themes date in the late 18th century, when Neo-Classicism was introduced to the Americas by King Charles III (1759-1788), sponsor of the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum.
The distinctive cycle of The Wonders of the Ancient World, executed circa 1775, by an anonymous artist of Cuzco, presents six of the seven pre-eminent sites of antiquity recorded by Antipater of Sidon (2nd century, B.C.). Missing from the series is the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The cycle perhaps originates with copper engravings by Adriaen Collaert (1560-1618) after designs by Martin de Vos (1587-1589), both of whom collaborated on a set of the four "Continents." Historical figures in The Wonders of the Ancient World were portrayed with crowns ornamented by plumes, the insignia of Inca royalty. The artist may have intended to draw an analogy between ancient monuments of renown and Cuzco, a city whose monolithic foundations were used to support colonial edifices.
As "daughter of the moon" in the organized class structure of the Inca state, the Coya (queen) had a parallel authoritative role as that of the "sun" king. The matriarch of society often was portrayed holding a mirror, a lunar symbol, and standing beneath a feather umbrella. In The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, this canopy of rank identifies Queen Artemisia, who supervised the building of her husband's tomb. The Inca agricultural cycle culminated in the July winter-equinox solstice feast of Inti Raymi held at Cuzco. Before the Temples of the Sun and the Moon, special tribute was paid to mummies of past kings and queens. Displayed near a paradisiacal garden fashioned with gold and flora and fauna, the iconic figures served not only to assure the populace of heavenly reward, but also to affirm the perpetuation of the dynastic line. Inca chronicles relate that the creator-god Viracocha sent the first ruling ancestors, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, on a journey from Lake Titicaca to discover the sacred site of Cuzco (Tawantinsuyu: Center of the Four Corners). After a temple was built to honor his son Inti, the supreme god costumed the first noble clans. The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was the "Wonder of the World" that concerned Viracocha's mythical equivalent in the Greek pantheon. Like other paintings in the set, the work presents a body of water in the background landscape. This persistent feature evokes the Inca association of Lake Titicaca with the sanctified abode of Viracocha.
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon accentuates the walls of the famed city, whose immense ceremonial gateway was dedicated to the goddess Ishtar. Described in Babylonian scriptures as the "Star" and the "Light of the World", the heroic deity was often represented in armor. Queen Sammuramat, who constructed the terraced landscapes at Babylon is elevated as Ishtar in this work. But her image in the Andes might have been conflated with an Inca Coy, whose activities included participation in ceremonial hunts. Mounted on horseback, the Queen attacks a lion. Cuzco was protected by the fortress walls of Sacsahuaman. The city was laid out in the shape of a puma, a symbol of the sun god Inti. Still surviving on the northern shore of Lake Titicaca are the 30-foot round burial towers called chullpas. To the Andean Indian, The Pharos (Lighthouse) of Rhodes must have been related to these ancient structures of the Altiplano.
Andean legend recounts that Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, the "children of Inti" emerged from an "Island of the Sun" in Lake TIticaca. The Colossus of Rhodes presents a shoreline with three figures wearing imposing plumed crowns, including a woman. Possibly the artist wished to evoke the commanding image of Inti and his offspring. While Inca kings paid tribute to the bountiful Viracocha in their solemn rites of Inti Raymi, they also placed stone idols on promontories to summon forth the powers of the pagan gods. The Pyramids of Egypt, traditionally regarded as solar symbols, would have recalled the huacas (sacred sites) of Andean mountains.
If a Temple of Artemis at Ephesus once belonged to The Wonders of the Ancient World series, the work might have alluded to the Inca elevation of the queen as a "planet" goddess. Inca theology centered on worship of several adaptations of the terrestrial deity Pachamama, which included her manifestation as the lunar goddess "Mamaquilla." To pair these works in the set, perhaps the artist deliberately excluded the "Temple of Artemis." The queen portrayed in The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus was named for the Greek goddess and, after all, the Inca Coya and women from the upper nobility were the Empire's specialists in agricultural genetics.
Within the corpus of the paintings that have survived from the Viceroyalty of Peru, the series of The Wonders of the Ancient World are in themselves a marvel. Extremely rare, the vibrant works attest to an 18th century penchant for recalling the splendors of the past. The skilled artist who created the set undoubtedly imagined Cuzco to be an Eighth Wonder. With its ancient temples plated in gold and silver, the ancient citadel would have merited such a title.
Dr. Barbara von Barghahn
1 March 1993.