Folk arts, including the weaving of magnificent textiles, pottery making, and silver work have flourished in Mexico throughout its history, but with the coming of the Spanish to Mexico the native peoples were introduced to European art, especially painting, and building techniques. A good many Spanish paintings were brought there, and during the 17th cent. gifted native artists became adept at religious oil painting, modeling religious figures in wax, and the art of polychrome wood sculpture (see Spanish colonial art and architecture).
The serenity and sensitivity of the early native art combined with the Spanish influence to give to Mexican painting a mellowness and richness of color not yet achieved in Spain at that time. Fifty years or so before Murillo made his mark as a colorist, Mexican artists were already giving their works rich red and blue tones. This type of work is sometimes referred to as Mexican baroque to distinguish it from the more rigid European baroque.
Baltásar de Echave the elder (c.1548–1620) is considered to be the first great Mexican artist; he founded the first native school in 1609. His Agony in the Garden (begun 1582) is an example of a Renaissance work with a Spanish character. More important, however, was the work of Alonso Vázquez (c.1565–1608). Painting declined toward the middle of the 17th cent., and sculpture and architecture gained ascendancy; the dominant style in both was the Churrigueresque (named after José Churriguera), a fanciful form of the baroque, but Mexican plateresque art and architecture also appeared. The 18th cent. produced a large number of artists; outstanding among them were José Ibarra and Miguel Cabrera. A period of academic art followed, producing no very distinctive works; this period of imitation was broken at the close of the 19th cent. by the painter José María Velasco, whose landscapes again reaffirmed a national style.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.