Colonial artists, many of them indigenous people, devoted themselves principally to the depiction of religious subjects from the New Testament. Native sculptors, notably in Mexico, Guatemala, and Peru, but also in the Jesuit missions of Paraguay, developed a powerful folk art; polychromed wood, terra-cotta, and bas-relief work in the walls and columns of churches were widely used media. A favorite subject of sculptures was the agony of Jesus; these figures, often given native features, are characterized by extraordinary pathos. In painting, the conceptions were frequently original and charged with remarkable intensity and piety. By 1600 numerous European artists had emigrated to the New World and contributed their talents, but the indigenous people, who had excelled at wall painting, books, and mosaics before the conquest, were chiefly responsible for giving colonial art its unique flavor. (For the history of painting and sculpture in Middle America, see Mexican art and architecture).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.