José Campeche was the first internationally known Puerto Rican painter. He is considered one of the best Hispanic American portrait artists of his time. His work, of anecdotal, historical, and religious character, pays great attention to detail and features. Many of his paintings illustrate the political, social, and economic development of the island.
Campeche was born in 1751 in the walled city of San Juan. His parents were Tomás de Rivafrecha, a freed Creole, and María Jordán, an immigrant from the Canary Islands. His first studies were under his father’s guidance -a gilder, decorator, and painter who owned a work shop in the city. At the time, he drew carbon portraits and figures of saints on sidewalks. Then, he studied philosophy and Latin at Convento de Santo Tomás de Aquino in San Juan. Due to a lack of formal studies in painting, his work back then showed a linear character. He also studied music from childhood and learned to play various instruments such as the flute and oboe.
In 1775, Campeche met Luis Paret y Alcázar (1746-1799), renown Spanish painter who had arrived on the island after being exiled by King Charles III. With Paret’s lessons, Campeche learned about technique and color control. His pictorial style evolved, showing more originality and clear influence of shades of the French rococo, artistic style characterized by ornamentation or decoration of naturalistic inspiration.
Most of Campeche’s artistic production consists of religious paintings for which he used engraved religious figures he found in the books of his private library as models. Among them, are El exvoto de la Sagrada Familia (c. 1778), Nuestra señora de la Merced (c. 1795), Nuestra señora de Belén (Virgen de la Leche) (1806) and a great number of copies of Virgen de Belén.
Campeche’s best paintings are his portraits because he gives great attention to features and details. His portraits have characteristics of the French rococo, also marked by national elements of historical, geographical, and anecdotal nature. Among his portraits are Dama a caballo (c. 1785), Doña María de los Dolores Martínez de Carvajal (c. 1792), Las hijas del gobernador don Ramón de Castro (1797), and El Obispo don Juan Alejo de Arizmendi de la Torre (1808).
References to Puerto Rican scenery are obvious such as Don Miguel Antonio de Ustáriz (1790), where the city of San Juan is seen in the background, and Gobernador don Ramón de Castro (1800), where there is a panoramic view of Condado and Puerta de Tierra, areas adjoining the San Juan islet.
Campeche died in 1809, after leaving a legacy between 400 and 500 works.
Gran Enciclopedia de Puerto Rico
Portal Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña
Alegría, Ricardo E., Eladio Rivera Quiñones.et al.. Historia y cultura de Puerto Rico : desde la época pre-colombina hasta nuestros días, “Panorama del arte en Puerto Rico”, Fundación Franscisco Carvajal, 1999.
Author: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 03, 2014.
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