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An Eighteenth-Century Visual Representation of the Black Population in Trujillo del Perú: Picturing Cultural and Social Difference

by Mariselle Meléndez

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This article examines Baltasar Jaime Martínez Compañón’s  Truxillo del Peru (ca. 1785), a nine-volume manuscript composed only of watercolour illustrations, exactly as the author envisioned it: as a type of ‘museum’, in order to explore the particular cultural history that he recreates of the African population in this province. First, Mariselle Meléndez focuses on the metaphorical and literal dimensions of the word ‘museum’ at the time, to better understand the implications of its use and, therefore, how the work is to be studied and understood. She then discusses the importance of the visual image as a powerful rhetorical tool. As a case study, Meléndez focuses on his visual representations of the black population in the territories comprising the archbishopric of Trujillo del Perú. The author discusses the crucial role that these visual images had in the construction of the particular cultural identities concerned, and especially in how they were visually represented in portrayals of the human body within the political, religious and cultural context of that colonial time. For Martínez Compañón, class, social economy and cultural habits became signifying factors to categorize social groups and to illustrate the concomitant contradictions whenever other social groups were also represented. Mariselle Meléndez contends that visual images of the human body aimed to record and encode a particular notion of cultural history within this particular province of Perú, and that the human body itself functions as an object of display, desire, utility, commodity and consumption

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