Measuring Ingredients: Food and Domesticity in Mexican Casta Paintings
Mexican casta paintings flourished as a popular art form in the eighteenth century. No one is sure of the exact origin of this type of painting, which depicted racial mixtures accompanied by local foods; most likely it was an export item for wealthy Spaniards who were returning home and wanted a souvenir of colorful and exotic Mexico.
Casta paintings were generally created in sets of sixteen canvases, and depicted all manner of racial hybridization among Whites, Blacks and Amerindians. The common trope was to portray a father, a mother, and an offspring, beginning with the Spanish male with Indian and Black consorts, and ending with an Indian couple, groupings which reflected social hierarchies of the colonial world. Most were painted by anonymous artists, though the canvases analyzed in this study are by known painters. Because of the emphasis on domestic relations, couples were often portrayed in kitchens or markets, which gives us valuable information on this aspect of daily life. The foods associated with the different castes also reflected socio-economic hierarchies, as well as reinforced the idea of America as land of bounty.
Colonial artists generally imitated European models, but with the casta paintings Mexican artists were instead urged to paint what distinguished their country from Spain, hereby contributing to a growing sense of independence from the metropolis.