In 1763, the highly regarded Mexican painter Miguel Cabrera (c. 1715–1768) created sixteen paintings of castas (castes) in the New World. Signed by the artist on the first and the sixteenth canvas “Mich. Cabrera pinxit, Mexici, Anno 1763,” the set surfaced in Spain in the twentieth century, and is now divided among various locations.1 It seems that the artist painted only one set of castas, but it is an extraordinary and visually remarkable group. Even though the genre had been developing for approximately a half-century, Cabrera’s sixteen compositions are original and packed with items such as apparel to describe race and social status.2 

Two missing paintings from Cabrera’s...

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