Defining castas in the Americas
By the early 17th century, these categories broke down quickly and castas were being defined. Some estimates place the total number of castas in use in colonial Latin America at sixty or more.
Casta paintings are part of the 18th century artistic tradition of Colonial Latin America. These generally appear in groups of sixteen portraits that trace the complex racial mixing or mestizaje of the people in New Spain. Each painting depicts a couple along with one or two children. An inscription describing the ethnoracial make up of the mother, the father, and the child(ren) usually appears as verbage within the painting or above the family.
What was the purpose of these paintings?
What do Casta Paintings show?
Paintings suggest typical clothing for different social classes. They reveal details of architectural space and home life and present meticulous depictions of everyday objects, native flora and fauna, and foodstuffs.
Souvenirs of the “New World”
Because the majority of Casta Paintings still in existence were found in Spain rather than Mexico, it has also been suggested that these were meant as souvenirs. These may have been mementos that captured the newness of the “New World”, showing native plants and diverse peoples of the region.