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Colombian Culture: Art

The history of art in Colombia divides into four periods: 1) pre-Columbian, 2) colonial, 3) post-independence and 4) modern.


Pottery bearing animal, human and geometric designs and other evidence of pre-Columbian culture date as far back as 7,000 BC. However, the information regarding this people is scarce. Later civilizations such as the Tairona and the Muisca were skilled metallurgists, particularly with gold, and their work—pendants, figurines, necklaces— was rich with political and religious detail.


However, much of this gold work has been lost owing to the officially sanctioned looting on behalf of the Spanish crown, which resulted in many sacred and ceremonial artifacts and sculptures being taken to Spain and melted down.


After the Spanish conquest, Colombian art was almost entirely thematically ecclesiastical and derived from previous medieval, Mannerist, and Renaissance styles imported from Europe. Nonetheless, native Colombians who were trained in these arts retained some of their own cultural legacy in their work. This can be seen particularly in the older churches in Colombia, which evidence elements of indigenous design.


However, at this stage in history, Spanish-born or Spanish-descended artists prevailed on Colombian soil. The dominant style during this time was Baroque: emotional to the point of visual melodrama. The first artist of note is Alonso de Narváez. He is known less for a particular originality than for a legend about a portrait he painted on cloth of the Virgin and child, flanked by two saints. Reportedly the colors quickly faded and the canvas began to rot, yet after it was put away in storage it was found years later to have become completely restored. Baltasar de Figueroa, from Seville, integrated native influences to his European sensibility. His legacy was continued by his sons.


The most important artist of the colonial era was Gregorio Vázquez de Arce y Ceballos. A prolific painter, his original portrait of the Trinity as a three-faced being (inverting Dante’s three-faced Satan from the “Divine Comedy”) was later condemned as heresy partly due to its resemblance to Hindu idols. The artist responsible for the Sopo Archangels series is unknown, but the paintings are notable for the androgynous nature of their subjects.


The 19th-century post-independence Republican period is considered negligible by most scholars. Some attribute this to Colombia’s geography, which kept artists isolated from each other and the world, and thus retarded the evolution of new forms. However, two noteworthy painters in the latter part of the century were Mercedes Delgado Mallarino de Martínez, one of the few women artists of the time, and Ricardo Acevedo Bernal, who was not only a painter, but also composer, photographer and even diplomat.


Colombia’s Modern Art movement began in 1920, when artists such as Santiago Martínez Delgado and Pedro Nel Gómez imported the Mexican muralist movement to their native country. Later artists, such as Ricardo Gómez Campuzano and Carlos Correa, revealed the influence of Post-Impressionism and Cubism in their work. Spanish-born Alejandro Obregón introduced his own Expressionist Romanticism, influenced by Picasso that exhibited a heavy environmental, political and sexual focus. Along with Eduardo Ramírez Villamizar, Édgar Negret, Enrique Grau and Fernando Botero, he was considered a member of Colombia’s “Big Five” artists. Of the latter, Botero is also the most famous Colombian artist ever, sharing a celebrity status rivaled only by novelist Gabriel García Márquez and singer Shakira. His “fat people” and “fat animal” sculptures and paintings, often humorous, are sold for millions, yet he has not shied away from tackling any number of controversial themes, from criticizing the Church to human rights abuses committed by the U.S. government.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Colombia: Colombian Culture: Comedy, Colombian Culture: Cinema, Colombian Culture: Theater, Cumbia, Colombian Culture: Dance, Colombian Culture: Music, Shakira, Colombian Culture: Literature, Colombian Culture: An Introduction and Colombian Culture: Museums.

27 Sep 2011

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