c. 1740–1760
Oil on canvas, pine, and gilding
As installed accordion style: 59 1/4 × 133 1/2 × 16 3/4 in. (1 m 50.5 cm × 3 m 39.09 cm × 42.55 cm) .A: 59 1/4 × 66 × 1 1/4 in. (1 m 50.5 cm × 1 m 67.64 cm × 3.18 cm) .B: 59 1/4 × 108 3/8 × 1 1/4 in. (1 m 50.5 cm × 2 m 75.27 cm × 3.18 cm)
Decorative Arts and Design
American Art - Spanish Colonial, Level 4
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Stanley and Linda Marcus Foundation
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

The folding screen, or biombo, is a unique furniture form which developed as an adaptation of Japanese screens in colonial Mexico. These syncretic luxury goods reflect the colonial elite taste for Japanese byobu, or folding screens. Byobu are moveable multi-panel screens that serve as supports for painting, and which are documented in Japan since the 7th century CE. They first arrived in the colonial viceroyalty of New Spain in 1614, when the Japanese shogun Takugawa Ieyasu sent ten examples as gifts to the viceroy. Greatly impressed with the byobu, the elite began ordering screens both from Asia and from local workshops for use in their own homes. Colonial artists adapted the format of the Japanese screens using their own materials, techniques, and visual vocabularies, which resulted in the biombo, a moveable screen with wooden or canvas panels. In addition to reflecting the international trade of the Bourbon period, biombos are also prestige objects that reflect the identity and politics of the c__riollo caste in New Spain—that is, those of European descent who were born in the Americas.

The elaborate painted and gilt decoration on this screen represents the baroque style of mid-18th-century European and Mexican decorative painting, but the central scenes are taken from a 17th-century emblem book by the Flemish artist Otto van Veen. In the book, van Veen illustrated moralizing quotations from the Roman writer Horace with his own engravings. The volume proved extremely popular, and numerous editions were produced during the next century, including a Spanish one in 1669. Here, the moralizing visual emblems, as well as their accompanying captions and verses of poetry, would allow the owner of the biombo to foreground his intellectualism and civic virtue while entertaining guests.

Chloë Courtney, Digital Collections Content Coordinator, 2018

Drawn from

  • Kelly Donahue-Wallace, Art and Architecture of Viceregal Latin America, 1521-1821 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2008), 211-217.

  • Candace Carlisle Vilas, "Biombo with Otto Van Veen Emblems," DMA Unpublished material, 2016.

  • Kevin Tucker, Label text, 2006.

Web Resources