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In this letter, Héctor Velarde responds to the artist Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, regardin the debate provoked by the establishment of a course on “Inca Art” at the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes). The author considers that humor determines the “humanity” in art, which does not happen in the artistic manifestations by the Incas. “I have not seen anything more horribly serious.” He therefore rejects the existence of any art or architecture where the constructive architectural element is zero. Although he admits recognition to some Inca ornamentation, he emphasizes that, “the ornamentation in architecture is found in its own elements. The rest is theatre.” Velarde’s values are seen “Apart from the Parthenon, the Gothic cathedrals, the blue Arab tiles and Le Corbussier, the rest are initiations or derivations”. In a way, “those products made by bees or by mysterious ants [Inca architecture] are worthy of every consideration” and they must be taught like a landscape made “of mountains of granite” just as with teach about the flora or the fauna, but never as a specific course of art.


This letter was sent by the Peruvian architect and writer Héctor Velarde in response to the artist Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, who asked him for his opinion on the polemics surrounding the course on “Inca Art” that was being offered at the ENBA (Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes) in Lima the capital of Peru. In April of 1930 and within a prevailing nationalistic climate within the intellectual circles in Peru, the ENBA in Lima started a course on “Inca Art.” The program was entrusted to Augusto Aguirre Morales, a writer known for writing El pueblo del Sol, a novel published in 1924 and 1927 on a recreation that idealized the Tahuantinsuyo life style or the empire of the Incas. Although the title and program revealed a more literary approach to the subject, the course sought to reference an established pre-Columbian legacy in promoting the configuration of a “national art”. However, its relevance to formally train artists was confronted by a revival of the ornamental characteristics of Pre-Hispanic Hispanic appropriations logic. Regarding this line of thought, the artist Antonino Espinosa Saldaña (1893–1969) questioned not only the generalization of title given to the course and program but also the transcendence of pre-Columbian art and its influence on the “Fine Arts” of Peru in seeking to define the idea of national identity in western terms. Espinosa directed these criticisms against those who equated “the indigenous” culture (past or current) with “the Peruvian.” Replicas, such as those by Augusto Aguirre, identified the “indigenous” as the only “heredity” capable of configuring an “Indo-American” identity. The debate not only prolonged with this published article written by Espinosa, but also in the press by means of published letters sent by intellectuals, among them Héctor Velarde and Mariano Ibérico. Apart from the appropriate debate on the visual arts, was the poignant silence of José Sabogal revealing his predominantly ethnographic interest in Peruvian indigenism.

[Please also refer to the following letter in the ICAA digital archive: “Lima, a Antonino Espinosa Saldaña, 25 de junio de 1930” by José Sabogal (doc. no. 1143586) and the text “Inauguración de las clases de arte incaico en la Esc. de Bellas Artes: asistirá el Ministro de Instrucción” (doc. no. 1143505)].

Ricardo Kusunoki
Museo de Arte de Lima, Lima, Peru
Courtesy of private archives Leonor Velarde de Cisneros, Lima, Peru