Casta Paintings

"Casta" is Spanish for caste and "casta paintings" existed in colonial Latin America during the 17th and 18th century. They were race based social hierarchy and enforced social power and control. The system was inspired by the assumption that the character and quality of people varied according to their birth, color, race and origin of ethnic types.

The system also impacted  economics and taxation. The Spanish colonial state and the Church expected more tax and tribute payments from those of lower socio-racial categories. These are the main classifications with more to indicate first, second and third generation mixing. Casta-painting series usually identify 16 racial taxonomies,   including zoologically inspired terms such as “coyote and “wolf”—in one bizarrely   named racial classification, children born   of mulatto and mestiza couples are called “lobo tente en el ayre” (Wolf-Hold-  Yourself-in-Mid-Air).

Initially the Casta paintings were developed to show how racial mixing in Mexico was working and being legitimised by marriage. This can be documented as the first paintings tend to not be numbered and just carried a written description of the individuals included within them, thus avoiding any sense of hierarchy being imposed on the viewer.

One of the first known sets of Casta Paintings commissioned, was painted by Juan Rodriguez Juarez and sent to the Spanish King, Charles III. It is believed that the establishment sent the paintings back, advising that they were showing the dilution of Spanish purity, rather than strengthening the white, Spanish race. Mixed castes were shown in work attire while the Spanish males were always shown as the dominant controller within the paintings, whether through his position in the family or his military clothing. Many paintings included violent scenes, which show females of mixed black heritage attacking a Spanish male.

Peninsulares- European born whites

Criollos- Colonial born whites

Mestizo- Mixed blood (Spanish-Indian)

Mulattos Mixed blood (Spanish-Negro)


Negroes- Blacks

[Sources: Casta System, Artnet, Casta Paintings]