Seeing Script: On Artistic and Archival Affinity in the Early Modern Spanish World


ACLS Fellowship Program


History of Art


This project examines the unusual amount of writing on artworks created from 1550–1750 in present-day Spain, Mexico, Colombia, and Peru. It argues that artists in the early modern Spanish World mobilized the forms and conventions of particular scripts to produce meaning for their audiences. Juxtaposing painted, embroidered, and incised words with more traditional texts housed in archives—notarial documents, rare books, and loose-leaf prints—exposes shared visual dimensions. And doing so reveals artists drawing upon scripts to craft carefully coded pictorial performances of the written word, capitalizing on imperial subjects’ acute awareness of the visual signification of writing and its resonances with specific types of documents, objects, and social situations. In underscoring that textual additions were thus pictorially keyed, this project advocates for the archive, or the library special collection, as a place just as important for close looking as for careful reading and transcription.