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Portraits of Francisca Ramírez de Laredo and Antonio de Ulloa

A conversation between Dr. Kathryn Santner and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank in front of Portrait of Antonio de Ulloa y de la Torre-Guiral, c. 1768–70, oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches; and Portrait of Francisca Ramírez de Laredo y de Ulloa, c. 1768–70, oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 31 1/2 inches (Collection of Carl & Marilynn Thoma)

This video was made possible through the generous support of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation.
Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(forlorn bluesy music) - [Tutor] We're here in Chicago at the Thoma Foundation, looking at paintings of a husband and wife, made in the later 18th century in Spain. Let's look first at the picture of the man. This is Antonio de Ulloa, famed scientist, statesman, and in some ways explore. Elite men or men of learning were often shown in portraits, accompanied by books in the background, and standing at a table, or standing at a desk with writing implements. And we can see on the shelves behind him the titles relating to geography, exploration, linguistics, and a compass, and a rule. And pinned to the shelf is a map of Spain. And he's dressed in an incredibly sumptuous French-style costume, a red silk jacket, big cuffs, and lace sleeves over a velvet waist coat thick with silver embroidery. His hair in a powdered wig pulled back by a bow. And on his coat, we also see a golden chain. At the end of which is a golden cross. He's very fashionable. And it turns out much of what we're seeing relates to specific events in his life. For instance, some of the books are ones that he himself wrote. When Ulloa was 19, he was selected to go on an important scientific expedition to identify the precise location of the meridian. And at the conclusion of that journey wrote a travel log that you can see on the shelf behind him. It was a very popular text. It was translated into multiple languages. In fact, the addition that we're seeing was the French edition. And another way that the painting relates to that scientific expedition that he made in Ecuador, which at the time is still controlled by Spain is the exploding volcano that we can just make out between his elbow and his coat. We know that when he was on that expedition, he saw the volcano of Cotopaxi erupt. And so the painter here is referencing that he was a witness to that event. And these texts were revolutionary because they introduced the American viceroyalties to European audience in a detailed way for the first time. Giving not only geographic knowledge, but also cultural knowledge, sharing information about the indigenous peoples who lived there, as well as the Creole societies that took root there. Now, after that expedition, Ulloa goes back to Spain and produces an extremely accurate map of the Iberian Peninsula that is what is today Portugal and Spain. And we're seeing that map that he made here in the portrait. And he's admitted by the king of Spain into the Order of Santiago, which was a great honor. The crosses are at the emblem of the Order of Santiago. Ulloa appears to be a relatively young man, perhaps in his thirties. But in fact, he's a much older man, at least in his fifties. And was 33 years older than his bride. It's a reminder of the power of portraiture to convey an idealized representation of the sitter. Ulloa also had a career as a statesman, working as a governor in Huancavelica, Peru. Overseeing the mining of mercury, which was very important in the production of silver on which the Spanish economy depended. Ulloa unsuccessful at Huancavelica, but before he was able to return to Spain, he was made governor of the newly acquired Spanish territory of Louisiana. Louisiana had been controlled by the French and was now in the possession of the Spanish. When Ulloa is there, like Huancavelica, he is largely unsuccessful. There are no explicit references in this painting to either Ulloa governorship of Huancavelica or of Louisiana. Nor do we see any of the political writings that he produced during his life on the book shelf. It's a portrait that is portraying the aspects of his life for which he wanted to be remembered. Now, let's go take a look at his wife's portrait. Hers displays a lot of the conventions of female portraiture of the time. This is Francisco Ramirez de Laredo. Like her husband, Francisca is looking out at us in three-quarter view, clothed in incredibly rich garments. To her left is this classicizing column, behind her this darkend landscape. And it offsets the opulence, the sumptuousness of her clothing. We can see, for example, the elaborate jewelry she has pinned to her hair hanging from her ears around her neck and at her wrists. And even peeking out from under the edge of her jacket is pocketwatch, which was a sign of her wealth. We have purple flowers with what looks like heavily embroidered gold thread. We have this very elaborate floral decoration on the top of the jacket. And then we have golden embroidery on the edges. Like her husband, she wears a powdered wig with what looks like a small hat pinned at the top. In one hand, she's holding a fan that might have been made from ivory or silver. And in the other she's pinching the stem of a rose, both of which were common attributes of marriage portraits in the 18th century. And it's important to note that the fan is closed, which in marriage portraits is assign that she is chased. The symbol of her ideal femininity. Francisca came from a noble family in Lima. When she arrived in Louisiana in 1767, Ulloa met her ship and married her immediately. And upon returning to Spain, the couple had had nine children. And in spite of the wealth that we see very visibly on display in both of these portraits, we know that her husband wrote that the couple didn't quite have enough money. And he complained that his salary was not enough to sustain his growing family. These two portraits are a reminder of how portraits, fashion, and identity that can lead us to believe things about the sitter that may or may not be entirely accurate. (forlorn bluesy music)