Susan Verdi Webster's deeply erudite Lettered Artists and the Languages of Empire studies the artistic culture of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Quito while contributing to a wide range of current debates in early modern studies. As a model archivally grounded study of a single artistic center, it demonstrates that a global early modern art history can be written through a thorough examination of the local. It is in the local that blanketly imposed universal principles of governance, instruction, and mores were interpreted and adapted by the very people whose lives they were meant to structure.

The first of the book's two four-chapter sections, “Contexts,” asks us to think about the range of literacies—textual, symbolic, pictorial—available to individuals living in the colonial Andes. It shows that painters, like the letrado caste of bureaucrats and notaries, were in the unique position of mediating between the...

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