Any scholar who has visited remote Andean parish churches has likely marveled at the intricate polychrome painted murals adorning their walls, porticoes, and even ceilings. As befits their sacred locations, these murals, usually painted by indigenous artists, often portray religious scenes that were meant to inspire devotion—and discourage heresy—among those who viewed them. Yet a carefully trained eye can simultaneously detect details of pre-Hispanic culture, artistic traditions, and even religious beliefs—a tantalizing reminder of how, particularly in the colonial Andes, visual and material artifacts can offer the most promising avenues to seeing and understanding the colonial Andean peoples who in so many cases created no documentary records of their own.

Since the early 2000s, scholars like Carolyn Dean and Barbara Mundy have combined the techniques of cultural history and art history, suggesting fresh methodologies for scholars wishing to study indigenous agency in...

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