José Nicolás de Escalera Tamariz

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José Nicolás de Escalera Tamariz (1734-1804) was a Spanish-Cuban painter of the eighteenth century. We prepared this volume on José’s work for our series of illustrated books, after using images of this artist for the covers of our books, considering them emblematic in the collective imagination of the New World and the life of colonial Cuba.
José was born on September 8, 1734 in Havana, where he was baptized in the old Parroquial Mayor de San Cristóbal de La Habana on Wednesday, September 15. He was the third child of Agustín Francisco Isidoro de Escalera Tamariz, a native of the city of Écija in Spain, and Manuela Domínguez, a native of Havana. He had two sisters named Josefa Teresa and Inés María de Escalera Tamariz.
In his will, he detailed that he came to have slaves and property, which he left to his sisters at his death. He died ill on July 3, 1804, at the age of sixty-nine, and was buried the next day in a property of his maternal ancestors in the Church of the former Convent of the Dominican Fathers in Havana, San Juan de Letrán.
Little is known of Escalera’s artistic preparation, but his style seems to come from Murillo’s orbit. To understand his work, it is necessary to see it in two parts: the first, in which he learns to paint and makes his first works in pre-English Havana; and the second (1764-1804), during which he made his well-known work, marked by the cultural and artistic activity of Cuban society of the time.
In his time the baroque developed in Cuba, manifesting itself in the religious architecture and decoration of its interiors. Escalera is known as a painter of saints, portraitist and, possibly, sculptor, although there is no concrete evidence of the latter facet. From the work as a portraitist of José Nicolás de Escalera Tamariz, two paintings are preserved in the National Museum of Fine Arts of Cuba.
The consecration of his work is the works for the Parish Church of the City of Santa María del Rosario in Havana, Cuba, including the mural paintings made with the marouflage technique and the decoration and painting of the nine altarpieces preserved in that parish.
In his work “Santo Domingo and the Noble Family of Casa Bayona” appears in the history of Cuban painting, for the first time a black person in a privileged position. Oral tradition relates a story in which a faithful slave carried sulphurous water to relieve the pains of gout from his master, the Count, who in gratitude granted him freedom. This legend can explain the appearance of the slave in painting, since in the eighteenth century, blacks did not have any privileges, unless they had done something relevant to their owners.

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