Mexican Costumbrismo Race, Society, and Identity in Nineteenth-Century Art

Mey-Yen Moriuchi

The years following Mexican independence in 1821 were critical to the development of social, racial, and national identities. The visual arts played a decisive role in this process of self-definition. Mexican Costumbrismo reorients current understanding of this key period in the history of Mexican art by focusing on a distinctive genre of painting that emerged between 1821 and 1890: costumbrismo.

In contrast to the neoclassical work favored by the Mexican academy, costumbrista artists portrayed the quotidian lives of the lower to middle classes, their clothes, food, dwellings, and occupations. Based on observations of similitude and difference, costumbrista imagery constructed stereotypes of behavioral and biological traits associated with distinct racial and social classes. In doing so, Mey-Yen Moriuchi argues, these works engaged with notions of universality and difference, contributed to the documentation and reification of social and racial types, and transformed the way Mexicans saw themselves, as well as how other nations saw them, during a time of rapid change for all aspects of national identity.

Carefully researched and featuring more than thirty full-color exemplary reproductions of period work, Moriuchi’s study is a provocative art-historical examination of costumbrismo’s lasting impact on Mexican identity and history.

Moriuchi  Mexican front


  • $99.95 cloth, 978-0-271-07907-3
  • $99.95 ebook
  • 180 pages
  • 60 illus., 31 in color, 8 x 10 in.

about the author

Dr. Mey-Yen Moriuchi is an assistant professor of art history at LaSalle University. She received her B.A. in the history of art and international relations from the University of Pennsylvania, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in the history of art from Bryn Mawr College. She is a recipient of the Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities and has presented her research on 18th-20th-century Mexican painting at various conferences, including the College Art Association, Feminist Art History Conference, Southeastern College Art Conference, the National Gallery of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, among others.

Her research focuses on representations of racial and social types in 18th-century casta painting and 19th-century costumbrismo. Her essay, “From Casta to Costumbrismo: Representations of Racialized Social Spaces” was published in the volume Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America (Brill, 2015), and her article,“From ‘les types populaires’ to ‘los tipos populares’: Nineteenth-Century Mexican Costumbrismo,” appeared in Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide (April, 2013). Other essays are included in the exhibition catalogues Border Crossings: Immigration in Contemporary Prints (2016), Elizabeth Catlett: Art for Social Justice (2015), and American Scenes: WPA-Era Prints of the 1930s and 1940s (2014) (La Salle University Art Museum).