“Gloria in Excelsis, The Virgin and Angels in Viceregal Painting of Peru and Bolivia” richly deserved its title. This glorious exhibition at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York City exemplified the fascinating new styles of iconography that can result from cultural hybridization.

In this case, the hybridization (mestizaje) was caused by European intrusion into the Indian (mostly Inca) culture of Peru and Bolivia from the 16th through the 18th centuries. The influence of Italian mannerism, with its sweet Madonnas and other humanizing tendencies, was felt in Spain and consequently in the Spanish colonies during the early 17th century. In Peru and Bolivia, this influence extended to artistic interpretations of St. Joseph, who generally appears handsomer and much younger in paintings from Latin America. Indian artists were also inspired by landscape painting from the Netherlands, which belonged to Spain during the 17th century.

By the early 18th-century, indigenous artists in Peru and Bolivia were adapting European styles with greater freedom, asserting their vibrant mestizo culture. At the same time, compositions emphasizing the human figure took precedence over landscapes. “Gloria in Excelsis” illustrated the creative innovations of mestizo artists in figural representation. The Virgin appears squarish and flattened, with greater focus on her ornate robe than on her physical presence.

The vigorous textile tradition of Peru and Bolivia, which began as early as the 3rd century B.C., supplied extensive decorative material to Indian artists. Flamboyant red and gold, the colors of ecclesiastical vestments and church interiors, dominate these paintings. Lace is depicted with a delicacy unmatched even by Flemish artists; gilt brocade, richly patterned across the Virgin’s robe, distances her from the viewer and emphasizes her hieratic nature.

Most astounding are the angels, especially Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, the three that were sanctified. Mestizo artists painted them as 18th-century gentlemen, armed with muskets and harquebuses to defend the Faith. Rich in silk and satin, their costume is completed by gorgeous varicolored wings, unlike the wings of their European counterparts.

“Gloria in Excelsis” traveled to the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery at the University of Texas (March 23 to May 4) and later to the Miami Center for the Fine Arts (May 19 to July 20).