Acapulco — (Nahuatl)
On the western coast of Mexico, the official port of entry to northern Spanish America for ships traveling across the Pacific Ocean from Manila. The site of an annual fair (fería), when the galleons arrived and discharged their Asian imports.

Acsu — (Quechua)
An indigenous-style woman’s skirt or dress, made of a length of uncut fabric, known as an acsu in the Cuzco area, and as an anaco in others. Also aqsu.

Alcalde mayor — (Spanish)
Governor of a district; the district was called an alcaldía mayor.

Amate — (Nahuatl)
Paper made of bark from a fig (ficus) tree; this paper was used by indigenous people, both before and after the Spanish conquest, for codices, manuscripts, and other documents.

See Acsu

Andean — (English)
Indigenous peoples living in, and near to the Andes Mountains; the Andean region stretches from modern day Ecuador to northern Chile.

Andes — (English)
A geographical region encompassing the Andean mountains, stretching from modern day Ecuador to northern Chile.

Anthropomorphic — (English)
An inanimate object that is given human qualities.

Archangel — (English)
In Christian belief, the highest ranking of the angels, those heavenly-dwelling beings. While the Bible mentions only the Archangels Michael and Gabriel, others (Raphael, Uriel, Chamuel, Jophiel and Zadkiel) are traditionally held to be among their number.

Arquebus — (Spanish)
A European matchlock gun; harquebus in English.

Asiento — (Spanish)
A contract for tax collection made between the Spanish Crown and an individual or group; used for slave trade contracts granted by the Spanish Crown to Dutch, French, and English traders after the mid-17th century.

Atrio — (Spanish)
The courtyard, usually enclosed by a wall, in front of a church. Many atrios had crosses at their centers and in New Spain, posas, or small chapels, stood at their corners.

Audiencia — (Spanish)
Both the tribunal of judges appointed by the Spanish crown, and the territory they oversaw. In 17th-century Spanish America, the main audiencias were Guadalajara, Mexico, Guatemala, Santo Domingo, Panama, Santa Fé de Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Charcas and Chile.

Augustinians — (English)
An order of Catholic priests; Augustinians were one of the three regular orders the Spanish crown sent to convert the indigenous people of the Americas. The first Augustinians arrived in New Spain in 1533, and in Peru in 1551. See also regular orders

Aymara — (Aymara)
An indigenous group that lives in the southern Andes and the language they speak. There are Aymara speakers in modern day Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.

Aztecs — (Nahuatl)
A pre-Hispanic empire that controlled much of central Mexico, with a capital in Tenochtitlan, up until the Spanish conquest. The Aztecs called themselves the Culhua-Mexica. “Huey Tlatoani” or “Great Speaker” was the title of their supreme ruler.


Bargueño — (Spanish)
A wooden chest with several small drawers, often highly decorated.

Baroque — (English)
An artistic style, originating in the 16th century in Europe and later reaching Spanish America, characterized by intense emotion, theatricality, and a taste for elaborate ornamentation. The Baroque style was known in the visual arts, architecture, literature, music and drama; it reached its peak in Spanish America in the 18th century.

Batab — (Yucatec Maya)
A term for local ruler used in parts of southern Mexico.

Bayeta — (Spanish)
A flannel-like textile, usually red in color.

Bourbon Reforms — (English)
A modernization of the royal bureaucracy promoted by the 18th-century Bourbon kings of Spain. Spanish America was most affected by the reforms of Charles III (reign, 1759-88), which spawned disaffection and revolts through the end of the century.

Brocateado — (Spanish)
From brocado, meaning “brocade.” A painting overlaid with designs in gold leaf, often to show luxurious cloth garments. Indigenous painters of the Cuzco School favored this technique.


Cabecera — (Spanish) The “head town” or principal town in its district.

Cabildo — (Spanish)
City council.

Cacao — (Nahuatl)
A plant native to the Americas, the source of chocolate. The Aztecs collected cacao as tribute, made it into a chocolate drink and used the seeds as currency. In Spanish America, it was extensively cultivated and much was exported to Europe.

Cacique — (Taíno)
An indigenous male ruler. The term originates in the pre-Hispanic Caribbean, and came to be used throughout Spain’s colonies. Cacica is the female form.

Caja de comunidad — (Spanish)
The “community chest” in Amerindian towns that usually held money, documents, and religious objects. Caja fuerte (Spanish for strong box) is a locked chest of wood and iron.

Calvary — (English)
The hillside near Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. In art, the Calvary is the depiction of this crucifixion, usually including figures of Jesus’s mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and the apostle John, among others.

Camarín — (Spanish)
A niche or chapel behind the altar of a church.

Camelid — (English)
The camel-like animals indigenous to the Americas, including llamas, alpacas, guanacos and vicuñas. Their wool, which was silkier than sheep wool, was an important material for woven textiles both before and after the arrival of Europeans.

Indigenous people of the northern Andes, who lived in what is now part of Ecuador. Defeated and largely relocated by the pre-Hispanic Inka, they became important allies of the Spanish during the conquest.

Capilla abierta — (Spanish)
A deep balcony or porch overlooking or adjacent to a church plaza. The capilla abierta, rare in Europe but common in New Spain, was used by priests to minister to congregations that were too large to fit into the church proper.

Casta — (Spanish)
A person of mixed or indefinite ethnicity. In Spanish America, the caste system (sistema de castas in Spanish) categorized individuals of different origin and their offspring with terms like negro, mulatto and mestizo. Casta paintings, created in the 18th century in both New Spain and Peru, offer highly idealized visual and verbal catalogues of the intermarried couples and their children present in Spanish America.

Castile — (English)
A kingdom on the Iberian peninsula, today in the country of Spain. Technically, Spain’s New World possessions belonged only to two kingdoms, Castile and León, because they were responsible for the expeditions of conquest.

Cédula — (Spanish)
An official decree, presented in written form.

Cenote — (Maya)
A natural sinkhole that forms in limestone and often fills with water. At the Maya city of Chichén Itzá (in present day Mexico), the largest cenote was considered a sacred site by many native peoples and offerings were made there in both pre-Hispanic and colonial times.

Chasuble — (English)
The outermost garment, often highly decorated, worn by a priest celebrating the mass.

Chicano — (Spanish)
A male of Mexican ancestry who lives in the United States and identifies himself as Chicano (or Xicano). The female form is Chicana. In the late 1960s (and continuing into the present), Chicanos (both men and women) formed active political and artistic movements.

A fermented, beer-like drink made in the Andes from maize.

Chiluca — (Spanish)
A translucent, whitish stone used in buildings in New Spain.

Indigenous people who live in the modern state of Oaxaca, Mexico; their language is also called Chocho.

Chronicle — (English)
An account–usually by an eyewitness–of a historical event; its writer was a chronicler.

Chumash — (Chumash)
Indigenous people who live along the Pacific coast near the modern cities of Santa Barbara, California and on the Northern Channel Islands. In the second half of the 18th century, Spanish missions were first established among the Chumash.

Chuncho — (Quechua)
Inka name for Amazonian peoples.

Indigenous people who live in what was the northern region of New Spain, now northern Mexico and Texas. In the early 18th century, Spanish friars organized and built missions for, and with Coahuiltecans, including those around the city of San Antonio, Texas.

Coatlicue — (Nahuatl)
An Aztec female deity. A monolithic sculpture of Coatlicue once stood in the main temple precinct of Tenochtitlan, today Mexico City. In this Coatlicue, the deity’s skirt writhes with twining serpents, a visual representation of her name, for the word “Coatlicue” translates as “She of the Serpent Skirt.”

Coca — (Quechua)
A plant whose leaves contain a natural stimulant. In the Andes, indigenous people chewed coca leaves, in part to hold hunger at bay. When highly refined and processed, coca leaves are source of cocaine, a drug developed after the colonial period.

Cochineal — (English)
A bright red dye produced from an insect-parasite of the nopal (prickly-pear) cactus. Cochineal was cultivated in pre-Hispanic times, and after the conquest, it was a valued item traded with Europe.

Codex — (English)
A manuscript book, either hand written or painted (plural form: codices). Typically a codex has pages bound along the left edge, much like a modern book; but the word also refers to indigenous manuscripts that were folded rather than bound.

Cofradía — (Spanish)
A voluntary association of members, often centered on the worship of a particular saint in a single community or region, who performed acts of charity or service.

Congregación — (Spanish)
The forced resettlement of Amerindians from small, often dispersed villages into a larger, centralized planned town (also called a congregación).

Conquistador — (Spanish)
A Spanish soldier who participated in the conquest of the New World in the 16th century.

Convento — (Spanish)
A monastery (for priests) or convent (for nuns). These building complexes usually comprised a church, living quarters for religious and other residents, and in the case of monasteries, schools or other semi-public spaces.

Corinthian — (English)
One of several types of architectural columns used in European and European-inspired buildings. The Corinthian column, named after the city of Corinth in Greece, has a fluted shaft and acanthus leaves on its upper end (or capital).

Corlas, corladura — (Spanish)
A decorative technique for sculpture, also called estofado a la chinesca. A layer of translucent color was applied over silver leaf, and then the paint was rubbed or scored to reveal the gleaming metal beneath.

Corpus Christi — (Latin)
An important festival in the Catholic Church’s calendar that celebrates the Eucharist, or rite during which bread and wine are consecrated.

Corregidor — (Spanish)
Spanish official in charge of the administration of a district called a corregimiento, somewhat like a US county. The position was similar to an alcalde mayor, who oversaw an alcaldía mayor.

Counter Reformation — (English)
A reform movement within the Catholic Church in the 16th century, sparked by Martin Luther’s criticisms of the Church and the rise of Protestantism.

Coya — (Quechua)
The highest ranking woman in the Inka empire in pre-Hispanic times, and wife of the Sapa Inka (ruler). Later, any Andean elite woman claiming descent from the Inka royal family. Also qoya.

Creole — (English)
A person of European ancestry born in the Americas. Also criollo (Spanish).

Cuarta, quarta — (Spanish)
A fourth of a vara, approximately 8 inches.

Cumbi — (Quechua)
A term used in the Andes to describe finely woven cloth. Also qompi.

Curaca — (Quechua)
An indigenous ruler in the Andes. Also kuraka.

Cuzco — (Quechua)
Andean city that was the Inka capital in pre-Hispanic times, now in Peru. Also Cusco, Q’osqo.

Cuzco School — (English)
A group of indigenous painters from the city of Cuzco, working primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Cuzco School was born in 1688, when, stung by the racist criticism of Spanish and mestizo painters, native painters withdrew from the guild; the style of painting coming out of the resultant indigenous workshops is also called “Cuzco School.”


De vestir — (Spanish)
A statue designed to wear clothes.

Dominicans — (English)
An order of Catholic priests; Dominicans were one of the three regular orders the Spanish crown sent to convert the indigenous people of the Americas. The first Dominicans arrived in the Caribbean in 1510, and entered New Spain in 1526. By 1534, they were established in Cuzco and had begun mission work in the southern Andes. See also regular orders


Ebony — (English)
A tropical hardwood, usually black, prized for its strength and color.

Encarnación — (Spanish)
A technique of oil painting on statues yielding the appearance of human skin.

Encomendero — (Spanish)
A Spanish settler who had been awarded an encomienda, a grant of indigenous labor. See also encomienda.

Encomienda — (Spanish)
A grant of indigenous labor given to a Spanish settler by the Spanish crown. Initially, the crown saw the encomienda grant as an incentive for Spaniards to settle in the New World. In return for being allowed the use of native labor, encomenderos were charged with making sure their charges were evangelized. An important institution in the 16th century, encomiendas waned in the 17th.

Enconchada — (Spanish)
Encrustation with mother-of-pearl. Often, mother-of-pearl was glued to a support and then painted with opaque pigments to create images. Enconchada paintings and screens (biombos in Spanish) were popular products of artisans in 17th and 18th century New Spain.

Engraving — (English)
The cutting of a design into a metal surface. Engraved metal plates were used in printing, and the resulting print on paper is also called an engraving.

Enlightenment — (English)
A philosophical movement of the 18th century, first developed in western Europe, and also known as the “Age of Reason.” The Enlightenment brought empirical methods to science and held that social, intellectual and scientific progress could be achieved through reason.

Escribano — (Spanish)
A scribe or notary.

Escudo — (Spanish)
Literally, a shield; also refers to a circular plaque, usually about 8 inches across, and often painted and embroidered with images, worn by nuns on their chests.

Escutcheon — (English)
A shield with a coat of arms.

Estípite — (Spanish)
A type of column developed in Spanish America in the early 18th century, distinguished by its tapering inverted pyramid shape.

Estofado — (Spanish)
A decorative technique used on sculpture, where paint was applied over gold leaf, and then incised to reveal the gold beneath.

Estufa — (Spanish)
See Kiva.

Eucharist — (English)
The Christian rite during which the host, or bread, and wine are consecrated.

Ex-Voto — (Latin)
A painting offered to the Virgin Mary or a saint, often in thanks for a favor granted (especially healing). Ex-votos may also be created to request such a favor, or to commemorate a pilgrimage. While wealthy people commissioned ex-votos, they were also a form of popular expression in Spanish America.


Facade — (English)
The front face of a building, usually with the structure’s principal entrance.

Festoon — (English)
A decorative chain, draped between two objects; painted festoons on church walls in Spanish America often depicted flowers and ribbons strung between two urns.

Fleur-de-lys — (French)
A stylized iris flower, often used in heraldry. Also fleur-de-lis.

Franciscans — (English)
An order of Catholic priests; Franciscans were the first of the regular orders the Spanish crown sent to convert the indigenous people of the Americas. They arrived in Santo Domingo before 1500 and landed in New Spain in 1524. They began evangelization in Perú circa 1546, and founded the first Franciscan college in Quito, Ecuador in 1555. See also regular orders.


Galleon — (English)
A large ship for oceanic travel; the galleon was used extensively in the trade between Asia and Spanish America.

Gremio — (Spanish)
See guild.

Indigenous people who live in Paraguay and Brazil. In Spanish America, they were converted by Jesuits. Today, their language, Guaraní, is one of the official languages of Paraguay.

Guild — (English)
A professional association of skilled craftsmen, somewhat similar to a modern union. Painters, sculptors, carpenters, retablo makers, metal-workers all had their own guilds in Spanish America. One had to pass an exam to enter a guild, and membership was generally not open to indigenous artisans.


Hidalgo — (Spanish)
A male Spaniard of elite or noble status.

Hidalgo, Miguel — (Spanish)
A parish priest from the city of Dolores in Guanajuato, Mexico, he was a leader in Mexico’s fight for independence from the Spanish crown in the early 19th century.

Hispaniola — (English)
English version of La Española, the name given by Spanish conquistadors to the Caribbean island that is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Holy Week — (English)
The week beginning with Palm Sunday and ending with Easter. During this time, Christians commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his crucifixion and resurrection.


Iberia, Iberian — (English)
Relating to the Iberian peninsula, comprising modern Spain and Portugal.

Inka — (Quechua)
The empire built by a group of Quechua-speaking Andeans in the 14th and 15th centuries that stretched from Ecuador to Chile. “Sapa Inka” was the title of its supreme ruler, and its capital city was Cuzco. Also Inca.

Iturbide, Agustín Cosme Damián de — (Spanish)
A Mexican military leader, who emerged from the chaos of the fight for Independence to take power as Emperor Agustín I. An incompetent ruler, he was executed in 1824.


Jesuits — (English)
An order of Catholic priests; Jesuits were leaders in founding schools in Spanish America, educating both Amerindians and the Creole and Spanish elite. They first arrived in Perú in 1568, and in New Spain in 1572. See also regular orders.


Kero — (Quechua)
A drinking vessel, made of metal or wood, traditionally used in Andean feasts. Also qeru, quero.

Khipu — (Quechua)
Knotted cords used in the Andes to keep accounts. Also spelled quipu, qhipu, quipo.

Kiva — (Hopi)
A special room, often underground and/or in the central plaza of a pueblo, for political, ritual, and social gatherings by the Pueblo Indians. Called estufa by Spaniards.

See Curaca.


Latin America — (English)
The modern Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of the western hemisphere.

Lienzo — (Spanish)
Literally, “canvas,” The term often refers to indigenous paintings on cloth that show community lands and history.

Lima — (Spanish)
The capital city of the Viceroyalty of Perú.

Llama — (Spanish)
A small camel-like animal native to the Andes, used as pack animal and a source of meat and wool.

Lliclla — (Quechua)
A shawl, pinned in front with a tupu, worn by Andean women. Also lliqlla or lliklla.


Madonna — (Italian)
Mary, the mother of Jesus. She is often depicted as a young woman holding the infant Jesus on her lap.

Maguey — (Taíno)
An agave plant, whose sap was fermented to create pulque and whose fibers were used for textiles.

Malinche — (Nahuatl)
Also known as doña Marina. This woman, probably of Maya origin, was the primary translator for Hernan Cortés in his conquest of the Aztec empire. She was also his consort and bore some of the first mestizo children of Spanish America.

Manila — (English)
The main port city in the Philippines, and center of Asian-Spanish American trade in the colonial period.

Manila galleons — (English)
A fleet of ships sailing from the port of Acapulco in New Spain to Manila in the Philippines and back, trading New World silver for Asian luxury goods.

Mannerism — (English)
A European style of art and architecture that took form ca. 1520-1600, contemporaneous with the Counterreformation and the Spanish settlement of the Americas. Mannerism developed first in Rome, Italy but became known throughout Europe and, over time, in Spanish America. In visual terms, Mannerist art stretched forms beyond Renaissance canons. For instance, some Mannerist artists distort human proportions while others create architecture that is complexly off-balance.

Mascapaycha — (Quechua)
A headband, decorated with a red fringe, worn only by the Inka ruler in pre-Hispanic times. In the colonial period, it was worn by the ruling Inka elite in religious festivals and other official occasions. Also maskaypacha.

Indigenous people who today live predominantly in Central America, in the nation states of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. In pre-Columbian times, the Maya lived in distinct city-states, many of which persisted after the arrival of Europeans. Maya also refers, in a general way, to the languages spoken by these people.

Meco — (Spanish)
A derogatory term for an indigenous person who does not live in a settled community, has not converted to Christianity, nor accepted “civilized” modes of living. The term derives from the word “Chichimec” which was used in central Mexico in pre-Hispanic times to describe nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples in a negative light.

Mendicant — (English)
A member of a religious order that adheres to vows of poverty.

Mestizaje — (Spanish)
A descriptive word for the ethnic and cultural mixings in the New World.

Mestizo — (Spanish)
A person of indigenous and European descent. The female form is mestiza. See also casta.

Mexico City — (English)
The capital of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, founded upon the defeated Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

Ming Dynasty — (English)
A dynasty of rulers in China (1368-1644). In the last centuries of their rule, they became key players in the Pacific trade, importing Spanish American silver and exporting Chinese silks, blue-and-white ceramics and other luxury items through the Philippine city of Manila.

Mit’a — (Quechua)
A system, run by the Viceroy of Perú, of forced native labor for the silver mines of Potosí. Its laborers were called mitayo.

Mixtec — (Nahuatl)
An ethnic group of southern Mexico, and the language they speak. In pre-Hispanic times, the Mixtec developed a distinctive a painting style and form of glyphic expression, both of which continued in the early years after the Spanish conquest. Today Mixtec is still spoken in Mexico.

Monja coronada — (Spanish)
Literally a “crowned nun.” In the 18th century, these images depict nuns as the Brides of Christ, wearing large headdresses of flowers. Nuns in the viceroyalties of New Spain and Perú donned such headdresses when they took their vows and often again on their funeral biers.

Monstrance — (English)
A vessel, often made of gold or silver, in which the host, consecrated during a Catholic mass, is displayed.

Mudéjar — (Spanish)
A style of architecture and ornament derived from Islamic building and decor in Spain; the style was imported to Spanish America early in the colonial period, and was used in buildings throughout the colonial period.

Mulatto — (Spanish)
A multi-racial person of African descent. In Spanish America, according to the proscribed definition of the casta system, mulattos had one parent of African descent and one of European; in practice, peopled labeled as mulattos could have indigenous and multi-racial parents and/or ancestors. See also casta.


Nahua — (Nahuatl)
An ethnic group from Central Mexico whose pre-Hispanic empire, the Aztec empire, was defeated by the Spanish in 1521. The language they spoke, Nahuatl, was the indigenous lingua franca in the colonial period in New Spain, and is still spoken today in Mexico.

Nahuatl — (Nahuatl)
The language spoken by the Nahua, an ethnic group from Central Mexico whose pre-Hispanic empire, the Aztec empire, was defeated by the Spanish in 1521. The language, whose name means “clear speech,” is spoken today in some towns in Mexico.

Navajo — (Spanish)
One of the largest groups of indigenous people now living in the United States. Today the Navajo live primarily in the states of Arizona and New Mexico. Navajo also refers to the indigenous language of these people, which is also still spoken today. Also Navaho.

Nave — (English)
The main body of a church, running from the front door to the transept, or crossing. Its ceiling is usually higher than that of flanking aisles.

Neoclassical — (English)
An artistic style that sought to capture the restraint and geometry of the art of ancient Greek and Rome. Neoclassicism dominated the visual high arts from the late 18th century into the 19th in Spanish America.

New Granada — (English)
An independent kingdom established in 1717, carved out of the Viceroyalty of Perú. It embraced much of the modern nation of Colombia, as well parts of Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama and the Caribbean. Its capital city was Santa Fé de Bogotá.

New Spain — (English)
The name that Spain gave to her northern Viceroyalty, which comprised the modern regions of Mexico, Central America, Venezuela, and the Caribbean. The capital city was Mexico City.

Ñusta — (Quechua)
An indigenous Andean noblewoman, often descended from the rulers of the Inka empire.


Obraje — (Spanish)
A textile mill; its owner was an obrajero.

Ochava — (Spanish)
A eighth of a vara, approximately 4 inches.

Ogee Arch — (English)
Architectural term for arches formed by two S-shaped curves, with a pointed top. Most typically the arched form is convex towards the top, concave towards the bottom. Islamic architects often used this form.

Olmec — (Nahuatl)
An ancient pre-Columbian culture, which thrived in Central America, primarily in the Mexican states of Veracruz and Tabasco, ca. 1200 BCE-400 BCE. Olmec artifacts were collected and valued by later pre-Columbian peoples such as the Maya and Aztec.

Ordenanza — (Spanish)
An ordinance.

Order — (English)
Groups of priests or nuns within the Catholic Church who adhere to additional sets of rules governing their lives. The Augustinians, Dominicans, Franciscans and Jesuits were the most important religious orders in Spanish America.

A sacred spirit honored in the religious practices known today as Santería, Vodun, and Candomblé. With West African, and particularly Yoruba roots, orishas first came across the Atlantic with slaves forcibly brought to the Caribbean, Brazil and other parts of the Americas. Also Orixa.

Indigenous people of Central Mexico. Their indigenous language is also Otomí.


Pachamama — (Quechua) An earth deity from the Andes who, some believe, fused with the Virgin Mary and continued to be worshipped by Andeans in colonial times.

Paño azul — (Spanish) Blue cloth, usually from the textile mills of Quito, in the modern state of Ecuador.

El Paraguay — (Spanish) An expansive region bisected by the Paraná river, largely coterminous with the modern nations of Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil.

Parish — (English) A church district.

Patacón — (Spanish) A coin, usually silver, with a variable value.

Patron — (English) A person who employs an artist or architect to create a work of art or a building. Under a system of patronage, artists and architects work on commission.

Perú — (Spanish) The name Spain gave to her southern Viceroyalty. The Viceroyalty of Perú stretched across Panama and most of South America, with the exception of Venezuela, which was part of New Spain, and coastal Brazil, which was held by the Portuguese. The capital city of the viceroyalty was Lima.

Perulero — (Spanish) A Peruvian merchant who traded directly with markets in Europe, the Indies, and the Far East.

Peso — (Spanish) A silver coin, the principal unit of money in the colonies, weighing about 27 grams.

Petaca — (Spanish) A trunk or chest, often made of animal skin with metal fasteners.

Picota — (Spanish) A pillory.

Plateresque — (English) A sculptural and architectural style imported to Spanish America from Spain in the early 16th century, typified by abundant shallow surface carving.

Poncho — (Spanish) A blanket-like cloak, with a slit in the middle for the head.

Portal — (English) A doorway.

Posa — (Spanish) A small chapel that stood at the corner of church courtyards. Although not unknown in Europe, posas are typically found in churches built in New Spain in the early colonial period.

Potosí — (Spanish) A mining town, now in modern Bolivia, at the foot of the Cerro Rico, whose rich ores supplied much of the world’s silver during the colonial period.

Pre-Hispanic — (English) The time before America’s discovery and conquest by Spain; synonymous with pre-Columbian (before Columbus).

Presidio — (Spanish) A garrison or fort.

Print — (English). An image imprinted onto a piece of paper with a woodblock, or engraved metal plate.

Pueblo Revolt — (English) The most successful indigenous revolt against colonization in Spanish America. In 1680, the pueblos of New Mexico united and drove Spanish colonists and friars from their lands and communities. For twelve years, the Spanish were kept at bay. Only in 1692, did they reestablish a permanent presence in New Mexico.

Pueblos — (Spanish) Both a group of settled communities in the southwestern United States and the people who live in these towns. Today these communities are in New Mexico and Arizona, and include the Hopi pueblos, Zuni, Acoma, Santo Domingo, and Taos.


Quechua — (Quechua) An Amerindian language still spoken in the Andes. It was the lingua franca of the Inka empire.

Quetzalcoatl — (Nahuatl). A pre-Hispanic deity whose name translates to “Feathered Serpent.” Often the patron of rulers, he was worshipped across ancient Mexico.

Quincha — (Quechua) An Andean roofing technique using woven reeds covered with plaster.


Real — (Spanish)
A silver coin, weighing about 3 grams, worth an eighth of a peso.

Reconquista — (Spanish)
A term applied to a series of disjointed military campaigns (from 1085-1248, and again from the 1480s to 1492) in which the Christians of Iberia sought to gain political control of the peninsula from Muslim rulers. Although the Reconquista is often said to have ended with the conquest of the city of Granada in 1492, Muslims continued to live in Spain for at least another century, and forced Muslim expulsions from the peninsula were undertaken from 1609-1614.

Regular orders — (English)
Groups of priests and nuns within the Catholic Church. Members of the “regular” orders (from the Latin regulus, or rules) took distinct vows from the more common “secular” priests, who were under the authority of the regional bishop. In Spanish America, the Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, and Jesuits were the most prominent regular orders.

Relicario — (Spanish)
A receptacle, often a piece of jewelry or metalwork, for a holy relic, usually some part of the body or clothing believed to have been that of a saint.

Reliquary — (English)
See relicario.

Rescatar — (Spanish)
Practice of bartering for contraband in the Spanish American colonies.

Retablo — (Spanish)
A retable, or large backdrop for an altar in a church made of wood or masonry. In Spanish America, retablos traditionally framed sculpted images of saints and church figures or were painted with such images.

Rio Grande — (Spanish)
The river running through the southwestern United States and along the border of the modern nations of Mexico and the U.S. The river originates in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado and spills into the Gulf of Mexico at Brownsville, Texas. It was the backbone of much indigenous agriculture and settlement in northern Spanish America, particularly among Pueblos.

Rococo — (English)
A style of artistic production that flourished in Europe in the first half of the 18th century. Often linked to the regency and court of Louis XV in France, the term now evokes a style that featured pale colors, asymmetric and curving forms, dainty figures, and fantastic, hybrid compositions in painting, sculpture, and the decorative arts.

Ruán — (Spanish)
Cotton cloth with a colored design made in Rouen, France.


Salon de dosel — (Spanish)
A room in the wealthiest Spanish American homes with a canopy (dosel), under which were hung important portraits. These rooms were often furnished with expensive objects, including furniture, works of art, and imports from both Asia and Europe.

Santo — (Spanish)
A saint or statue of a saint.

Santo Domingo — (Spanish)
An important colonial city in the Caribbean. Set on the island of Hispaniola (La Española in Spanish), it was the first city built following European models, and home to the first university in Spanish America. In the 16th and 17th centuries, it was the seat of an Audiencia; today it is the capital of the Dominican Republic.

Sapa Inka — (Quechua)
The title of the supreme ruler of the Inka empire in pre-Hispanic times. The Sapa Inka was, according to historical documents, a male ruler. Inka queens were called coyas. Also spelled Sapa Inca.

Saqsawamán — (Quechua)
A large Inka structure on the hill above the city of Cuzco. It once served as a fortress and religious center; its recapture by Spanish forces in May of 1536 was a turning point in the war of Conquest. Also Saksawaman, Sacsahuaman.

Spanish America — (English)
The areas of the New World under Spanish control. From the 16th to 18th centuries, Spanish America comprised most of South America (except Portuguese-held Brazil), the Caribbean, Central America, and southern and western North America.

Spanish Armada — (English)
The primary fleet of ships used by the Spanish Crown for protection and military engagement. The famous armada sent by Philip II to invade England in 1588 was routed by Francis Drake.


Tagua nut — (English)
The seed of a palm, also known as a tagua, that grows in the Ecuadorian rainforests as well as in Panama, Columbia and Peru. Most tagua nuts are similar to walnuts in size, although they may grow as large as grapefruits. When dried, the nut interior becomes hard like ivory. It was, and still is carved by artisans. Also known as “vegetable ivory.”

Taíno — (Taíno)
A group of Amerindians inhabiting the Caribbean at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Talavera poblana — (Spanish)
Glazed pottery made in or near the town of Puebla de los Angeles in New Spain. Talavera is a pottery center in Spain, and one of the sources of the Spanish American ceramic tradition.

Tenochtitlan — (Nahuatl)
The capital city of the Aztec empire, now underneath modern Mexico City.

Tequitqui — (Nahuatl)
A term, meaning “laborer” or “tribute payer” in Nahuatl, enlisted by 20th-century scholars to describe the sculpture and architectural decoration created in New Spain in the 16th century that fused European motifs with indigenous craftsmanship.

Tercia — (Spanish)
A third of a vara, approximately 11 inches.

Tezontle — (Nahuatl)
A reddish volcanic stone used in buildings in New Spain.

Tlacuilo — (Nahuatl)
An indigenous scribe and painter. In the pre-Hispanic era, highly trained tlacuilos created pictorial books and other records for the Aztec court in Tenochtitlan, as well as for indigenous community leaders, priests, and high-status families throughout central Mexico.

Tlatoani — (Nahuatl)
An indigenous ruler in central Mexico in the 16th century, whose powers and election often followed pre-Hispanic traditions.

Tocapu — (Quechua)
Woven cloth with a design of small, individually patterned rectangles worn only by the highest native elite in the Andes. Also tokapu, toq’apu.

Toltec — (Nahuatl)
A pre-Hispanic ethnic group whose center was the city of Tula. In the 15th and 16th centuries, both before and after the conquest, Tula and the Toltecs were understood as paragons of high culture by indigenous people of Central Mexico.

Tomín — (Spanish)
A coin, worth about a real, a silver coin weighing about three grams.

Triptych — (English)
A painting made of three panels, usually linked with hinges so that the sides can fold over and cover the central panel. A common form for altarpieces.

Tupu — (Quechua)
A long pin, often with a decorated head, used by Andean women to fasten a lliclla.


Unku — (Quechua)
A sleeveless tunic falling above the knees, of uncut woven cloth, worn by Andean men.


Vara — (Spanish)
A unit of linear measure of approximately 33 inches.

Vault — (English)
In church architecture, the arched masonry roof.

Viceregal — (English)
Pertaining to the Viceroyalty, or the period during which Spanish America was a colonial subject, divided into viceroyalties.

Viceroy — (English)
The head of the largest administrative district (a viceroyalty) established by the Spanish crown in her colonies, second in power only to the king.

Viceroyalty — (English)
The largest administrative district established by the Spanish crown in her colonies. Its head, the viceroy, was second in power only to the king. In 1700, there were two viceroyalties: New Spain and Perú. The Viceroyalties of Nueva Granada and Rio de la Plata were carved out of these in the 18th century.

Vicuña — (Spanish)
A camel-like animal native to the Andes, prized for its soft and silken wool.

Visita general — (Spanish)
An official tour of inspection by a visitador, usually to take stock of an entire region. Censuses were often conducted as part of a visita general.

Visitador — (Spanish)
An official inspector for the Spanish government who would periodically check up on government officials.


Wak’a — (Quechua)
An Andean sacred shrine. Waka’s can be sites in the landscape, stones, sculpted forms, or mummy bundles. Also huaca.

Women of Strength — (English)
The “strong” women of the Old Testament, such as Esther and Judith, whose qualities were extolled in Proverbs 31.

Woodcut — (English)
A print made from a wooden block whose surface design would be rubbed with ink and then stamped onto paper.


Yerba mate — (Spanish)
A tea made from the leaves of the maté plant; mostly grown in Paraguay.

Zapotec — (Nahuatl)
An ethnic group inhabiting the modern state of Oaxaca in Mexico. Before the conquest, the Zapotec paid tribute to the Aztec empire.

Zemi — (Taíno)
A deified ancestor revered in the Caribbean. Zemis were among the first indigenous objects collected by Europeans in the New World and sent back as curiosities.

Zócalo — (Spanish)
A public square, often the main square in a Spanish American city.



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