Vicente Escobar, Portrait of José Jackes Quiroga, n.d., oil on canvas


In addition to various factions of white creole elites, Escobar painted an intriguing portrait of a mulatto musician known as José Jackes Quiroga. Dressed in an elaborate suit, Quiroga sits next to a table with the tools of his trade: sheet music, quill and ink pots, and flute. He most likely directed an orchestra that played the contradanzas and minuets popular during daily creole soirees. To date, Quiroga is the only known free person of color – perhaps an émigré from Saint Domingue given his name – that Escobar painted. Through his tools, Escobar marks Quiroga’s musical expertise, accomplishments that resonate with Escobar’s career as a portraitist.

Information on Quiroga is scarce, but as he had the means to commission a portrait, he undoubtedly belonged to what the historian Pedro Deschamps Chapeaux calls a “bourgeoisie of color” (Deschamps Chapeaux 1971, 15). The group often comprised men and women who belonged to the battalions of mulattos and blacks (local Spanish militia units), like members of Escobar’s own family. Many of them who worked successfully in trades that whites deemed ignoble and refused to pursue. Deschamps Chapeaux also describes free people of color, like Escobar and Quiroga, as part of the “social ascension” of blacks into new fields beyond the manual trades that included domains like literature and journalism (Deschamps Chapeaux 1971, 19). Escobar represents the tools of Quiroga’s social ascension in a slave society — thereby echoing his own, similar, trajectory.