José Campeche: Renowned Visual Artist

The name might not sound familiar, but José Campeche was a visual artist from Puerto Rico who not only gained local respect but also international fame. He is said to be the founder of visual painting in Puerto Rico. José Campeche became one of the most important painters of the Americas and has left behind a legacy that is still marveled at today. Many still name José Campache as one of the most brilliant and talented rococo artists who ever lived.

José Campeche
Luis Paret was a Spanish painter who was exiled to Puerto Rico. Between the years of 1775 and 1778, Campeche studied with him and perfected his skill and natural talent. Paret taught Campeche how to control his colors and a variety of techniques. These lessons helped Campeche develop his own style and he became known for his realistic paintings and extreme attention to detail. He began producing a variety of work that documented history, and depicted many social and political changes in Puerto Rico. He painted religious works and was commissioned to do portraits of well-known figures. Some of his most famous works of art include Saint John the Baptist, Virgin de la Soledad de la Victoria, The Sacred Family, Our Lady of Bethlehem, The Shipwreck of Power, The Bishop of San Francisco de le Cuerda, The Vision of Saint Anthony, and The Virgin of the Rosary. He also painted portraits of Miguel A. de Ustariz, Juan Alejo de Arizmendi and Ramon de Castro.

José Campeche was born in the city of San Juan in 1751, to Maria Jordan y Marques and Tomas de Rivafrecha y Campeche. His father was born in Puerto Rico, while his mother was from the Canary Islands, and he was therefore referred to as a “mulatto” because of his mixed nationality. Campeche learnt a lot from his father, who himself was a decorator, painter and did restoration work to art pieces.

By the time José Campeche passed away in 1809, he left behind between four to five hundred paintings, which can be found in galleries around the world, churches, private collections and museums. Some of his work can be viewed in the Dominican Convent located in Old San Juan in the José Campeche room, which is dedicated to his life’s work. Schools, avenues, musical compositions and other art work have been named in his honor. He was laid to rest at the San José Church, also located in Old San Juan.