Manco Capac, First Inca

Although indigenous people ranked below Spaniards in Spanish America’s social order, direct descendants of pre-Hispanic nobility were afforded certain political privileges, including the right to hold office in local government. In order to legitimize claims to noble lineage in the viceroyalty of Peru, members of the Inca elite often conspicuously displayed Europeanized portraits of their ancestors, the fourteen ancient Andean rulers, in their homes.

The Inca had no pictorial portraiture tradition before the conquest. Soon after European contact, however, series of Inca kings painted by local artists in European portrait styles started to appear in indigenous and Creole inventories. The bust-length portrait series to which this painting belongs is based on a 1615 Spanish engraving.