The Mock Encomium of Sister Chicaba: Cultismo Poetry of Luis Solér y las Balsas

In 1758, Luis Solér y las Balsas, a legal professor from Zaragoza, Spain, compiled his Vida de la Venerable Negra, la Madre sor Theresa Juliana de Santo Domigo, de feliz memoria.  His dilettante poem apparently praises the revered pious black nun, Sister Chicaba, whose official hagiography was published by the Dominicans in 1752 and reprinted 1756. Archived in the rare manuscript collection at the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture in the New York public library, his handwritten manuscript reads as a praise of folly that conforms to the conventions of the mock encomium. His 200 plus folios compose a rant about the unworthiness of Sister Chicaba as an exemplar religious subject, and, thus, informs the discussion about evolving racial prejudices in early modern Spanish culture.

Importantly, his work should be classified as cultismo poetry, also referred to as culteranismo because "it endeavors to create poetry by a means of culture"(Reyes 169). Created by Luis de Góngora, this genre worked to re-Latinize Spanish.  It employed lofty levels of satire, and changed word order and syntax. In situating Solér y las Balsas's poem within this genre, his mocking of Sister Chicaba's race and religious affiliation is clear.  This presentation closely reads his poetry and discusses the trouble with deciphering this poetic style.  Moreover, it locates his work within a broader context of competing poetic schools of early modern Spain, conceptismo and culturanismo, and plots lines of inquiry about evolving racist attitudes of the eighteenth century.   

Track: 

  • Spanish Peninsular Studies

Additional authors: 

Sarah Spoon