The first traces of Cuban art appeared at the turn of the 17th century, taking the form of paintings on church walls, wooden substrates or decorative tapestries, mainly with religious themes. The first documented painter was Juan Camargo.
In late 17th century and early 18th century, a variety of baroque (called Andalusian baroque) appeared on the island with the arrival of the first Spanish settlers. In baroque religious painting intense effects of chiaroscuro and the presentation of mystique and symbolic subjects were extremely important (e.g. in Nicolás de la Escalera’s works, 1734-1804). He followed Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's example, who mainly followed religious themes, focusing on idealized pictures of the Holy Family. His paintings usually show expressive faces of children.
The dynamic development of the island, dubbed “brown gold mine” due to its scents of the tropics and coffee, attracted high-ranking officials from Europe. Their dream was to leave a souvenir to the future generations - family portraits depicting lavish clothes and coats of arms, which testified to their noble origin. Examples include paintings by Juan del Río who played with chiaroscuro (like Nicolás de la Escalera) and tried to catch the rich look of people who lived in Cuba. He painted the portrait of Don Luis Ignacio Caballero, the then mayor of Havana, a Spanish citizen who was depicted together with his son on a painting dedicated to his wife María Gertrudis González de la Torre.