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The shallow crustal Torres del Paine Intrusive Complex in southern Patagonia offers an opportunity to understand the chemical evolution and timing of crystallization processes in shallow plutonic rocks. It is characterized by hornblende-gabbros, gabbronorites, monzodiorites and granitic plutonic rocks. The exceptional exposure of the intrusion permits the identification of two structurally and petrographically different zones. Layered gabbronorite, olivine-bearing pyroxene–hornblende gabbronorite and monzodiorite forming vertical sheets and stocks in the west are referred to here as the feeder zone. These mafic rocks are in vertical contact with younger granitic rocks on their eastern border. The eastern part is a laccolith complex. It is characterized by three major units (I, II, III) of granitic rocks of over 1000 m vertical thickness; these are underlain in places by a sequence of hornblende-gabbro sills intermingled with evolved monzodiorite granite. Chilled, crenulated margins as well as flame structures between gabbroic rocks and monzodiorites suggest that the mafic sill complex remained partially molten during most of its construction. Bulk-rock major and trace element data indicate that the Paine mafic rocks follow a high-K calc-alkaline to shoshonitic differentiation trend. The parental magmas were basaltic trachyandesite liquids, with variable H2O and alkali contents. The majority of the feeder zone gabbronorites have high Al2O3 contents and positive Eu and Sr anomalies, consistent with accumulation of plagioclase and efficient extraction of intercumulus melt. The mafic sill complex largely lacks these cumulate signatures. Comparisons of the intercumulus groundmass in the hornblende-gabbros with intra-sill dioritic stocks and pods reveal similar rare earth element patterns and trace element ratios indicating incomplete extraction of evolved interstitial liquids. The Sr, Nd and Pb isotopic compositions of the mafic and granitic rocks exhibit ranges of 87Sr/86Sr of 0·704–0·708, εNd +3·8 to −1·2, 206Pb/204Pb 18·61–18·77, 207Pb/204Pb 15·67–15·67 and 208Pb/204Pb 38·56–38·77. Crystal fractionation and assimilation–fractional crystallization modelling, combined with high-precision U–Pb dating of zircons, indicates that the western feeder zone gabbronorites are linked to the uppermost Paine granite (granite I), whereas the mafic sill complex is younger and not directly related to the voluminous granite units II and III. These results are interpreted to indicate that crystal–liquid separation is facilitated in subvertical, dynamic feeder systems whereas subhorizontal sill complexes are inefficient in separating large volumes of mafic cumulates and complementary felsic rocks.