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Volume 54 / Humanities


Colonial: General, Middle America, and the Caribbean

BARBARA VON BARGHAHN, Professor of Art History, George Washington University

THE MAJORITY OF ENTRIES THIS YEAR must be perceived as significant contributions to the history of art. Not only were many books published with substantially improved color reproduction, but also the quality of research was clearly evident by the documentation of sources, select bibliographies and informative notes.

While the scope of subjects ranged from studies of principal monuments to encyclopedic volumes focusing upon specific periods of art in New Spain, particularly impressive was the attention given to neglected areas, such as iconography, portraiture, and stylistic crosscurrents with the motherland.

The handsome seven-volume series Arte novohispano should be highlighted because of the overall excellent coverage of topics and superb color plates. Also noteworthy were the illuminating studies of renowned edifices, such as the Cathedral of Morelia (item bi92-19190), the Cathedral of Oaxaca (item bi 93012880), the Cathedral of Mexico (item bi 91012900), Santa Prisca in Taxco (item bi 92019033), San Agustín de Acolman (item bi 93012905), and San Nicolás Tolentino de Actopan (item bi 92019031). Some publications about viceregal paintings in museums and ecclesiastical institutions deserve singular comment because of the lucid essays and excellent plates: Museo Nacional del Virreinato (item bi 92019192), Querétaro (item bi 92019035), San Luis Potosí (item bi 92019025), Hidalgo (item bi 92019454), Michoacán (item bi 93001299), and Guatemala (item bi 93001291). Current publications also include important investigations about the tilma of the "Virgin of Guadalupe" (items bi 93001295 and bi 92019036).

There are rich mines for research that remain a desideratum for the future. For instance, monographs with sharp color plates that would serve to define the sources and stylistic evolution of key artists who formed the Mexican School of painting are long overdue. In addition, as there are now sufficient encyclopedic texts, it is time to chronologically cluster and assess paintings by renowned masters and their disciples. Resolving problems in connoisseurship may be a challenging task, but current scholarship indicates it can be accomplished. With respect to illustration captions, one would welcome more daring in assigning reasonable dates to retables by preeminent artists, and attention should be directed to providing at least approximate sizes. Furthermore, bilingual publications would accelerate dissemination of knowledge about colonial Mexican art in the US.

Artistic crosscurrents between Middle America and other colonial centers in the New World remain to be addressed. Since members of religious orders - unconfined by geographic parameters - travelleled between the viceroyalities established by Spain, a shift towards comparative analysis might bear fruit. In addition, there are too few iconographical studies of art commissioned by these erudite patrons of the Church, who did maintain contact with humanist Seville.

The entries for this year are of such exceptional merit that this brief essay cannot do justice to the surfeit of commendable texts which have been published recently. As in HLAS 52, due to the Handbook's space limitations the great majority of applicable journal articles could not be included here. Readers are encouraged to consult the many pertinent essays appearing in vols. 59-64 of the Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas (México: Univ. Nacional Autónoma de México, 1988-1993). These scholarly articles should be checked because they encompass the macrocosmic areas of vital research which will eventually be presented in monographic form.

In completing this review of recently published books and articles, the contributing editor gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Mr. Christopher Wilson, PhD candidate in art history at George Washington University.

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