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Volume 60 / Humanities


Colonial: General, Middle America, and the Caribbean

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

THE SCOPE OF SUBJECTS IN HLAS 60 encompasses a diversity of studies that augment knowledge about the architecture and art of important colonial centers. The works reviewed here provide discussions about the evolution of towns first settled by missionary orders, investigations of archeological data, analyses of lesser-known sites, debates concerning conservation efforts, and examinations of specific colonial works of art.

Current research attests to a continued interest in Spanish America's rich architectural legacy, but the pictorial traditions have not been neglected. In their research on carvings and murals of a precolumbian past, some scholars have explored aspects of postconquest syncretism. Others have either cataloged icons by important mannerist-baroque painters, or delved into subgenre categories of the decorative arts as an attempt to explain probable ornamental sources.

Several new studies have modernized methodological approaches and presented challenging avenues for future investigations concerning the history of urbanization (items #bi 00004184#, #bi 00004193#, #bi 00004195#, #bi 00004173#, #bi 00004176#, #bi 00004190#, and #bi 00004186#). Classical and colonial revival in secular monuments (18th–20th centuries) is a subject receiving attention (items #bi 00004174#, #bi 00004183#, and #bi 98011580#). Worthy of singular mention is a comprehensive book showing plans and panoramic views of Mexico's cities, with abundant information accompanying the plates (item #bi 99000094#). Very fine surveys are always welcome (items #bi 00004181#, #bi 98011569#, #bi 00004189#, and #bi 00004218#), and the proceedings of a 1994 colloquium produced a fascinating ensemble of essays related to the topography of Mexico City and the transformation of its landscape from the Spanish conquest to the colonial epoch (item #bi 00004205#).

Of special interest is the focus upon the order of the Friars Minor in New Spain, which embraces such important topics as the growth and complexion of Spanish missions, daily life in the monastery of San Francisco in Querétaro, and the impact of Franciscan spirituality (items #bi 00004175#, #bi 00004217#, and #bi 00004196#). Also worthy of note are architectural studies pertaining to Oaxaca, particularly the renovation of Santo Domingo de Guzmán (item #bi 00004187#). The restoration of the Cathedral of Mexico has yielded significant information (item #bi 98011571#), but by far the most spectacular publication in this section is a sumptuously illustrated discussion of the Palace of the Archbishop (item #bi 98011589#). Other texts also address Mexico's precolumbian heritage. Notably, intriguing commentaries accompany works about the Casa del Marqués del Apartado in Mexico City and San Juan de Tlayacápan in Morelos (items #bi 00004215# and #bi 00004216#). Even a recent short account about the Basilica of Guadalupe contains relevant material relating ancient female goddesses with the tilma of "La Guadalupana" (item #bi 98011588#).

Of exceptional merit is a publication concerning 17th-century retablos in Querétaro (item #bi 00004219#). Yet another text marks an even more dynamic threshold in defining the stylistic complexion of baroque Mexico. This book centers on the collection of paintings housed in Iowa's Davenport Museum of Art, and its informative entries on colonial titans are accompanied by superb illustrations (item #bi 00004197#).

By far the most sumptuous edition on Mexican painting reviewed this biennium is a long-awaited monograph on Cristóbal de Villalpando, which does not disappoint and sets a high standard for needed tomes on significant masters (item #bi 98011590#). As usual, additional entries feature the decorative arts of lacquer, nacre, and embroidery (items #bi 00004221#, #bi 00004191#, #bi 98011572#, and #bi 00004182#). Useful additions to the literature on religious art are books on Querétaro sculptures and colonial holy cards (items #bi 00004221# and #bi 00004177#).

With respect to art and architecture of Central America and the Caribbean, an important publication on La Merced in Antigua, Guatemala, contains lavish illustrations of its architecture, retablos, and treasures (item #bi 00004196#). Books about colonial Cuba provide invaluable references (items #bi 00004212#, #bi 00004199#, and #bi 00004179#). A conference in Cartagena in 1996 yielded important essays about forts of the Caribbean, constituting a significant reference for military architecture (item #bi 00004214#).

The historical studies included in this section are plentiful and varied in scope, and many editions reflect a greater awareness of the visual impact provided by color plates or sharp b/w photographs. This trend, combined with an apparent commitment to serious analysis of images and ideas, augers well for future publications not only on colonial Mexico, but also on Central America and the Caribbean. A note of appreciation is given to Debra Lavelle, an MA candidate at George Washington University, for her collaboration in the preparation of this chapter.

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