The arrival and reception of Renaissance architectural culture in Puebla de Los Angeles

In the year 1550, the first Viceroy of New Spain, Antonio de Mendoza (1494-1552), was about to finish his tenure. As part of his closing activities, he wrote a letter to his successor, Luis de Velasco у Ruiz de Alarcon (c. 1511-1564). Among the many issues discussed, the letter includes a statement made by Mendoza concerning “the building of monasteries and public works.”31 In essence, the viceroy tells his successor that “there have been a lot of errors [yerros] in their layouts [trazas], and other matters were not carried out properly, for not having anybody to look after them and direct them.”32 Mendoza did not specify the types of errors made, but he did blame them on a lack of professionals to supervise the works. In his words, “because neither in the tracing nor other issues, did they do things conveniently, given they [the mendicant missionaries] did not have anybody to understand them nor anybody to supervise the works.”33

This statement is quite revealing, given that Mendoza was well-read in matters of architecture and urbanism.34 Indeed, as he points out in this same letter, he provided the Franciscan Order with technical advice regarding the trazas or layouts of their monasteries. New Spain’s first viceroy is also known for having supervised the founding of the City of Valladolid (today Morelia) and for having possessed a copy of Leon Battista Alberti’s De re aedificatoria (On the Art of Building) and Vitruvius’ De architectura libri decern (The Ten Books on Architecture).35 Some of his commentaries regarding the founding of new towns, the building of roads, and the correct construction of buildings are evidence of how he perceived the construction of architectural and civil infrastructure as elements of an efficient political administration.36

In any sense, Mendoza’s critique was an “inaugural” statement of sorts. In other words, when Mendoza laments the lack of architects in New Spain, he was, indirectly, presaging the arrival of the first Spanish architects to the viceroyalty.37 In effect, in his letter, Mendoza advises his successor to attract architects from the Iberian Peninsula to New Spain. And indeed, Luis de Velasco’s tenure saw the arrival of the first Classically trained architect to the viceroyalty, Claudio de Arciniega (c. 1527-1593). He first settled in the City of Puebla in 15 5 5 38 (eventually moving to Mexico City), building a successful career as he took a leading role in some of the most important landmarks constructed at the time - including the cathedrals of Mexico City and Puebla. Arciniega’s work was characterized by a refined Classical design language, which became the staple of his work.

Soon, other architects followed suit, such as Francisco Becerra (c. 1540- 1605), another Spanish emigre who had a fruitful career in New Spain, known for his participation in the construction of Puebla’s cathedral. Becerra, unlike Arciniega, was more versatile, as he was able to design either in the Classical or in the Gothic style depending on the project or the client who required or requested it.39 Other Spanish architects or master masons active in Puebla in the latter part of the sixteenth century were Francisco Gutierrez and Pedro Lopez Florin. Gutierrez was a maestro mayor, or a master builder of the cathedral works in 1574, while Lopez Florin was a maestro de obra, somewhat akin to a city architect, in charge of the city’s waterworks and infrastructure from 1591 until 1624, which was the year in which he was named a maestro mayor for the cathedral works, the highest commission available to an architect at the time in Puebla.40 Another well- known Spanish architect active in Puebla at the time was Luis de Arciniega, brother to the famed Claudio, who settled permanently in Puebla. He, too, became a maestro mayor of the cathedral works around the year 1591.41

However, apart from recognizing the Spanish architects who practiced in Puebla, credit must be given to the native workers and architects who carried out the bulk of the labor and the design of lesser visible projects in the city. Professional construction activity and labor in sixteenth-century Puebla was, in effect, organized by a guild that followed ordinances decreed and enforced by the city council. The guild’s ordinances, titled Ordenanzas de los carpinteros у alarifes (Ordinances of Carpenters and Builders),42 were first issued in 1570 and ratified in 1605,1775, and 1800, with few changes made to the original text.43 Puebla’s ordinances for masons predated the Mexico City builder’s guild ordinances of 1599. But perhaps more importantly, Puebla’s ordinances not only allowed Indigenous masons to employ the titles of maestro cantero or maestro albanil but allowed them to practice the profession freely. In this, they differed from Mexico City’s guild ordinances, which banned native practitioners from taking the professional examination to become a master mason, but also of employing those professional titles.

Puebla’s mason’s guild ordinances specified that if an individual, a male in every case, wanted to practice and employ the title of maestro, he would have had to have taken the examination either in Puebla or in any of the “lands of the Kingdom of Castile.”44 The ordinances also specify all the subjects related to construction technologies the examinee had to know, and the building and engineering typologies that the individual had to demonstrate how to design, supervise, and execute. These included an assortment of different church building typologies (three-nave or octagonal planned, for instance), residential buildings of various stories, works of infrastructure such as waterworks, aqueducts, bridges, and even defensive infrastructure, such as fortresses and walls. The Puebla ordinances also differed from Mexico City’s in that they grouped the masons (referred to in the document as alarifes and albaniles) with the carpenter’s guild. As with masons, aspiring carpenters had to take an examination and know a catalog of various assortments of structural, mostly roofing, techniques, carpinteria de lazo,45 as well as all manner of furniture designs.

In practice, all the architects mentioned previously (e.g., Becerra, Arciniega, and Florin) who occupied the top posts in Puebla that were available to architects - namely, the position of maestro mayor or maestro de obra - were all Spaniards.46 However, since the city council allowed Indigenous builders to practice the profession freely, native builders carried out architectural commissions within their social spheres, which is to say, in their native barrios. Such is the case of the construction of a chapel dedicated to Santa Ana in the Indigenous barrio of the same name to the north of the city center, which was built in 1550 by a group of native builders.47 Additionally, the city council minutes abound with evidence of how Indigenous maestros directed all manner of works for the city, such as building waterworks, maintaining public infrastructure, and how they participated in the building of the city council building or the casas de cabildo.4S

It is essential to point out how the Ordenanzas suggest how a maestro would have to be knowledgeable in various architectural styles, such as Classicism and Mudejar. This is because the ordinances list the multiple arch and window typologies a practicing architect or examinee had to be able to design, such as Roman arches (referred to as arcos redondos in the text), multilobed (arco carpanel), or horseshoe arches (arco arabe). The ordinances also demanded that the examinee knew how to design and build both a ribbed and a Roman vault, revealing how patrons and clients must have requested designs that incorporated a mixed architectural vocabulary. This idea is corroborated in many of the architectural fragments dating from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in Puebla. These show a tendency to articulate facades and other ornamental-structural features employing Classical elements such as Roman arches, friezes, architraves, pedestals, and cornices but allowing, at times, Mudejar, Indigenous, or even late-Gothic idioms to complement their compositions. Examples would be the Casa del Dean facade, Classical but with Moorish windows, or the Casa del que Mato al Animal (House of the Animal Killer) portal, with its Indigenous and Plateresque reliefs sculpted on Classical lintel, jambs, and pedestals.

Indeed, in the sixteenth century, architectural ornamentation was classified by Kubler into three broad categories (medieval, “intermediate,” and Classical), which in turn were subdivided into categories that were either “purely” European or Spanish, Indigenous “adaptations” of those idioms, and a third category in which, according to Kubler, Classical idioms had been fully integrated into an array of “rich and varied models” that spread throughout New Spain.49 Kubler claims the Plateresque was the predominant style in Spain and, when transferred to New Spain, Plateresque variations offered the chance to express both late-Gothic and Italianate idioms. In Puebla, however, medieval architectural expressions are scarce, and the majority of sixteenth-century fragments tend to lean toward Classicism. The only exceptions to that are the lateral gate of the San Francisco Monastery, which has some late-medieval elements, as well as San Francisco’s groined vaults. The gate of a sixteenth-century residence, today highly altered and known as the Casa de las Cigiienas or Casa de las Garzas (The House of the Storks or Herons), also displays some elements of a Plateresque-medieval nature. However, the medieval ornamentation that Kubler found in an array of sixteenth-century mendicant monasteries scattered throughout Central and Southern Mexico either did not survive in Puebla or never existed. Instead, it can be firmly stated that Puebla was, from the sixteenth century, a city that adopted architectural Classicism and held on to it well into the first half of the seventeenth century.

 
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