Other notable New World Renaissance architectural fragments in Puebla de Los Angeles
The number of civic Renaissance buildings beside the Casa del Dean must have been numerous in Puebla. The architect Francisco Becerra built other urban palaces in the city, as he once testified himself.84 One of these could well be the residence of Juan Lopez Mellado (on the present-day corner of 16 de Septiembre and 7 Oriente Streets, across from the Casa del Dean), a relative of Tomas de la Plaza. The facade of this residence presents a purist Renaissance facade that, in essence, comes across as a simplified version of the Casa del Dean’s.83 Still, it is true that time, destruction, and alteration to
Puebla’s vast architectural heritage have left few remnants of that period’s architecture overall. There are, however, three case studies worth mentioning: the portal of the Casa de las Cabecitas, the portal of Casa del que Mato al Animal, and the facade of the alhondiga.
The Casa de las Cabecitas was originally a residence dating to the first half of the sixteenth century, which belonged to a Spanish conquistador and city council alderman, Alonso Galeote.86 According to Manuel Toussaint, the portal is characterized by a “sober” Plateresque, although certain its characteristics are rightly Classical, too, like the roundels.87 The main portal, the residence’s only sixteenth-century element that has remained unaltered, consists of a flat arch with two sculpted stone medallions at each flank, portraying a man and a woman’s head in each (hence its name, the cabecitas or little heads), representations of Hercules and Hebe. The medallions are an identifiable trait found in palatial urban residences and civic buildings in Spain, such as the Archbishop’s Palace in Caceres. The arch’s imposts possess a hybridized set of sculpted reliefs of Plateresque and Indigenous inspiration, which reveal the stonecutters’ probable native background. The imposts are prolonged all across the jambs and divided into two horizontal tiers. On the upper tier, we see a set of floral or vegetative motifs while the bottom tier displays a series of diagonal bands with alternating feather-like and scale-like reliefs, reminiscent of pre-Hispanic sculpture, particularly that of central Mexican cultures, like the Nahua. At the intrados, the imposts end with Classical volutes. Further, above the arch’s frieze, a band with a series of sculpted wave-like ornaments crowns the portal’s entry. A very similar pattern appears in an engraving in Serlio’s Fourth Book, suggesting the designer’s employment of that treatise in the hybrid composition (see Figure 3.8).88
The Casa del que Mato al Animal is a rare architectural jewel. The building was originally a residence for the family of the conquistador Hernando de Elgueta, and later belonged to another army man, Francisco Mendez, who might have had the stone portal built. It is located steps away from the main square, it is dated around the mid-1500s and was labeled by Toussaint as Plateresque.89 The main portal is the only sixteenth-century element that remains, as modern interventions dramatically altered the rest of the building (see Figure 3.9).
A couple of scenes depicting hunting scenes, in relief sculpture, cover the entirity of the lintel and the jambs. In them, two hunters restrain dogs on leashes, the dogs have torn some animals to pieces, holding parts in their muzzles. The scene is set in abundant vegetation and small game, such as rabbits or hares, surround the scenes. The hunting scenes could have derived from Flemish or French tapestries, as Toussaint proposed,90 and the scenes, in some of their elements, do bear a resemblance to fifteenth- or sixteenth- century hunting depictions, such as those in the Devonshire hunting tapestries. A local folk tale tells the story of a young man of humble origin, who hunts a monster that is ravaging Puebla, and in exchange for his service, he
Figure 3.8 Entry to the Casa de las Cabecitas residence, late sixteenth century, located in downtown Puebla.
gets married to the daughter of a conquistador. However, the presence of hunting dogs and the implied violence of the hunting scenes might conjure a message that is related to conquest and subjugation, or more simply, the reliefs are a testament to the taste the owner had for hunting. Further, the Indigenous influence on certain ornamental elements in the composition was cited by Toussaint. For instance, the gate’s imposts depict birds pecking at pomegranates, with the birds’ stylistic features of possible native influence. The jambs’ bases also depict a series of rosettes which, Toussaint affirmed, were also of Indigenous inspiration (see Figure 3.9).91
Another relevant fragment dating from the sixteenth century is the facade of the city’s albondiga (see Figure 3.10). Although extraordinarily altered, the building still retains a few elements that reveal the presence of Renaissance architectural influences in the city in the mid-1550s. The building has existed since 1541, the result of the Puebla Region becoming an agricultural powerhouse that needed a public granary to control price gouging and control the distribution of grains. The facade is attributed to Claudio
Figure 3.9 View of the Casa del que Mato al Animal residence entry portal, dating from the sixteenth century, downtown Puebla.
de Arciniega, who lived and practiced in Puebla during part of the 1550s.92 The facade, which, as noted, has been extremely altered, still presents some elements that date from the sixteenth century. These are a pair of stone sculpted medallions or roundels, a pair of distinguishing foliage grotesques, which, shaped as brackets, are flanking the faqade’s central body in its upper story. The upper part of the facade, from a later date, has a central balcony while above it, a sculpted conquistador’s helmet crowns the city’s coat of arms, flanked in turn by two cherubim. At the top, a pilastered pediment crowns the facade (see Figure 3.10).93