Puebla’s Baroque culture

Up to this day in the Mexican popular imagination, Puebla is identified as a city with a Baroque identity. This is presumably apparent in such traits as its lavish and elaborate cuisine, which blends a series of ingredients, practices, and flavors of both local and European origin. At the same time, another popular reference to Puebla’s “baroqueness” is its lavish and opulent architectural character, recognized by the layperson and the specialist alike, to the point that famed Mexican art historian Manuel Toussaint referred to Puebla as Mexico’s Baroque city par excellence.19 However, to label Puebla’s viceregal culture as Baroque without reflecting on that term’s significance could be problematic. This is because the Baroque in Spanish America, identified by Hispanic scholars as barroco iberoamericano or barroco americano,

requires European, mainly Spanish, notions of Baroque culture to be deciphered since it originated from it. Nevertheless, once nestled in the Spanish American territories, it adopted regional traits defined by a series of cultural expressions - including architecture - that provided it with a unique character. In this sense, the Spanish American Baroque, or rather, the various “baroques” (there are distinct qualities to the novohispanic Baroque, as opposed to the Andean Baroque, for instance), adopted regional characters but participated, at the same time, in transatlantic and global exchanges.

Thus, the Spanish American Baroque is not, like its European counterpart, manifested in courtly displays of monarchic power, as the American viceroys lacked veritable courts and had limited power compared to European sovereigns. However, the Spanish American Baroque shares the effervescent expression of religious faith with its European counterpart that translated into ritualistic and theatrical displays in art and everyday life. Further, while counter-reform European Catholicism placed its discourse of action on the Protestant advance, in the Spanish American territories, as Gutierrez stipulated, where the Protestant threat to Catholic orthodoxy was mostly absent, Baroque religious effervescence was instead a “deepening” (profundizacion) of evangelizing programs based on the employment of novel “instruments of persuasion.”20

Thus, the barroco iberoamericano will appear recognizable to anybody familiarized with its European counterpart by any measure. However, at the same time, the differences between the Baroque in the Spanish American territories and Europe’s become ever more profound the more we look to encapsulate them utilizing Eurocentric canons, their limitations proving, at specific points, ill-equipped to understand the novohispanic context.

In this sense, material expressions, such as architecture, ornamentation, and urban public festivities, all discussed in this chapter, are crucial in fleshing out the Baroque character of novohispanic and poblano identities. The novohispanic Baroque period was when narratives and discourses that defined and expressed regional identities (a concept termed in Spanish patria chica or little homeland) became consolidated. That is certainly the case with Puebla de los Angeles. As discussed in Chapter 2, the process of defining the city’s mythology began in the sixteenth century with the chronicle of the city’s founding, written by Toribio de Benavente Motolinia, which remained unpublished during the viceregal period. Nevertheless, other Franciscans, such as Juan de Torquemada and Agustin de Vetancurt, who did publish their accounts of Puebla’s founding myth, primarily employing Motolinia’s account, managed to popularize and aggrandize it.

In the 1600s, different versions of Puebla’s mythological narrative continued to be written, incorporating the chronicles of, among many, Gil Gonzalez Davila, a Spaniard who never set foot in the Americas, who narrated Puebla’s mythological origin, the role played by angels in the process, and the peculiar nature of Puebla’s coat of arms. On more than one occasion, Bishop Palafox also highlighted in his vast writings the supposed angelic and heavenly character of Puebla de los Angeles.21 The 1700s, on the other hand, was the period that saw the writing of a series of historical chronicles of the city (which included descriptions of architectural landmarks), such as those by Mariano Fernandez de Echeverria у Veytia and Diego Bermudez de Castro, among others. Perhaps more importantly, however, Puebla’s mythological founding and heavenly origin were, at least since the late 1500s, a prevalent oral narrative tradition that remained widely popular during the rest of the viceregal period and beyond it.22

 
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