Puebla’s residential Baroque architecture: 1685-1790

The most interesting residential building from the latter part of the seventeenth century in Puebla is the outstanding Casa de las Bovedas (The House of the Vaults) by architect Diego de la Sierra (1656-1711), finished in 1685. Sierra, a prolific architect, originally from Seville, who migrated and settled in Mexico City, created a masterpiece in Puebla, a city where he carried out many other commissions (see Figure 5.10). The residence follows the typical program of an upper-class poblano residence, which remained mostly unchanged during the viceregal period: namely, a two- or three-storied building, with the central courtyard connected to the street, with the lower story dedicated to a series of rooms with a street opening for rent, and interior rooms dedicated to storage or also for rent, and a back-service courtyard. The upper story acted as piano nobile (noble floor), containing the family rooms for socializing, the kitchen, and the private family chambers.

The house, commissioned by Diego Pelaez, a high-ranking church cleric, in 1684, turned out to be one of the most ingenious works of architecture in the city. In it, Sierra managed to design a building that energized poblano architecture, inaugurating the Baroque era for civic architecture by introducing unprecedented construction and ornamental solutions. The house derives its name from the vaulting employed throughout the residence as a roofing solution instead of employing the more straightforward, cheaper alternative of flat slabs supported with timber beams. The profusion of this roofing solution adds magnificence to the house’s interior spaces.

However, the house’s most original trait remains its decorative character. Indeed, around the main courtyard, in both stories, critical architectural elements, such as columns, arches, lintels, jambs, and vaults, were complemented with carved zigzagging lines - a Mexican Baroque substyle identified as barroco de estn'as moviles or moving fluting Baroque by Gonzalez Galvan.46 On window jambs, lintels, arch intrados, and pilasters, the lines were carved in stucco, while on columns and corner piers, made of basalt stone, the zigzagging lines were sculpted into the column shafts. The facade is outstanding on its terms, as it also exploits the notions of instability and movement. The lack of symmetry in the facade’s organization, with the main portal, pushed to the left east end, is in itself a statement of rebellion, as gates

Two details of the Casa de las Bovedas residence, Puebla

Figure 5.10 Two details of the Casa de las Bovedas residence, Puebla.

generally opened in the middle of the facade. The unorthodox character continues with the facade’s upper-level balconies and their eccentric combination of rustication, custom Corinthian pilasters, and triangular pediments inscribed in semicircular ones (similar to della Porta’s II Gesu pediments). The lower facade level has a plinth in gray basalt stone, while the rest of the facade is covered in a pattern of red brick in a herringbone pattern, interspersed with blue and white glazed ceramic tiles, a feature that appears to have been added later (see Figure 5.10).47

Another outstanding residence from the period is the House of the Count of Castelo, popularly known as the Casa de los Munecos or House of the Male Dolls. This palatial urban residence belonged to a prominent city politician and judge, Agustin de Ovando у Villavicencio, and was built toward 1792. This building stands out as one of the largest and most massive residences in the late 1700s, taller than the city hall when built (see Figure 5.11). Another outstanding feature is the close to twenty vignettes of male figures, in briefs, in different body poses, made of glazed ceramic tiles, scattered on the facade, which lends the residence its popular name. For many years, scholars saw in them caricatures of the city council aldermen. After struggling to obtain a permit for such a tall structure and finally obtaining it, the story goes that the vignettes stood as open defiance and mockery to city hall authorities for resisting to issue Ovando with a construction permit for such a tall structure.

However, recent scholarship argues these representations of Hercules represent the Ovando family, who identified with this mythological figure.48 The Ovando residence is outstanding in the city’s architectural landscape, as it epitomizes the criollo elite’s privileges and the tremendous inequity between Puebla’s wealthiest families and the overwhelming majority of the population, embodied in the building’s striking mass and height. The building is probably the first three-storied civic building in the city, but it also occupies almost half an urban block’s short end (see Figure 5.11). On the other hand, the residence’s facade also exemplifies the material application of the poblano Baroque’s material quartet. White stucco frames the balconies and windows, and brick arranged in a herringbone pattern and dotted with glazed ceramic tiles cover the walls, with the Hercules vignettes distributed in the second and third stories. The entry portal, on the other hand, is framed in basaltic stone. The entablature that crowns the whole ensemble is in itself wondrous and the facade’s formal highlight. It is an undulating entablature with a series of round pilasters extending below the entablature’s lower line, to turn into a series of small sculptures in stucco.

From the same period is the Casa de Alfenique or Sugar Candy House, which constitutes in the popular imagination of poblanos and other Mexicans up to this day, a paradigm of poblano Baroque architecture. With its flamboyant stucco ornamentation of rococo lineage lining its windows and balconies, this residence represents the pinnacle and mastery of this technique in Puebla, revealing its spatial and plastic possibilities. The swirls,

Detail of the facade of the Casa de los Munecos residence, Puebla

Figure 5.11 Detail of the facade of the Casa de los Munecos residence, Puebla.

volutes, rocailles, and vegetative motifs in bright white stucco resemble a baker’s fanciful ornamental creation, lending its famous name to the building (see Figure 5.12). The three-storied residential palace (the middle story is a mezzanine level, destined for the back-of-house activities and the services) was commissioned by the blacksmith entrepreneur Juan Ignacio Morales, who hired the architect Antonio de Santa Maria Inchaurregui to carry out the design. From a programmatic and spatial perspective, the residence, which is about a fourth of the size of the Casa de los Munecos, lacks the typical service courtyard at the back, somewhat unprecedented in poblano residential architecture. In contrast, the principal courtyard, reduced in size, still manages to articulate a residential program that reveals the criollo elite’s domestic lives toward the end of the viceregal period. The residence possesses a typical poblano kitchen, a small chapel that attempted to replicate the famed Rosary Chapel in miniature, and many other domestic life traits in Puebla’s late 1700s.

Puebla’s residential architecture during the 1600s and 1700s not only tracks the development of Baroque architecture in the city but also reveals the aspirations of a small elite class that, despite the economic downturn, maintained a sufficient grip on the economic and political landscape of Puebla to guarantee their privileged positions. The residential architecture

S.12 The fagade of the Casa Alfenique, Puebla

Figure S.12 The fagade of the Casa Alfenique, Puebla.

of this period by the criollo elite also speaks about how moneyed families in the city managed to express their pride in their patria chica, distinguishing themselves from other regional and very distinct architectural traditions, such as Mexico City’s, where residential architecture took on different avenues of expression. While Mexico City’s viceregal architecture is characterized by the porous, volcanic reddish stone, called tezontle, that covers many of its fagades, Puebla’s regional brand of Baroque architecture resides in the material quartet of red brick, basalt stone, glazed tile, and white stucco, and the ingenuity expressed by the city’s architects and master masons.

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