Theaters of Conversion: Religious Architecture and Indian Artisans in Colonial Mexico / Edition 1

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Mexico's churches and conventos display a unique blend of European and native styles. Missionary Mendicant friars arrived in New Spain shortly after Cortes's conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521 and immediately related their own European architectural and visual arts styles to the tastes and expectations of native Indians. Right from the beginning the friars conceived of conventos as a special architectural theater in which to carry out their proselytizing. Over four hundred conventos were established in Mexico between 1526 and 1600, and more still in New Mexico in the century following, all built and decorated by native Indian artisans who became masters of European techniques and styles even as they added their own influence. The author argues that these magnificent sixteenth and seventeenth-century structures are as much part of the artistic patrimony of American Indians as their pre-Conquest temples, pyramids, and kivas. Mexican Indians, in fact, adapted European motifs to their own pictorial traditions and thus made a unique contribution to the worldwide spread of the Italian Renaissance.

The author brings a wealth of knowledge of medieval and Renaissance European history, philosophy, theology, art, and architecture to bear on colonial Mexico at the same time as he focuses on indigenous contributions to the colonial enterprise. This ground-breaking study enriches our understanding of the colonial process and the reciprocal relationship between European friars and native artisans.

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Editorial Reviews

Missionary friars arriving in Mexico in the early 16th century introduced European architectural and visual art styles to those of the native people. Under the direction of the friars, 400 conventos were built in Mexico during a 75-year period, as special architectural theaters for use in their proselytizing. The native Indian artisans who built these structures also incorporated their own tastes and pictorial traditions. Edgerton (art history, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts) analyzes the blend of European and native styles in these structures, which represent a unique contribution to the worldwide spread of the Italian Renaissance. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826322562
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 1,242,087
  • Product dimensions: 8.30 (w) x 10.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Samuel Y. Edgerton is the Amos Lawrence Professor of Art History at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, and the author of numerous books and articles.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
List of Illustrations
Introduction: Art as a Tool of Christian Conversion 1
Ch. 1 The Millennium of the Mendicant Friars 13
Ch. 2 The Cross and the Tree: The Christian Convento as Indian Cosmos 35
Ch. 3 The Arch and the Cave: Open Chapels in the Yucatan 73
Ch. 4 Indians and Renaissance Art: Fray Pedro de Gante's School of Art at San Jose de Los Naturales 107
Ch. 5 Christian Murals by Indian Artists 129
Ch. 6 The Convento as Theater: Medieval Autos and Nahua Neixcuitilli 155
Ch. 7 Stage and Scenery 173
Ch. 8 The Cloister as Theater: Adam and Eve Lost in Aztec Paradise 207
Ch. 9 The Convento as Theater of Memory 237
Ch. 10 "El Dorado": The Desolate Desert Conventos of New Mexico, 1598-1700 247
Ch. 11 Religious Architecture in "Those Most Remote Provinces" 271
Notes 299
Bibliography 330
Index 345
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