In the three centuries of Spanish domination, architecture in Mexico followed the events it had in the motherland. However, the Mexican architectural forms remain distinct from the Spanish ones due to their particular imprint, mainly due to the indigenous artisans who already possessed, before the Spanish conquest, a great skill and a style of their own, of which the traces, if not the consequences, will also be found in the new imported forms. On the other hand, also the physical conditions in many regions of Mexico were similar to those of Spain and favored an equal development of architecture.
XVI century. – The architecture of the century. XVI has mainly medieval characters; there remain convents and churches of great simplicity. In front of the buildings there is an immense square or elevated cemetery, surrounded by a large crenellated wall: in the center stands a large cross. Such squares with the cross were actually the first Christian churches in America (cemeteries of the parish churches of Cholula, Tula, Actopan). The main entrance of the church opens in the center of one of the sides of the square; the convent, contiguous to the church, generally rises to the right of it and is always equipped with an external portico as a refuge for pilgrims and for the distribution of food and aid to the poor. On the opposite side of the convent or leaning against the facade of the church, there is the “open chapel” with one or more arches serving as a facade. It contains only a presbytery with an altar or, on the top, a pulpit which is accessed from the side of the Gospel. Four other chapels for funeral services, also open and built at the corners of the cemetery, complete the grandiose ensemble. All these chapels offer the most original mixture of all styles: Romanesque, in layout and structure; theplateresque, the ogival and a mixture of Christian and indigenous in the decoration. The indigenous builders, with their technique, welded and cast everything in a sui generis style, extraordinarily interesting (chapels in the cemeteries of Tlalmanalco, Atlarlauca, Actopan, Teposcolula, Huejotzingo and Calpan).
According to beautypically, the convents, with one or two floors, were surrounded on all sides by a cloister or courtyard with arcades. The churches, with a single very high nave, initially had a roof, then with a barrel or ogive vault, in the presbytery alone or throughout the nave, they have Plateresque portals, notably those of Acolmán, Yuririampúndaro and Actopan. Some have prominent towers (Actopan; Ixmíquilpan); but in many there is only a bell tower (churches of Yucatán). Of the gabled roofs, with a small horizontal plane in the interior, reminiscent of the wooden Mudejar ones of Spain, remains a last example in the Franciscan church of Tlaxcala.
Of the civil buildings of the century. XVI only remain the Plateresque facade of the residence of the governor F. de Montejo in Mérida, the arcades and loggias of the palace of J. Cortés in Cuernavaca, and a large part of the municipal building of Atotonilco de Tula.
In the century XVI the natives continued to practice painting in codices, in the form of writing or pictorial narration. The first painter of any importance to come from Spain was the Italian-speaking Flemish Simone Pereyns, author of the retable at the main altar of the church of the Franciscan convent in Huejotzingo. He worked between 1566 and 1616 and his works of brilliant color, solid and very good design, influenced all his contemporaries. The first Spanish painter born in Mexico was Giovanni de Arrué, author of the decoration of the main altar in the church of Coatlinchan, in Puebla. More important than the few preserved retables are the wall paintings of the monasteries, although many have been destroyed. Every part of the convents was decorated with frescoes, as in Epazoynca, with the representation of scenes from the Passion or biblical landscapes, framed by frames, medallions, etc. In these paintings, for the most part discolored, the characters of the various Spanish schools are strongly mixed with Flemish and Italian elements: everything is marked by a profound religious sentiment although sometimes they are only copies of European paintings or prints.
The sculpture of the century. XVI can be divided into two groups. In the decoration of the buildings, carved in stone, the indigenous technique stands out above all, which simplifies the forms making them flat and does not disturb the general lines of the architectural element to which they are applied. The second group includes the altar decorations (major or lateral carved in wood and gilded), of Plateresque style, with images with richly carved and gilded drapery: and almost all of them must have been executed by Europeans (high altars of Huejotzingo, Xochimilco and Yanhuitlán).
XVII century. – The sec. XVII marks the apogee of architecture in Mexico. The constructions were more or less subjected, in their plans, to the approval of Spain; and to this was due the introduction of the Herrerian style, which is revealed in the towers and in most of the facades of the cathedral of Puebla, in the rear facade of the cathedral of Mexico, in the church of the college of Saints Peter and Paul in the same city and in other parts of important buildings. This style, however, did not manage to acclimate in Mexico, because its austerity did not accord with the exuberance of the physical environment and with the love of the sumptuous that characterized the art of Mexico since the pre-Cortesian era.
In that century innumerable churches, convents, colleges and palaces were built; the dome made its appearance and the Baroque that gradually developed until culminating in the Churrigueresque style of the century. XVIII. The coatings of azulejos, or majolica tiles, came into use. The manufacture of these was planted (1630) in the city of Puebla by Spaniards, probably Sivigliani, and developed later by workers of the famous Spanish industry of Talavera de la Reina. The domes, the lower bands of the walls and even the entire walls of tiles begin to be covered and the architecture of Mexico took on that bright color so in harmony with that of the buildings of the pre-Cortesian period.
Apart from the cathedrals of Mexico and Puebla, of which in the century. The main parts were completed in the seventeenth century, and apart from some colleges, the most notable building of the century. XVII is the church and convent of S. Domenico in Oaxaca, which resemble, only in style, the chapel of the Rosary of S. Domenico, in Puebla and the chapel of the Holy Christ of Tlacolula in Oaxaca.
In the church of S. Domenico, with a barrel vault, the Baroque decoration of the interior is exceptional, rich in perforated scrolls and ribbons, with figures of saints in high relief and in the round: only white, black and white dominate it. ‘gold.
The stately home, with a large courtyard in the middle and, on the outside, balconies and a grandiose portal, is clearly defined in its forms and multiplies (houses in the cities of Puebla and Pátzcuaro).
The most notable artist in painting was Baldasar de Echave Orio, born in Spain, near Guipúzcoa, who came at the end of the century. XVI in Mexico, where he painted during the first half of the century. XVII. The most important works of him that are preserved in the gallery of the School of Fine Arts of Mexico originally decorated the altarpieces of the church of Santiago Tlaltelolco and of the professed church of the city of Mexico. The subjects of his paintings are preferably martyrs of saints, or scenes from the Passion and the life of the Virgin, always treated with good design and brilliant color, sometimes with Flemish detail. But the variety and also the contrasts in the technique of the paintings attributed to him is due, according to recent discoveries, to the fact that there were two other painters of the same name, whose works had been attributed to him alone.
To remember after the Echave is Luis Juárez, who was born and educated in Mexico. Beginning in 1610, he painted triumphal arches for the viceroys and pictures for the convents, such as that of La Merced in the city of Mexico. Of his many paintings are preserved in some of the fine arts school of Mexico gallery (Marriage of S. Caterina, The Prayer in the Garden, which is perhaps the last of his works). His painting is often confused with that of Baldasar de Echave, but it is more gentle and the ability to reproduce fabrics stands out, sometimes in a special way.
Of great importance for Mexico was the Andalusian painter Sebastiano de Arteaga, born in Seville in 1610, working in Mexico during the second half of the century. XVII. Few are the works of him that are preserved and very different from each other; and this has made it doubtful that he really did all the pictures that are usually attributed to him. In his last opera, The disbelief of S. Thomas, all the qualities of the Zurbarán stand out, to which it is also attributed; instead The wedding (which is found, like the previous painting, in the gallery of the School of Fine Arts of Mexico) could rather be attributed to the painter Baldasar de Echave.
The influence of Spanish painting, marked by Sebastiano de Arteaga, determined the Mexican painting of the century. XVII a second phase of which Massimo José Suárez was perhaps a mestizo representative. There are two periods in his works: one that follows the school of Echave the Elder but in which one sees the use of models in which the characteristics of the mestizo race can already be seen; the other that approaches the accentuated Spanish and vigorous chiaroscuro style of De Arteaga.
In the century XVII the sculpture retained the qualities already indicated for the previous century, that is the decorative character and the complete union with the architectural work. There is an accentuated baroqueism and a general mediocrity.