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Volume 62 / Humanities


Colonial: General, Middle America, and the Caribbean

BARBARA VON BARGHAHN, Professor of Art History, George Washington University

THE REFERENCE ITEMS in this edition present a spectrum of topics related to the artistic heritage of Mexico and its neighboring regions. Historians have made new forays into the important subject of amalgamation occurring in the wake of the 16th-century conquest. Their investigative work about the convergence of Indian and Spanish cultures has contributed to a better understanding of the precolumbian impact upon the evolution of colonial art. Art of the Aztecs and their predecessors has received attention. Especially noteworthy are the resplendently illustrated investigative studies coordinated by Beatriz de la Fuente et al. (items #bi2002004792# and #bi2002004791#). Interpretive literature on the legacy of the Mexican mural tradition provided by Jorge Alberto Manrique is the second of a projected five-volume set about contemporary art (item #bi2004001779#). Additional survey books about ancient Mesoamerica by Mary Ellen Miller with their clear reconstructions and floor plans of significant monuments augment our knowledge of the diverse cultures that flourished prior to the arrival of the conquistadors (items #bi2004001777# and #bi2002004812#). An arresting, well-documented study by Constantino Reyes-Valerio plows new ground in discussions about syncretism, with its cataloging of indigenous designs and their application to colonial esthetics of the 16th century (item #bi2004001773#). Focus upon La Guadalupana continues to be observed in scholarly research (items #bi2002004802# and #bi2004001780#), and these tomes offer not only well-defined photographic images and excellent details, but also scientific scrutiny of the revered tilma that is intelligible to the layman.

Although iconographical analysis of symbolism in sacred art remains abbreviated in monographs that have been published, a catalogue raisonné about the master Diego de Borgraf by Fernando Rodriguez-Miaja is superbly documented (item #bi2002004790#). In addition to stunning illustrations, it contains useful information about Flemish masters active during the 16th and 17th centuries. For scholars seeking sharp color illustrations of select paintings by Miguel Cabrera and Juan Correa, the Círculo de Arte series may be small in size, but the cycle is a welcome addition to our study of singular titans (items #bi2002004815# and #bi2002004814#). Monographs on major masters of Mexico remain a desideratum, as encyclopedic picture books continue to be published with greater frequency.

Several general books on 17th- and 18th-century Puebla merit more than a passing glance. The architecture and decoration of the Cathedral of Puebla is the subject of 17 essays (item #bi2002004811#), and by the same publisher, a variety of cultural topics are considered in an edition about Baroque Puebla (item #bi2004001774#). A small exhibition catalog on religious art in the collection of Puebla's Benemérita Universidad Autónoma provides several illustrations of sacred and profane subjects (item #bi2002004808#). The Viceregal art of Chiapas, coordinated by Roberto Sepúlveda, covers a range of art over four centuries (item #bi2002004786#), and Mexican restoration and conservation of art in diverse churches and museums is the topic of a sumptuously illustrated catalog edited by Efraín Castro Morales (item #bi2002004789#). Baja California is investigated in a study about mission churches (item #bi2002004801#), and is also the region featured in a book pertaining to collections of art housed within prominent museums (item #bi2002004806#).

Attention should be drawn to a few thematic texts, including an English translation of Serge Gruzinski's "Images at War," with commentaries about the sociopolitical power of images in a multicultural society (item #bi2004001775#). Edited by Peter Kreiger, a critical study of "Art and Science" contains a corpus of nearly 30 erudite essays (item #bi2004001770#) that should have an impact upon several areas of current scholarship. The ever-popular Castas theme is the centerpiece of a study by Magali Carrera (item #bi2004001771#), which augments literature about the social mixture that was 18th-century society. Probably one of the most notable contributions in the investigation of Mexican art is a monumental analysis of woodcuts and copper engravings in New Spain from 1539 until 1821 (item #bi2004001782#), which includes a plethora of plates as well as lists of recorded engravers and printers.

Regarding books about art outside of Mexico, a catalog of religious art in Honduras contains a preface by Marió Felipe Martinez and magnificent photographs by Pablo-Martel (item #bi2002004788#).

Cultural analysis now seems to be incorporating new methodologies and inventive approaches, with the added benefit of improved photographic records. Perhaps the next group of publications reviewed by HLAS will contain more monographs and iconographical studies of art and monuments, in addition to the familiar areas of scholarly debate. A note of appreciation is given to Emily Burns, MA candidate at George Washington University, for her collaboration in the preparation of this review.

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