The Colonial Period 

Portrait of Hernan Cortes, 16th cent  anonymous


The Spaniards renamed Tenochititlan 'Mexico City' and rebuilt it as the capital of Nueva Espana ( New Spain ). Cortes granted his soldiers encomiendas ( land grants )which granted an entire town and its Indian population to an encomendero  as the treasure hoped for after the conquest of the Aztecs did not amount to much as much of it had been lost in the retreat of Noche Triste .




Cortes and his men flee the Aztec capital during the La Noche Triste

The banner of Cortes


With the Spanish conquest the arts of Europe came to Mexico . First Gothic forms, then baroque and ultrabaroque . Franciscan and Augustian monks, with the help of local Indians built churches and monasteries throughout the country . The baptism of Indians began with the march of Cortes . The hand of God was seen in the discovery of Mexico, a gift from God for freeing Spain from the Moslems, who were still viewed as a menace. The person ultimately responsible for all the souls in the New World was Charles V, King of Mexico and the Holy Roman Emperor. Charles V took this charge seriously, and was concerned for the physical and spiritual welfare of the Indians




The friars spread out into the country, often being the first Europeans to explore an area . They built fortress missions across New Spain .Nine million were baptized by 1537. For some friars it was not unusual to baptize 4,000 Indians a day . The friars need churches for all these new Christians and a uniquely Mexican architectural form was created to accommodate these large numbers of new converts . This was the open chapel or capilla abierta, which were covered over in time to create religious complexes such as the one at Cuilapan. By 1540, 50 such churches had been built .The influence of the Indian artisans can be seen in the elaborate altarpieces and walls and ceilings of churches which overflow with detail as temples were in the pre-conquest era .

The Virgin of  Guadalupe


Why was Mexico so quickly converted ? There were some similarities that made conversion easier such as the cross which was a symbol for the god of rain in Mesoamerica and the crucifixion of Christ as a symbol for sacrifice needed for rebirth . The Catholic reverence for saints, with their holidays and elaborate  religious processions were similar to Mesoamerican practices . The country's patron saint is the Virgin of  Guadalupe, who made her appearance to Juan Diego on the site of an Aztec shrine of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin in 1531 on a hill outside of Mexico City . She was officially declared the patron saint of Mexico after she stopped an outbreak of plague in the city in 1737 .Her shrine there attracts thousands of pilgrims daily . Many  anthropologists say she represents a synthesis of Catholic and pre Columbian beliefs .

Colonial Architecture


The Spanish divided the huge area under their control in North, South and Central America into five vice royalties . The architectural styles differ in the vice royalties depending on local conditions and there was no homogeneous style running through all the empire . Baroque art in Mexico city and Cuzco, for example, are not the same .

stone carving at the convent of Tlalmanalco, showing a fusion of Spanish and indian styles

In building , the Spanish used the indians as their labor source who infused native motifs and styles on the buildings .A good example of the can be seen at the convent of Tlalmanalco .

 Colonial Mexico

 The intriguing colonial heritage of Mexico is profiled in this detailed and informative guide. Chicki Mallan leads readers through cities such as San Miguel de Allende, Merida, and Veracruz, revealing 500-year-old churches, Spanish haciendas, and imposing palaces in styles ranging from neoclassical to Mudejar

Casa de Montejo, 1549, plateresque style

Spaniards tried to recreate the styles of Spain in Mexico, but was modified by the new land. Churches gained a fortress like appearance because of Indian attacks, thick walls were needed because of earthquakes. The building material in New Spain was more colorful, the red tezontle pumice and polychrome tiles from Puebla became widely used . Such convents as Huejotzingo, Acolman and Actopan show this fortress like style .

convent at Huejotzingo



  Grandeur of Viceregal Mexico

 This landmark publication features extraordinary decorative and fine arts from the Mexican viceregal period (1521-1821). The lavishly illustrated catalogue is written in Spanish and English




Capilla Real

In the early years building were built along gothic, mudejar ( Mooorish ) and Romanesque lines . The Moorish style can be seen in the interior and domes  of the Capilla Real in Cholulu .In the mid 16th century, the influence of the Spanish Renaissance began to be felt and a style known as plateresque ( silversmith ) with intricate plasterwork bagan to be seen .

The church of Santa Prisca in Taxco, built in the late 18th century, considered

one of the best examples of the Mexican baroque style .


In the 17th century, the silver wealth of New Spain helped fiance large  mansions and cathedrals .The two largest cathedrals were built in Mexico City ( 1563 )  and Puebla ( 1575). The Puebla cathedral is famous for its tile covered dome.

Dome of the Puebla Cathedral

The Indians of the area were skilled in ceramics before the arrival of the Spanish, and the Spanish introduced Talavera ware, a tin-enameled ceramic chiefly in blue, white and yellow. The tile covered dome became a mark of the Mexican colonial style .

The Churrigueresque style Cathedral in the silver town of Zacatecas

Sidechapel, Church of Santa Prisca, Taxco, 1748. Diego Duran Berruecos

In the 17th century a more distinctively Mexican style emerged, the ultra  baroque Churrigueresque style ( named after Jose Churriguera, a Spanish architect ). It reflectes some of the exuberance of the newly rich crillos of the times, especially the super rich silver barons who built such churches as the Zacatecas Cathedral  and the Santiago Thatelolco in Mexico City.the sculptures of many of the incredibly intricate facades, alters and other adornments so distinctive of Mexican architecture were unknown Indians and mestizos


As a reaction to the excess, a more severe, neoclassical style became dominant

from about 1780 to 1830. An example is the Palacio de Mineria in Mexico City .


Baroque art reached its climax in the 18th century, with was followed by the Neo-classical style which continued through the years of the War of Independence and the First Empire as a reaction to the old baroque style of the colonial past and was seen as being more cosmopolitan and modern . The government of General Santa Ana made plans to modernize the country and European masters such as Pelegrin Clave y Roque and Eugenio Landesio were invited to teach in Mexico .


Painting in the colonial period  


The painting of the colonial period was mainly religious in nature and heavily Spanish influenced .In the later colonial peroid portrait painting among the rich grew in popularity .


One of the first murals in Mexico depicting the arrival of Franciscans in

1524, at the Convent of Huejotzingo, Puebla, 16th cent


Indian learning how to paint in the European method at a church

school, Codex Florentino, 1540


Painting advanced in Mexico with the coming of the Flemish master

Simon Pereyns in 1566, who taught many local artist .


Miguel Cabrera, (1695 – 1768) was an indigenous Zapotec , made paintings depicting the various classes and was one of the greatest painter in all of New Spain . In 1753, he founded Mexico's first academy of painting and served as its perpetual president .

a Mestizo baby, by Miguel Cabrera

What was essential a social caste system and enforced by law . At the top was the white ruling class which made up 1 million out of the population by the end of the colonial period . The top of this group were the Spanish from Spain ( peninsulares), most of these returned to Spain . Below them were the Spanish born in Mexico the creoles ( criollos ). Creoles could not hold royal office .Only whites were allowed to wear fine silk clothes, be called gentlemen ( caballeros ) and ladies ( damas ).

Lithograph by Carlos Nebel, mulatto woman making tortillas, 1936. Carlos or

Carl, was a German who lived in Mexico from 1829-36

Below them were the people of color with many different terms for the various

combinations of Europeans, Indians and African slaves .

Sor Juana de la Cruz, One of the most famous literary stars

of the colonial period, by Miguel Cabrera . 1750 .


Another important artist of the period was Juan Rodriguez Juarez ( 1675-1728)

who painted in the style of Murillo .

work by Juan Rodriguez Juarez


The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 1643, Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga (1610-1652?), painting during the golden age of colonial painting in Mexico. Arteage trained in Seville and came to Mexico around 1640. He is largely responsible for importing the current 17th century. Many painters of this period were agents such as Arteaga were agents of the Inquisition.


The Adoration of the Magi Baltasar de Echave Rioja in the Baroque style of Colonial Mexico.

Tree of Life Cristobal de Villalpando (1649-1714) another famous painter

of the Mexican Baroque period .

a retablo

 In the colonial period, such folk art styles as the retablo became popular . The retablo was a commemorative votive picture thanking a saint for a miracle .They were usually small in size and painted on tin .


 Colonial ceramics

Talavera ceramics

 Glazed pottery was brought to Mexico from Talavera de la Reina, Spain in the 16th century .Many people consider Puebla, Mexico the home of Mexican Talavera because of the first regulations and standards for determining uniformity and excellence of the traditional Mexican Talavera. Talavera is characterized by bright colors and floral designs .Because of the extensive imports from China to Mexico on the galleons , Chinese ceramic was soon imitated, particularly their designs.




Empires and Republic

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