In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art and Architecture of New Spain

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Historiography and Critical Assessments
  • International Exhibition Catalogues
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • 17th and 18th Centuries

Art History Art and Architecture of New Spain
Clara Bargellini
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 June 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0024


Art and architecture have been discussed since the 16th century in New Spain. Following the introduction of European culture and religion in 1521, problems of urbanism, architecture and its decoration, and the character and use of objects, which we now call art, were of vital interest and thus appear in many early documents. The modern study of the art of New Spain, like art history in general, began in the 19th century and was established at the Institute of Aesthetic Research, founded in 1935 at the National University in Mexico City. Much, if not most, of the current bibliography on the art of New Spain, in fact, has originated there. Other, very important, texts were written by Spaniards and by a few scholars working in the United States around the middle of the 20th century. Included here are some of these foundational texts, but most titles are more recent and the selection leans somewhat toward works in English, although these are far fewer than studies in Spanish. Early-20th-century Mexican art history of New Spain, like that of other places, was largely about styles. These histories had the additional problem of trying to adjust their narratives to European precedents. The nationalist strategy for affirming the specific worth of Mexican colonial art was to align it with the anticlassical baroque and with the popular arts and their roots in native cultures. In the 1970s, art history in Mexico, like elsewhere, took a turn toward problems of interpretation within cultural contexts. This has meant looking more carefully at the different environments within New Spain in which art and architecture were produced. One strong direction has been iconography and iconology. Unlike European art, however, the art of New Spain—and of all Latin America—is still poorly documented in the early 21st century. Thus, careful cataloguing and attention to formal qualities continue to be extremely important. In conjunction with studies of materials and techniques, this work is engendering ways to better understand the art of New Spain. Not only criollo production, but also that of other sectors of the very complex society of New Spain, is being examined. Younger generations of scholars, both in Mexico and elsewhere, especially in the United States, hold out the promise of much valuable scholarship in the future.

General Overviews

All these survey texts, with the exception of Kubler and Soria 1959, were produced either in Mexico or in Spain. Toussaint 1967 is a single-volume survey that has gone through one English and several Spanish editions, and it continues to be a basic source. The most complete and useful survey is Vargaslugo 1986, whereas Tovar de Teresa 1992 and Vargaslugo 1994 are fruits of the Columbian centennial celebrations. Angulo Íñiguez, et al. 1945–1956 and Sebastián López, et al. 1985–1992 are Spanish publications and assert the existence among Spaniards of the memory of their nation as origin of the artistic and architectural culture of its former viceroyalties and colonies.

  • Angulo Íñiguez, Diego, Enrique Marco Dorta, and Mario J. Buschiazzo. Rev. ed. 3 vols. Historia del arte hispanoamericano. Barcelona: Salvat, 1945–1956.

    The most important Spanish survey of colonial Latin American art and architecture. Mexican art and architecture are dealt with in Volume 3 but are understood as part of an indivisible Spanish unity.

  • Kubler, George, and Martin Soria. Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions, 1500–1800. Pelican History of Art. Baltimore: Penguin, 1959.

    Kubler is the author of the architecture section, which is the most valuable part of this book exemplifying some of his thinking about artistic centers and peripheries.

  • Sebastián López, Santiago, Gisbert de Mesa, Teresa, and José de Mesa Figueroa. Arte iberoamericano desde la colonización a la independencia. 2 vols. Summa artis, historia general del arte 28–29. Madrid: Espasa-Calpe, 1985–1992.

    These volumes provide general information on the art and architecture of all Latin America, including Brazil, and also reflect the specific interests of their two Bolivian authors, art and architectural historians, and of the pioneer Spanish iconographer Santiago Sebastián. The inclusion of plans and drawings is notable.

  • Toussaint, Manuel. Colonial Art in Mexico. Translated and edited by Elizabeth Wilder Weismann. Texas Pan-American Series. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.

    English translation of El arte colonial en México, originally published in 1948 (Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) and revised by Xavier Moyssén in 1962 (Mexico City: Instituto de Investigaciones Estésticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México). This continues to be the basic general text on the art of New Spain. Toussaint offers much information and examines the stylistic development of art in relation to the history of Mexico. Notwithstanding its nationalist tone and negative view of 18th-century art, this remains a very useful reference.

  • Tovar de Teresa, Guillermo, ed. Arte novohispano. 7 vols. Mexico City: Azabache, 1992.

    This is an idiosyncratic collection of volumes, each by a different author or group of authors, some Mexican, including the editor of the collection, but mostly European. It has the merit of including subjects previously little studied, such as Mudejar carpentry (Rafael López Guzmán) and iconography (Santiago Sebastián), as well as many good illustrations.

  • Vargaslugo, Elisa, ed. Historia del arte mexicano. 2d ed. Vols. 5–8, Arte colonial. Mexico City: Salvat, 1986.

    The most complete survey of Mexican colonial art. The multiple authors, whose names read like a who’s who of Mexican colonial art historians, cover many topics, including “minor” arts and genres previously little studied, such as nonreligious art and varieties of building types. The approach is generally, but not exclusively, formal and stylistic, as many works are also discussed in terms of their materiality, iconography, and function.

  • Vargaslugo, Elisa, ed. México en el mundo de las colecciones de arte. Vols. 3–4, Nueva España. Mexico City: Azabache, 1994.

    These well-illustrated volumes, with many contributors, are the result of a major search for art objects from New Spain in museums and collections outside Mexico. The material is organized by technique (e.g., featherwork, silver, enconchados) and by style and iconography, but also by provenance and collector, thus serving as a major impetus for the study of the history of collections of the art of New Spain.

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