The Baroque Architecture of South America

The Baroque style of architecture was used throughout the Spanish colonies of Central and South America, where it was particularly favoured by the Jesuit missions that spread throughout the continent. Moorish influences are sometimes apparent in South Ame

The Baroque style of architecture was used throughout the Spanish colonies of Central and South America, where it was particularly favoured by the Jesuit missions that spread throughout the continent. Moorish influences are sometimes apparent in South American Baroque, along with a local trend known as the Churrigueresque.

The first example was a Jesuit shrine in Cusco (1664), Peru. This was built near the cathedral and rivals the cathedral in grandeur. This was an intentional move by the Jesuits to assert their presence.  It was built on the site of the Incan palace of Huayna Cápac. This was an attempt to stamp out evidence of the old pagan beliefs, and replace it with a monument to Catholicism.

Known as La Compañía de Jesús, this Jesuit shrine is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in the Americas. The golden altarpiece, decorated with wreathed columns, features an image of the Virgin and a panel of the Transfiguration attributed to the Flemish Jesuit Diego de la Puente. There’s also a painting of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, by the local painter Marcos Zapata.

Mexico was the richest Spanish colony and it produced some fantastically extravagant architecture. This is known as Mexican Churrigueresque. This ultra-Baroque approach is evident in the work of Lorenzo Rodriguez, whose masterpiece is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Mexico City.  The oldest cathedral in the Americas, it too is built upon a former Aztec site. The original church was built soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, but the building was not completed until 1813.

Fine examples of the style can be found in remote silver-mining towns. For example, the Sanctuary at Ocotlán (begun in 1745) is a Baroque basilica. The surface is lined with bright red tiles that contrast with the compressed ornament around the entrance and the slender towers.

The capital city of Mexican Baroque is Puebla, which has around sixty Baroque churches. In the 18th century, local artisans developed a distinctive brand of white stucco decoration, named 'alfenique' after a Pueblan candy made from egg whites and sugar. This means that Mexican Baroque often has the ‘wedding cake’ effect often associated with the Baroque. These churches made use of local ceramics industries and often use glazed tiles of many colours, arranged in Arabic designs. The interiors are saturated with elaborate gold leaf ornament.

Baroque spread from Portugal to its colony Brazil. Brazilian architects explored plasticity of form and decoration. The churches of Mariana and the Rosario at Ouro Preto are based on Borromini's vision of interlocking elliptical spaces.  This the Church of Saint Francis of Assisi in Ouro Preto (1766). It was designed by the Brazilian architect and sculptor Antônio Francisco Lisboa, who was known as Aleijadinho. It has circular bell towers and oculi. The entrance is set under a stone frontispiece with a relief depicting Saint Francis receiving the stigmata. The interior features a beautiful painting by Manuel da Costa Ataíde on a Marian subject.

Even after Baroque had passed out of fashion in Europe, the style was practised in Brazil by Aleijadinho. His church of Bom Jesus de Matozinhos at Congonhas is distinguished by a picturesque silhouette and dark ornamental detail on a light stuccoed façade.

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Auron Renius
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