Antonio Rubial GarcÖÂa, ed. La ciudad barroca. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2005. 611 pp. $50.00 (paper), ISBN 978-968-16-6830-3.
Reviewed by Rafael Tarrago (Librarian for Iberian and Ibero-American Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis)
Published on H-Urban (April, 2006)
This edited book is a major contribution to social history and to the understanding of the complexities of society in seventeenth-century Mexico. Essential reading for historians of Baroque Spanish America and Spain, this second volume of Historia de la vida cotidiana en Mexico appeals to the educated general public with well-illustrated essays in an engaging literary style. La ciudad barroca explores diverse aspects of urban life in what was called New Spain between 1550 and 1750.
One of the problems presented by edited volumes is unevenness. La ciudad barroca includes chapters by well-known scholars such as Elias Trabulse and Asunción Lavrín, as well as by younger historians. Some offer insights fresher than the traditional colonial history, and defy long-accepted concepts such as American singularity. R. Douglas Cope discusses Baroque Mexico as part of an increasingly global society where the Europeans and their descendants were hegemonic, but also where native Americans and imported African slaves made a mark, and Ivan Escamilla Gonzalez writes of its viceregal court as that of a realm within a multinational monarchy with its center in Madrid, but including dependencies like the County of Flanders in Northern Europe, the Kingdom of Naples on the Mediterranean, and the Philippine Islands on the Pacific Ocean.
In the brief introduction to this volume, Antonio Rubial García indicates the scope and the organization of the volume. It focuses on urban society in New Spain (and in particular on Mexico City) in three thematic sections: material culture, the interrelation between socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and the contrast between sociopolitical and religious norms and actual practice. He lets us know that the people without history (artisans and laborers) are included in this history book, and that it explores the sociopolitical significance of artistic production and of public festivals (implicitly acknowledging the interdisciplinary approach of many of its nineteen chapters).
The themes of the chapters in the section focusing on material culture range from the interrelation between socioeconomic and ethnic groups in open spaces in María del Carmen León Cazares's "A cielo abierto. La convivencia en plazas y calles," to the details of the layout of private dwellings in Marta Fernández's "De puertas adentro: la casa habitación." Fernández gives a vivid description of the varied types of dwellings in the early modern city of Mexico, that is, in the middle of the seventeenth century. She cites documents such as the contract for the construction of a bath house signed by the architect Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres in 1790 (p. 71). The economic aspects of eating in Mexico City in the seventeenth century are analyzed by Ivonne Mijares in the chapter "El abasto urbano: caminos y bastimentos," where she discusses the limitations presented by geography for the creation of a communications infrastructure, and the variety of dietary demands and needs of a multi-ethnic, socially stratified society and its implications for agriculture and manufacturing in New Spain. She goes beyond the urban work that centers this chapter to discuss the development of the hacienda linked to it, because, she says, "Living conditions in an hacienda did not remain static throughout the seventeenth century" (p. 123). On the other hand, she mentions as already existing in the seventeenth century institutions of the hacienda mentioned in nineteenth-century literature, such as the landowner-owned stores where hacienda workers could buy on credit (p. 121).
The section on socioeconomic and ethnic interrelations is not less varied in its thematic scope, beginning with Antonio Rubial García's "Los conventos mendicants," a chapter on the rivalries between male religious orders, and ending with Douglas Cope's "Los ámbitos laborales urbanos." It includes a learned biographical vignette by Elias Trabulse of the Franciscan monk Diego Rodríguez (1596-1655), focusing on the proverbial colonial hostility towards scientific endeavors, although showing the existence in seventeenth-century Mexico of a scientific community that would have honored any provincial capital in France or England at that time.
The chapter on daily life in convents, "Los monasterios femeninos" by Nuria Salazar Simarro, is outstanding in its analysis of the connections of convents with influential families through the members of those families who joined them--of the influence that domestic relations exerted on conventual politics and economics. It also depicts and analyzes the rutinary aspects of the education, tasks, and rituals of the nuns. The author of this chapter has benefited from the wealth of primary sources represented by wills and other conventual documents, and she concludes that in the seventeenth century, daily life inside the walls of a convent in the city of Mexico was an extension of daily life outside them in the city. Also outstanding in this section are the chapters on educational institutions: Enrique González González's "La Universidad: estudiantes y doctores" and Elsa Cecilia Frost's "Los colegios jesuitas."
In the third section we find thought-provoking chapters on the contrast between sexual, political, and religious norms and actual practice. Asunción Lavrín has contributed to this section an insightful analysis of sexual mores based on documentary sources. Her chapter "La sexualidad y las normas de la moral sexual" describes the religious and political ideals of behavior and instruments of conforming to them, compares them to the documented high incidence of transgressions against Christian sexual mores by the citizens of New Spain--particularly by the Europeans and their descendants (p. 495)--and derives from them insightful conclusions. Lavrin dispels some myths, among them the alleged illegitimacy of all mestizos (p. 493). Also outstanding because of its insightful delving into private life at all levels of society in seventeenth-century Mexico is the chapter by Sonia Corcuera Mancera, "La embriaguez, la cocina y los códigos morales." Her narrative on chocolate and its marketing worldwide, and her analysis of drunkenness and the failure of efforts to counter it by religious and political authorities are brilliant. Corcuera also gives an excellent analysis of the aesthetics of the presentation of food and its use for the display of power and wealth, but she is most convincing in her argument that by the end of the seventeenth century, people of all ethnic and socioeconomic groups had developed a hybrid yet unique cuisine in Mexico.
The social contexts of artistic expression are discussed in all three sections of this volume. Architecture and the design of public spaces are discussed by María del Carmen León Cazares in "A cielo abierto. La convivencia en plazas y calles," and the decorative arts are discussed by Gustavo Curiel in "Ajuares domésticos. Los rituales de los cotidiano." The latter makes insightful comments on the projection of power and prestige through furniture (pp. 88-89). Germán Viveros analyzes the development of theater as a mass spectacle in seventeenth-century Mexico City in "El teatro y otros entretenimientos urbanos. La norma, la censura y la práctica."
The last chapter in this volume is not the longest, but it is the one that makes the largest claim, because in "La invención de los cotidiano ¿una empresa del barroco?" Perla Chinchilla Pawling argues eloquently that the interest in daily life characteristic of western civilization on both sides of the Atlantic at the beginning of the twenty-first century can be found in the written accounts of seventeenth-century Mexicans. Indeed there are Mexican printed sources of that century that focus on images of contemporary buildings, festivals, events (such as the arrival ofa viceroy), and accounts of travels and theatrical representations. Ambitious claims are appropriate for the concluding chapter of an ambitious volume. The title of the overarching multi-volume corpus that includes this volume, Historia de la vida cotidiana en Mexico brings to mind Jean Descola's Daily Life in Colonial Peru (1968), and that of this volume itself reminds me of Irving Leonard's Baroque Times in Old Mexico (1959). La ciudad barroca is more inclusive in its themes than the book by Leonard, however, and La vida cotidiana en Mexico exceeds Descolas's project in scope.
. Edited by Pilar Gonzalbo Aizpuru, the planned six-volume Historia de la vida cotidiana en México currently consists of three volumes: Mesoamérica y los ámbitos indígenas de la Nueva España (Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico; Fondo de Cultura Economica, 2004) covers pre-Hispanic Mexico, and the native communities under the sovereignty of the Spanish crown. The second is under review here and the third, El siglo XVIII: entre tradición y cambio (Mexico: El Colegio de Mexico, 2005) covers the eighteenth century.
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Rafael Tarrago. Review of GarcÖÂa, Antonio Rubial, ed., La ciudad barroca.
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