Baroque and Beyond C. 1600–1850

Art of the Americas

How did the art of Spain influence art in the New World?

Starting in the sixteenth century, Spanish culture began to dominate Central and South America as Spanish conquerors destroyed native temples and missionaries worked to convert native populations to Catholicism, sometimes forcefully. By the eighteenth century, Catholicism in Latin America had become infused with native beliefs, which directly inspired new styles of art and architecture. An example of this fusion can be seen in the nearly twelve-foot tall atrial cross from the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, which was made sometime before the 1560’s. This large, stone crucifix was hung in the church’s atrium, and was decorated by native artists commissioned by Christian missionaries. The cross decoration blends images associated with Christ, such as the Crown of Thorns and the Holy Shroud, with Central American symbols of the Tree of Life. The atrial cross was a common decoration in parts of the church where new native converts were introduced to Catholicism, and the decoration of the cross at Guadalupe underscores its function as a visual marriage of cultures and beliefs.


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