Rethinking Frontier Paradigms in Northeastern New Spain: Jesuit Mission Art at Santa María de las Parras, 1598-1767

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Rethinking Frontier Paradigms in Northeastern New Spain: Jesuit Mission Art at Santa María de las Parras, 1598-1767

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Title: Rethinking Frontier Paradigms in Northeastern New Spain: Jesuit Mission Art at Santa María de las Parras, 1598-1767
Author: McAllen, Katherine
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Abstract: This dissertation addresses key questions that are yet to be answered related to the involvement of local patrons in the decoration of northern New Spanish churches. The case study of the Jesuits' church of San Ignacio in Santa María de las Parras (located in present-day Coahuila, Mexico) reveals new evidence that prominent Spanish and Tlaxcaltecan Indian benefactors participated in the adornment of private devotional chapels in this religious space. In Parras, the Jesuits and secular landowners cultivated vineyards and participated in the lucrative business of viticulture that transformed this mission settlement by the mid-seventeenth century into a thriving winemaking center. As the Jesuits created their own "spiritual economy" in Parras on the northeastern frontier, they fostered alliances with Spanish and Tlaxcaltecan vineyard owners to serve both their religious and temporal interests (Chapter One). The surviving evidence of artworks and inventories reveals that these benefactors donated funds to decorate their own chapels in San Ignacio. This financial support helped the Jesuits purchase and import paintings by prominent artists working in Mexico City for display in their Parras church. While these patrons selected the iconographies of the artworks they funded, the Jesuits also arranged their chapels in a carefully ordered sequencing of images to promote devotions that were commensurate with Ignatian spirituality (Chapter Two). To shed more light on the process in which the Jesuits coordinated the circulation of devotional images from Mexico City to Parras, this study will examine travel logs to document the mobility of the Jesuits and their frequent movement between metropolitan settings and the northern frontier. By tracking the circulation of individuals as well as artworks, it is possible to uncover how the Society's process of fostering relationships with donors operated in Parras just as it did in larger cities such as Mexico City, Lima, Cuzco, and Rome (Chapter Three). Vineyard metaphors that resonated with special symbolic meaning at Parras also took on a new relevance when martyrdom became an omnipresent subject in the wake of Indian revolts. Evangelization on the frontiers of the Christian world became integral to the Jesuits' formation of their missionary identity in both New Spain and Europe. This study will present evidence of rare martyrdom drawings produced in Mexico and transported to Rome that played an active role in transforming the importance of the New Spanish frontier and catalyzed the creation of new artworks in Mexico City and Rome (Chapter Four). The evidence uncovered in this study has important implications for the field of colonial art history, as it reveals that art production in Parras was not an isolated missionary phenomenon but rather part of a dynamic network of artistic patronage and cultural exchange that moved in both directions between Europe and New Spain. This re-contextualizing of center-periphery paradigms further demonstrates that metropolitan and frontier relationships were not always opposed to each other, but rather interacted within a larger network of artistic dialogue.
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