Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


History of Art


Dominican friars founded numerous churches and monasteries to evangelize the indigenous populations of Mexico. Although they presumably conceived the architectural plans and decorative schemes of these establishments, the resultant structures were constructed and adorned primarily by native painters, sculptors and masons. Their collaboration produced dramatic monuments defined by an ingenious arrangement of meaningful elements from Mesoamerica and the Iberian Peninsula.

This dissertation examines the subtle integration of prehispanic and peninsular elements at the convento of Santiago Apóstol in Cuilapan, a Mixtec community in southern Mexico. Construction on the monument commenced in 1555, and although it is one of the earliest and most elaborate colonial structures of the region, it has not been systematically investigated by art historians. Given the need to permanently record its physical characteristics, this dissertation describes the monument in written accounts, photographs and architectural drawings. What are its principal architectural and decorative features? When (and by whom) were they created? Who was their intended audience, and did they understand their stylistic, technical and iconographic elements?

After considering the creation and reception of the convento of Santiago Apóstol, this iv dissertation will attempt to situate its architectural and decorative features within their historical context. Specifically, it will consider the role of these elements in the evangelization and acculturation efforts of the Dominican Order. What artistic and architectural devices were used by the friars to convert the native populations? How successfully did these elements promote the desired cultural and religious transformations of the Mixtecs? By subjecting the monument and its adornments to these questions, this dissertation will not only consider how elements from the prehispanic and peninsular traditions were integrated, but what these juxtapositions reveal about the spiritual convictions of the Mixtecs. It will propose that prehispanic and peninsular elements were deliberately integrated to appeal to the religious sensibilities of the indigenous inhabitants of Cuilapan. The presence of indigenous features would have ideally encouraged the native audiences to recognize a compatibility between the spiritual monuments and institutions of Mesoamerica and the Iberian Peninsula. These compatibilities would have prompted an enhanced local appreciation for the convento and the new religion.