When More Was More

As recent retirees, we are striving to reduce our time commitments, declutter our physical spaces, and lead more minimalist “more is less” lives. Here in Puebla; however, Mexican Baroque architecture reaches its most elaborate, where overflowing ornamentation, shiny gold leaf, and decorative talavera tile remind us that once upon a time, “more was more”.

Acatepec facade

Templo San Francisco Acatepec, Puebla

When the baroque style emerged in Europe during the early 16th century, it broke with the clear definitions and orderly arrangements of classical antiquity. It was considered so exaggerated and bizarre that it was compared to an imperfect Portuguese pearl (pérola barroca).

Tonatzintla altar

Indigenous Baroque Interior, Iglesia de Tonantzintla, Puebla 

Back when “more was more”, the maximalism of the baroque era implied affluence and progress. As a result, the style permeated all aspects of life, including language, art, entertainment, and fashion.

Guadalupe Baroque

Grandiose Gold Altarpiece, Templo de San Jose, Puebla

The fear of voids and empty spaces is clinically known as horror vacui. Where this phobia achieved its most public dimensions was in religious architecture. To fill the believer with awe, the Catholic Church lavishly worked their facades and profusely decorated their interiors.

Templo SF

Carved and Talavera Tiled Baroque Facade, Templo San Francisco, Puebla

In truth, I am filled with awe by baroque architecture. It is extremely beautiful and inspiring, and nowhere in Mexico is the baroque style better exemplified than in Puebla. According to UNESCO, Puebla’s 2.7 square mile (7 square km) historical center contains 2,619 buildings constructed during the baroque period.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

Biblioteca Palafoxiana

One such structure is the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. Founded in 1646 by the bishop of Puebla, it is considered the first public library in the Americas. Its interior includes ornately carved shelves containing 45,000 volumes, and its exterior is faced in a characteristic pattern of red brick alternating with blue talavera tile.

Uriarte Potter

Potter at Taller Uriarte Talavera

The talavera ceramics of Puebla (Talavera Poblana) is a tin and lead glazed majolica introduced by the colonial Spanish. Given the colonial baroque boom in church construction and the availability of fine local clays, there was a strong demand for talavera tiles as a decorative element.

Uriarte Painter

Artist Hand Painting Talavera at Taller Uriarte

To learn more about Talavera Poblana, we took a tour of Taller Uriarte, Puebla’s oldest certified talavera enterprise, operating continuously since 1824. Here, we observed the making of hand thrown and painted ceramics using mostly 16th century technology.

Santa Rosa Kitchen

Santa Rosa de Lima Convent Kitchen

One of the utilitarian uses of talavera tile was in the kitchen. At the former Santa Rosa de Lima convent, nuns created Puebla’s signature food dish Mole Poblano. A visit to the convent kitchen revealed a space completely enveloped in talavera tile.

Baroque Museum

International Museum of Baroque

The baroque is so integral to the city of Puebla that it is home to the International Museum of Baroque. Opened in 2016, the collection is ironically housed in a modern minimalist styled building designed by Japanese Pritzker Prize-winning architect Toyoo Ito.

Acatepec Front

Talavera Tiled Facade of Templo San Francisco Acatepec 

To me, the overflowing ornamentation and curved elements of the baroque architecture of Puebla doesn’t seem excessive or overly cluttered. Instead it conveys the feeling of continuity and movement, and a look back in time when more was more.

Mole Poblano

Mole Poblano

 

Feature Image: Gilded dome of the Rosary Chapel, Puebla

7 thoughts on “When More Was More

  1. Nice post Joe. We are also fascinated by the “excessive” but beautiful work that was put into both constructing and decorating so many buildings of that time period. The craftsmanship and imagination displayed never ceases to amaze. You will enjoy many fine examples of azulejos here in Portugal in the churches and homes. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Tim & Anne. It is no wonder that many of the major baroque cathedrals and other structures often took centuries to design, construct, and complete. We were very fortunate to stumble upon the tour of the pottery factory here in Puebla, and look forward to comparing the talavera here with the azulejos in Portugal and southern Spain. Have a great trip to Canada for your son’s graduation. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Even to a minimalist like me, the Baroque architecture is beautiful! You are truly lucky to get to see so much of it in Puebla. Like you say, it represents a different time and a different perspective. And it has certainly stood the test of time, I think. Thanks for sharing these photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Like you, Ann, I am a minimalist and am content without a lot of material possessions. I think that living with less stuff is very liberating, especially once I finished with my career and our two daughters went on their own. Of course, I would never consider decorating our home in baroque style, but when I step into these churches, they actually take my breathe away.

      Liked by 1 person

    • In appreciating these overly ornate baroque places, we really have the best of both worlds. We can stand in awe of the detail and artistry of the structures, but don’t have the responsibility for cleaning and maintaining them. I am sure glad that these days its fashionable to live with less.

      Like

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