Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Manuel Tolsá and Neoclassical Architecture and Sculpture in Nueva España

Yesterday we mentioned Manuel Tolsá, the architect and sculptor, who brought Neoclassical Art to la Nueva España, and is buried in the Church of the Santa Veracruz.

In the last decade of the XVIII century, the Bourbon monarchies in Europe understood that after the French Revolution, the dynamics of government in Europe could not continue as before. The intellectual climate had changed over the XVIII century, from Rationalism to Positivism, from Idealism to an Age of Enlightment. The role of the Church had been downgraded considerably in many spheres of social influence.
Elongated top lantern of the Cathedral of Mexico´s main dome designed by Manuel Tolsá
King Charles III of Spain, himself a Bourbon Monarch, banished all Jesuits from all the countries of his Realm, from Mexico to Spain, from Peru to Argentina. Why did he do it. He never gave a public explanation. Some believe that the King saw in the large estates of the Jesuits a solution to his problems of public finance. Although greed could have played a part in his motivation, the reason for this expulsion might have been because King Carlos III was concerned the increasingly uncomfortable increase of power of the Jesuits in everyday politics. Another reason that might have influenced King Carlos III was that Jesuits were echoing the very philosophies that the Bourbon Monarchies considered as undermining the status quo of Europe, that is, Rationalism, Positivism and Idealism. Many religious congregations considered that the best path for the spiritual health and welfare of Catholic Europe was censorship and the use of the infamous index of prohibited books. The strategy of the Jesuits was to clearly explain modern authors, their books and philosophies and to explain what was acceptable and what was inacceptable.
Main entrance of Cathedral of Mexico
Tolsa added the final sculptures of the Theological Virtues up top

The American Revolution was another event that had the monarchs nervous. As the XVIII century came to an end, it became clear that the United States of America would not only not fail as a government, but quite to the contrary, would prove that democracy and government by the people for  the people was possible.
In front of the MUNAL is the covered bronze statue
El Caballito, cast by Manuel Tolsá
(Tbe overhaul of this work of art has been mishandled,
with irreversable damage done to Carlos IV´s statue)
 In this context, Carlos IV of Spain tried to tend a friendly hand to la Nueva España. In the political front, Carlos IV sent a new viceroy.  He sent his top man in art to run the Academy of San Carlos, and to destroy the traditional baroque art, and bring a new style, Neoclassic.  This man was Manuel Tolsá. He would substitute the old baroque altar of the Church that had belonged to the Jesuits, la Profesa, and give it a new neoclassical altar in its place. He would finish the Cathedral of Mexico City, giving it a much higher dome, that would help fill the Cathedral with light. The gothic style, so evident in the ceiling of the sacristy, is eliminated in the main aisles.
Side view of the Dome and its top lantern}
The King wanted to make it clear that he was the hero. So he commissioned Manuel Tolsa to cast his figure as the supreme leader of Nueva España, mounted on his horse, el "caballito" as it was to be called. Then the King asked Manuel Tolsa to build the Palacio de la Mineria.
View of the Neoclassic styled Palacio de Mineria,
designed by Manuel Tolsá
Front entrance of Palacio de Mineria
Ironically, the intellectual and political climate of Nueva España in the first years of the XIX century was much more liberal than ever. So why did his subjects rise up against the King of Spain.  In 1810, Mexican did not rise up against the Spanish King, but against the French dupe on the Spanish Throne.

Coming back to the question of if the claim that Manuel Tolsá is buried in the Santa Veracruz church, I have serious doubts. The Santa Veracruz atrium cemetery was used as a common burial site, and if Manuel Tolsá died at the end of 1816, when popular sentiment against everything Spanish was growing, maybe he was buried elsewhere, but his children kept it secret, fearing his tomb might become a target of desecration, which was the case of Cortes in Jesús Nazareno Church.
Tile Plaque outside Santa Veracruz Church indicating that
Manuel Tolsá was buried here
Truth of the final ruse of a crafty master?

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