The Casa del Deán

9780292759305: Hardback
Release Date: 1st December 2014

115 color photos

Dimensions: 216 x 279

Number of Pages: 311

Series Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

University of Texas Press

The Casa del Deán

New World Imagery in a Sixteenth-Century Mexican Mural Cycle

Hardback / £65.00

The Casa del Deán in Puebla, Mexico, is one of few surviving sixteenth-century residences in the Americas. Built in 1580 by Tomás de la Plaza, the Dean of the Cathedral, the house was decorated with at least three magnificent murals, two of which survive. Their rediscovery in the 1950s and restoration in 2010 revealed works of art that rival European masterpieces of the early Renaissance, while incorporating indigenous elements that identify them with Amerindian visual traditions.

Extensively illustrated with new color photographs of the murals, The Casa del Deán presents a thorough iconographic analysis of the paintings and an enlightening discussion of the relationship between Tomás de la Plaza and the indigenous artists whom he commissioned. Penny Morrill skillfully traces how native painters, trained by the Franciscans, used images from Classical mythology found in Flemish and Italian prints and illustrated books from France—as well as animal images and glyphic traditions with pre-Columbian origins—to create murals that are reflective of Don Tomás's erudition and his role in evangelizing among the Amerindians. She demonstrates how the importance given to rhetoric by both the Spaniards and the Nahuas became a bridge of communication between these two distinct and highly evolved cultures. This pioneering study of the Casa del Deán mural cycle adds an important new chapter to the study of colonial Latin American art, as it increases our understanding of the process by which imagery in the New World took on Christian meaning.




Chapter 1. Don Tomás de la Plaza

Parish Priest
Cathedral Dean
Don Tomás and His Family
Don Tomás’s Library and His Collections

Chapter 2. An Urban Palace

Purism and the Casa del Deán
The Façade
The Residence’s Plan
The Designer and Builder of the Casa del Deán

Chapter 3. The Artist as Tlapalli: Art as Rhetoric

Tlapalli: The Deified Heart
Form as Metaphor in Early Colonial Painting
Rhetoric and Image<
Education of the Amerindian Artists
A Franciscan School in the Tlaxcala-Puebla Region
Master of the Sibyls

Chapter 4. Dic Tu Sibila: The Salon of the Sibyls

The Sibyls
Tracing the Sibylline Oracles
The Sibyls in Procession: Liturgical Drama
The Sibyls in the Casa del Deán Murals
Visual Sources for the Sibyls

Chapter 5. The Salon of the Triumphs

Petrarch’s Triumphs and Spectacle Literacy
The Impact on the Arts
The Triumphal Scenes

Chapter 6. The Wild Man in the Salon of the Triumphs

Antecedents of the Satyr and Wild Man
The Wild Man in New Spain

Chapter 7. Amerindian Iconography: The Dream of a Word

The Artist’s Antecedents
The Animals in the Salon of the Triumphs


Appendix I. Don Tomás de la Plaza’s Last Will and Testament: El Testamento de Don Tomás de la Plaza

Appendix II. Sibylline Oracles and Attributes

Appendix III. Documenting Don Tomás de la Plaza’s Capellanía




PENNY C. MORRILL, who holds a PhD in Mesoamerican colonial art history from the University of Maryland, teaches in the art history department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In addition to her work on sixteenth-century Mexican architecture and mural painting, she is an authority and has published extensively on the history of modern Mexican silver.

"These images are striking, and collecting them together within the covers of a book is a contribution to colonial visual culture. Penny Morrill has done an exemplary job of tracking down primary materials that contextualize the murals and filling out our understanding of the patron, Don Tomás de la Plaza, the artist(s), and the sources and meanings of the murals’ iconography. . . . She has done a laudable job of examining the programmatic whole: that is, the way in which the murals complement one another to communicate a Christian message with humanist (neo-Platonic) imagery."

Jeanette Favrot Peterson, Professor of Art and Architectural History at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and author of Visualizing Guadalupe: From Black Madonna to Queen of the Americas

"Penny Morrill’s wonderful book The Casa del De an is a clearly written, well-researched, and beautifully illustrated monograph that studies one of the few remaining private mural cycles of sixteenth-century Mexico. It is at once a depressing tale of the murals’ partial destruction in the twentieth century due to local disregard for Mexico’s patrimony as well as a gripping and surprising account of the history of their creation and significance."

Renaissance Quarterly