Of interest to many fields—from anthropology and Latin American Studies to medieval and religious history, Mediterranean culture, and urban architecture—will be Jaime Lara’s lecture, “Aztecs on the Mediterranean: From Jerusalem to Colonial Mexico and Back Again,” held Thursday, April 6, at 3:10 pm in 306 Buttrick Hall.
Lara, senior research professor at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Arizona State University, will examine the most contested piece of real estate in the world: the city of Jerusalem. Over the centuries it has been owned or occupied by many ethnic, political and religious entities, as its archaeology attests. But Jerusalem has also been a symbol and an ideal of something much larger than a mere urbanization. It has fascinated the imagination of peoples living around the Mediterranean basin as well as on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
This presentation looks at Jerusalem from the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century, and in particular, at the role the Franciscans played in shaping both an archaeological and legendary image which they carried to their missions in the New World. This they did in their encounter with the Aztec civilization of Mexico, where owning a piece of Jerusalem or rehearsing for a re-occupation of the holy city was on the minds of friars and Amerindians alike. The art and architecture of that New World attest to a jerusalemization of the missionary enterprise and to its lofty expectations.
Lara works at the intersection of the visual arts and religion through various media (architecture, painting, sculpture, and prints). Trained as a medievalist, he examines hybrid artifacts and artistic creations at moments of culture contact, principally the contact that the Aztecs and Incas had with a European Christian worldview. He is especially interested in how symbols and metaphors, both verbal and visual, mediated understanding or misunderstanding and how rituals, liturgy and theater acted as cultural bridges.
“His background in anthropology, theology, and liturgics (i.e., the history of worship) allows him to scan historical moments when missionaries contacted non-Mediterranean cultures such as those of the Irish, Saxons, Mongols, or New World, and the resulting innovative works of art that fused the values, thought, and worldview of both societies,” said Joseph Rife, director of Vanderbilt’s Program in Classical and Mediterranean Studies.
These themes animate his books City, Temple, Stage: Eschatological Architecture and Liturgical Theatrics in New Spain (2004) and Christian Texts for Aztecs: Art and Liturgy in Colonial Mexico (2008). More recently his research has explored the novel Baroque iconography of St. Francis of Assisi as a flying warrior angel and the Andean-Christian architecture of sunlight. Birdman of Assisi: Art and the Apocalyptic in the Colonial Andes (2016) bridges the Old World of Europe and the New World of the Inca Empire from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Lara’s lecture is the final event in the 2016/2017 Lecture Series in Classical and Mediterranean Studies.