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Book Review — Exploring Colonial Oaxaca, by Richard D. Perry

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Richard D. Perry is the author of several books on the architecture and art of colonial México. With Exploring Colonial Oaxaca, he offers an in-depth look at the colonial architecture of the state of Oaxaca, unpacking for readers the centuries-long history of the state’s colonial churches, monasteries, and mansions, along with the artistic and architectural styles that influenced them.

Extremely well organized, the book begins with a brief introduction to the Dominican style of architecture and ornamentation that predominated in the state during the first wave of church construction in the 16th century, before discussing the economic, political, religious, and even geological forces driving the evolution in styles of later periods of church construction in the 17th and 18th centuries. The book then goes on to review over sixty of the state’s most important colonial-era buildings. Organized geographically, the reviews begin with the city of Oaxaca, the site of the largest concentration and variety of colonial buildings in the state, before venturing out of the city and into the three long and narrow valleys protruding from it, then turning north and meandering up and into the mountains of the northern Sierra and the Mixteca Alta.

A short 222 pages in length, with dozens of drawings by the author and color photographs by Felipe Falcón, the book strikes the right balance between the too brief and often unsatisfying descriptions found in most travel guidebooks and the too much background and detail of academic tomes. That said, by necessity, the book uses a lot of architectural and artistic jargon that will be lost on many of its readers (this writer included). Expanding the short glossary in the back of the book by just a few pages would go a long way towards making it more self contained, which is important in this kind of guidebook. For anyone getting lost in the jargon, the website www.mexicanarchitecture.org has an excellent glossary of terms relating to the colonial architecture of México, along with clarifying photographs.

The Amate bookstore in the city of Oaxaca (Alcalá 307) usually has a large stack of this book for sale, or it can be purchased online at Amazon.com.

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