HTC Talks: John Lopez: The Humanist Wonderment of Viceregal Mexico City’s Istoria


A global view of architectural history demands comparative study of Western and non-Western epistemes to comprehend the character of things colonial. Cartography is but one medium that allows inspections of such epistemes, their circulation and reception, and above all else, understanding of how and why local systems mediated the production and aesthetics of colonial visual and material culture. One map that captures the intersection between Mesoamerican and European mentalities in determining the architectural character of colonial Mexico City is the c.1550 Uppsala Map. The product of an indigenous cartographer trained in the methods and objectives of Renaissance cartography, the map makes us aware that classical European architecture and theory found a new home at Mexico City that gave fresh ideological meaning to Vitruvius. Yet the linear simplicity, balanced symmetry, and spatial clarity of Mexico City’s urban plan were not only classically European, if we recognize the aquatic epistemes of the Aztec. That a historical coincidence existed between the planning ideals of the Spanish and Aztec puts into question the development of Renaissance urban planning from theoretical subject in Europe to applied practice in colonial Latin America.


John López earned a Ph.D. in 2013 from the History, Theory, and Criticism of art and architecture program at MIT. Currently, he is assistant professor of global European art and architecture, 1400–1700, in the Department of Art History at the University of California, Davis. His research and teaching centers on a comparative and interdisciplinary approach to scrutinizing the visual, material, and spatial practices of Europe and the New World in the early modern period. At the core of this agenda is analysis of how European and pre-Hispanic metropolitan models were recalibrated in colonial Latin America to meet the demands of globalization brought about by colonialism.

López’ research has been funded by the NEH, SSRC, and the ACLS, among others. In 2021, he received the UC Davis Early Career Faculty Award for Creativity and Innovation for his research on how architectural history can address climate change. López is editor of Brill’s A Companion to Viceregal Mexico City, 15191821. His articles have appeared in Grove Encyclopedia of Latin American Art, Ethnohistory, Boletín de Monumentos Históricos, and Journal of Latin American Geography, with a forthcoming chapter in Art and Ecology to be published by the Getty Research Institute. His current book project, The Aquatic Metropolis: Nature, History, and Urban Aesthetics at Tenochtitlan-Mexico City, is a comparative examination of how urban design was a problem of nature and environmental crisis that the Aztec and Spanish posed to historical mentalités—Mesoamerican and European—establishing the cultural parameters of a city’s architectural character, the status and quality of nature, and the praxis of their intersections.