The Rhetoric of Authority in New Spain: The Casa de Montejo in Mérida, Yucatán

Charles Cody Barteet


Since the 1940s, the facade of the Casa de Montejo (ca. 1542–49), Mérida, Yucatán, has been heralded as the premier residential example of the Spanish Plateresque style in all Hispanic America. Commissioned by the first adelantado (governor) of the peninsula, Francisco de Montejo, this colonial monument is largely understudied, with all previous analyses identifying the facade as a monument to the Spanish conquest of Yucatán’s Maya peoples, with little recognition of the significance of the Plateresque style. The Plateresque was frequently associated with noble and civic aspirations in Spain, and it appears that the Montejo family chose it for these reasons and because it could effectively convey concepts of political authority at a moment of crisis in mid-sixteenth-century Hispanic America, when the authority of the conquering governors, Montejo prominent among them, was being diminished systematically by the institutionalization of the viceregal government. The facade, then, was a liminal space used by Montejo to declare his jurisdiction and autonomy in the face of a great threat. In constructing the facade Montejo proclaimed an authority that was independent of the emergent viceregal government but still accountable to monarchy. In the end, his efforts to secure autonomy contributed to his political fall, which virtually coincided with the completion of the palace and its Plateresque decorations in 1550. The Casa de Montejo stands as a testament to the political ambitions of one colonial governor, and must be seen in the context of the political and social unrest that characterized this moment in Hispanic America.


Francisco de Montejo; Hispanic America; colonial architecture; Plateresque;

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