Iberian to global dynamics and La Hispaniola at the margin. New approaches to the architecture of Santo Domingo at the beginning of the Sixteenth century

Alcázar de Diego Colón (c. 1514), vista de la fachada oeste. Santo Domingo, República Dominicana
Elena Paulino
The island of La Hispaniola (today Dominican Republic and Haiti) was the first place where the Spaniards settled. There, first experimentations around issues such economy, organization of the territory, native’s population, development of political power and of a new society took place. And of course, it was a place for experimentation in the arts, architecture and urbanism which are fundamental for our understanding of the later artistic development in the Americas.
However the art and architecture of the first decades in La Hispaniola have traditionally been overlooked by scholars. In this paper I will discuss the historiographical problems that placed La Hispaniola at the margin: The exportation of a biased terminology (such as “mudejar”, “isabeline” “plateresque”); the focus on religious architecture; the related ideas of continuity with the architecture of the south of the Peninsula and lack of a native culture strong enough to affect it; and the perception of the Caribbean islands as a ‘non-place’, already pointed by some authors.
In a second time I will analyze the first civil architecture of the city of Santo Domingo as a case of study aiming to shift the focus from artistic continuity (perceived as rather passive importations) to artistic choices as dynamic creative agents and the creation of new meanings associated to visual traditions. I will address questions of site-specificity, the importance of the native population of the island for the development of the art at both sides of the Atlantic (as in constant dialogue) and the key role of architecture in the development of a new civic, political, social and territorial identity in a new space.