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Becerra, Francisco

(b Herguijuela, Extremadura, 1545; d 1605).

Puebla Cathedral, begun 1575; photo credit: Humberto.García CC BY-SA 3.0Spanish architect, active in South America. Both his father, Alonso (d ?1570), and his grandfather, Domingo, were architects; the latter was the Maestro Mayor of Toledo Cathedral (completed 1493). Francisco was considered one of the finest architects in Extremadura, where he was active on a wide range of schemes including the church of S Maria and the chapel of S Isabel (both Trujillo), patrician houses in Guevara, and a chapel between the cloisters in Guadalupe Monastery. In 1573 he left for America, one of the few architects permitted to do so by the Spanish government, which restricted the emigration of qualified personnel. The fact that Becerra was immediately associated with works of magnitude confirms his importance. In 1575 he became the Maestro Mayor of Puebla Cathedral in Mexico, assisted by Francisco Gutiérrez Cabello. By his own account his activity on this assignment lasted for five years and probably included the design and laying of the foundations; however, the plan was amended after 1585 (as were those of the cathedrals of Mexico City and Lima).

Becerra cited his involvement in Puebla in building the churches of S Francisco, S Domingo, S Agustín, and S Luis. Other Mexican projects may have included the church of S Domingo in Mexico City and the parish churches of Cuautinchán, Tepoztlán, Cuernavaca, and Temoguacán. By 1581 he had arrived in Quito, Ecuador, where he constructed three bridges and planned the church of S Agustín, employing Gothic groined vaulting as in S Agustín, Mexico City. He probably also took part in the work on S Domingo in Quito.

Both churches in Quito had been designed and their foundations laid when Becerra was summoned to Lima in 1582 by Martín Enríquez de Almansa, Viceroy of Peru (d 1583), to draw up a new plan for the cathedral there. Enormous expense had already been incurred in connection with an existing plan, for which adequate resources were lacking. While he was engaged on this commission, Becerra also designed the new Cuzco Cathedral (see Peru, fig.). Both cathedrals are rectangular in plan, with aisles and naves of equal height. The interior of Lima Cathedral is unornamented, while that of Cuzco has round arches; Lima has compound Ionic piers and Cuzco Tuscan, its entablature blocks recalling Diego de Siloë’s usage at Granada Cathedral (begun 1528). Above the Renaissance features of both Lima and Cuzco springs Gothic rib-vaulting, possibly chosen for its supposed resistance to earthquakes. In 1584 Becerra was confirmed as Maestro Mayor on these projects and was also commissioned to design the Palace of the Viceroys, Lima, and the fortification of the port of Callao. Budgetary limitations unfortunately restricted these works to the planning stage and in 1598 also affected plans for Lima Cathedral itself, although Becerra managed to complete half of the project (1604). Work on Cuzco Cathedral ceased when the Viceroy died, but restarted in 1598 to new plans (substantially influenced by Becerra’s designs), first under the direction of Bartolomé Carrión (1604–16) and, for 30 years, under that of Miguel Gutiérrez Sencio. Francisco Becerra belongs to the category of talented, mobile architects who brought their indigenous styles to major projects in cities separated by great distances.

Bibliography

M. Toussaint: ‘El Arquitecto de la Catedral de Cuzco, Peru’, Anales, vol.7 (1941), pp. 59–62

D. Angulo Iñiguez: ‘Las catedrales mexicanas del siglo XVI’, Bol. Acad. N. Hist. (1943)

E. Marco Dorta: ‘Arquitectura colonial: Francisco Becerra’, Archv Esp. A. (1943)

H. Wethey: Colonial Architecture and Sculpture in Peru (Cambridge, MA, 1949)

G. Kubler and M. Soria: Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and their American Dominions, 1580 to 1800 (Harmondsworth, 1959), pp. 89–98

E. Harth-Terré: La obra de Francisco Becerra en las catedrales de Lima y Cuzco (Buenos Aires, 1962)

C. Solis Rodríguez: ‘ Francisco Becerra y los canteros trujillanos del siglo XVI’, España entre el Mediterraneo y el Atlantico. Actas del XXIII Congreso Internacional de Historia del Arte, Granada, 1973, vol.2, pp. 410–8

S. Sebastián López, J. de Mesa Figueroa, and T. Gisbert de Mesa: Summa artis: Historia general del arte, vol.28 (Madrid, 4/1992)

J. A. Manrique: Manierismo en México: reflexión sobre el manierismo en México (Mexico City, 1993)

A. San Cristóbal Sebastián: Arquitectura Virreinal de Lima en la Primera mitad del Siglo XVII (Lima, 2003)

Ramón Gutiérrez; bibliography updated by Liliana Herrera


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