Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Mexican Crucifixes: Yecapixtla

Complementing our series on Mexican stone crosses, we also take note of a related category, that of colonial crucifixes or sculpted stone figures of the crucified Christ. 
    While a broad range of crucifixes, predominantly of wood but also of stone, adorn church altars, facades and cemeteries all across Mexico, here we look at a selected examples found on colonial church fronts, focusing on their varied styles, from the frankly folkloric to sculptural master works that can stand beside the most accomplished contemporary European examples. 
    Regardless of their relative sophistication or skill of execution, all these crucifixes share an innate expressive strength informed by a powerful emotional impact that springs from the deep well of faith shared by the stone carvers and their audience.
For our inaugural post we feature the early crucifix at Yecapixtla:
Perhaps the most important of great Augustinian monasteries in northern Morelos, 
Yecapixtla is noted for its fine stone carving, especially in the facade, with its superb Plateresque porch and rose window.
Here we draw attention to the Calvary crucifix mounted in the gable above the west porch, which because of its relatively small scale and lofty location is less than conspicuous. 
Sculpted with consummate skill, it features the foreshortened but full body of the crucified Christ, rendered in an almost expressionistic manner with special focus on the sinewy details of the tortured body. 
   Probably dating from the 17th century and almost certainly sculpted by an anonymous native artisan rather than a Spanish master, this is one of the finest pieces of stone figure sculpture in Morelos. 
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
Visit our other posts in this series: Totolapan; San Agustin Salamanca; Santiago Silao; 
San Jose Irapuato; San Agustin de Queretaro; Zacatecas Cathedral; Singuilucan;

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Querétaro. San Agustín, the crucifix

In previous posts on San Agustín de Querétaro we have looked at the sculpted cloister and the statues of musical archangels around the dome.  In this final post we describe the full body crucifix on the church facade.
The Church 
The design of San Agustín represented a startling break with the austere classicism of the 17th century. Traditionally attributed to the great Queretaran designer Ignacio Mariano de las Casas, it was in all probability a collaborative effort, involving other regional architects and sculptors, notably Francisco Martínez Gudiño and also Juan Manuel Villagómez, the architect of Tlalpujahua (Michoacán). who is usually credited with the facade design although Gudiño may have supervised the sculptural program. 

The Facade
The broad facade retains the retablo form, but on a grander and more theatrical scale. Within its playfully geometric framework, the San Agustín facade is un abashed y sculptural. Its principal features—octagonal columns with slashed spirals, the polygonal main door way, the coffered choir window, the faceted projecting cornices and sausage-like friezes encrusted with foliage—all reveal a disciplined but highly mannered architecture that deliberately attracts attention to itself, clearly rejecting the self-effacing restraint of the traditional Querétaro style. 
St Augustine - facade statue
The eye-catching sculpture seems especially idiosyncratic. Narrow scalloped niches squeezed between the spiral half columns house the statuary—a gallery of elongated figures that includes St. Augustine and St. Francis below, and the Augustinian saints Santa Mónica and Santa Rita de Cascia on the middle level. 

The Crucifix
Pilasters bearing atlantean figures with smiling, childlike visages and leafy skirts flank the large upper niche, where a large cruciform frame encloses the foreshortened figure of Christ on the cross—a motif seen in other regional Augustinian churches. The niche is a sculptural tour-de-force, profusely decorated with vines and swirling foliage in high relief. Fantastic, siren-like caryatids cling below, and naked cherubs gaze down from above. 
   The longhaired figure of Christ is configured in the manner of the crucifixes at Salamanca and Irapuato, but in our view sculpted with greater finesse. Mounted in a niche ornamented with swirling vines and foliage, the somewhat foreshortened figure is sensitively portrayed, the drawn features of Christ’s Face sagging beneath the heavy tiara of the Tres Potencias that crowns his brow.
text, drawing and photography © 1995 & 2019 Richard D. Perry

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Queretaro. San Agustin. the cloister

In a previous post we described the musical angels around the dome of the priory church of San Agustín. Here we look at the sculpted cloister of the adjacent convento, now housing the Querétaro Art Museum.
The Cloister  
The sculptural complexity of the priory reaches its climax in the cloister (1731-45)—one of the most exciting and exotic baroque spaces in Mexico. Painstaking renovation in the late 1980s, in preparation for its new role as the Querétaro Art Museum, has restored this sculpted space to its former glory. 
   The two stories of the arcaded cloister form an enveloping display of dynamic stone carving, whose esoteric imagery, drawn from Italian Mannerist sources, unites voluptuous figures and bold ly modeled foliage into a new and original sculptural synthesis. 
   Along the lower bays, slender herms with bulging breasts and tapering bodies divide the paneled piers, their heads and feet inclin ing towards the center of the patio. 
The faces of the corner figures are lined and bearded, while the others are more youthful. Fantastic birds and beasts, carved in exuberant high relief, peer out from lush foliage in the intervening spandrels. Of particular interest are the scalloped key stones of each arch way, where cameos of Augustinian saints alternate with emblems of the order.
   The upper arcades are even more fantastic. An exotic sequence of caryatids is mounted atop the piers of the arcade, also intricately carved with volutes and geometrical strapwork. 
Part human and part plant, these massive, broad-breasted figures have virile faces and wear foliated skirts. Tiny, playful cupids peek out from behind their elaborate feathered headdresses. But the most curious features of the caryatids are their giant upraised arms, whose obscure hand gestures have been interpreted as symbolic of the liturgy of the Eucharist. 
   Portraits of Augustinian saints, martyrs and hermits are carved on the key stone cartouches, each with his individual gestures and at tributes. Pomegranates frame the medallions, while a melange of vines, foliage and grotesque animals trail across the spandrels, echoed by the rhythmic, undulating cornice that crowns the  cloister.  
   The impact of all these extraordinary sculptures must have been even greater in times past when they were painted in black, red and other hues. 
   Although many interpretations of this iconography have been put forward—variously linking the imagery to the Catholic liturgy, the Passion of Christ and the aspirations of the Augustinian order—what finally impresses is the joyful virtuosity and imagination of the artists who created this unique sculptural environment.
   Now reborn as the Querétaro Art Museum, the convento displays a first class collection of Mexican religious painting and sculpture. Choice works of colonial art include a splendid series of Rembrandt-like portraits of the Apostles by the baroque master Cristóbal de Villalpando, as well as a stunning group of gory, early colonial crucifixes in the Pátzcuaro tradition.

text ©1997 and 2019 Richard D. Perry
photography ©1995 by the author.

Friday, November 22, 2019

The Angels of Apaxco

The striking brownstone facades of the modest hillside church of San Francisco Apaxco and its adjacent open chapel display some of the finest tequitqui carving in Mexico.
The raised former open chapel is the older of the two structures, to the right of the church overlooking the atrium. An arcaded front projects like a bay window, each of its three arches framed by an alfiz carved with vines, angels' heads and the Franciscan emblem of the Five Wounds.
But the most prominent sculptural features of the chapel are the paired angels above each archway. Similar in style to the posa reliefs at Huejotzingo, they hover in mid-air, their robes flying out behind. 
  On the side arches the angels hold up the Stigmata, and above the center arch they flank an inscribed plaque surmounted by a freestanding carved crown. A monogram of Christ, encircled by a crown of thorns, is affixed to the keystone—a later addition.
The more expansive church front boasts a Plateresque inspired porch modeled on other Franciscan doorways—like Otumba and Tepeapulco. Decorative spiral columns divide the broad jambs of the doorway which display finely carved, complex grotesque style reliefs.
Finely carved panels of birds, animals and demonic heads decorate the jambs, while complex reliefs with winged angels, rosettes and slotted speech scrolls project at the springing of the arch. An unusual braided molding, carved with entwined foliage, follows around the flattened archway. 
The double-framed niche above the doorway, carved with cherubs and giant tassels on the outer frame and featuring a zig-zag inner arch, houses a statue of the patron, St. Francis. 
Inside the church, more grotesque reliefs embellish the sanctuary arch, which in turn frames an attractive 18th century gilded altarpiece with painted scenes from the life of St. Francis.
text and images © 1990 and 2019 Richard D. Perry

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Queretaro : The Musical Archangels of San Agustín

In another of our occasional series on musical angels in Mexican art, we look at the musician archangels of San Agustín, Querétaro.
Impressive in its sweeping scale, innovative in design and unique—even idiosyncratic—in its assemblage of architectural sculpture, the magnificent priory of San Agustín is one of the high points of late colonial architecture in the city of Querétaro—a city noted for its baroque buildings. 
In this post we focus on the suite of eight statues surrounding the octagonal tiled dome. With the help of a new series of images by our friend Niccolò Brooker, we are able to show in detail this spectacular group of musical archangels with plumed head dresses playing colonial era wind and string instruments.
Archangel with horn
Bassoon and Violin *
Mandolin and Viol *
horn player (2)
Traditionally, depictions of angelic musicians are found primarily in and around the dome of the church, accompanying the heavenward passage of music and prayers.
   Since these were among the finishing touches to the dome, they probably date from the 1740s.  Although the sculptor of these lively statues is not securely documented, it seems likely that they are the work of Juan Manuel de Villagómez, the innovative architect/designer credited with supervising the complex sculptural program in the former cloister at San Agustín.
Note: Headless bodies of similarly costumed and posed archangels also surround the unfinished tower. Although they may also have been intended to complement the statues around the dome, they do not appear to be holding instruments. 
text, color photos and graphic © 2019 Richard D. Perry
* color images © 2017 courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Puebla: two early altarpieces at Huejotzingo

In an earlier post, we looked at the main altarpiece (retablo mayor) at San Miguel Huejotzingo, a masterwork by the Flemish painter and sculptor Simón Pereyns. 
   This pivotal work marked the stylistic transition from the Plateresque to the Renaissance in Mexican religious art, all the more important as one of only a handful of altarpieces to survive from the 16th century. 
San Miguel Huejotzingo, the main altarpiece - detail
While, as we noted, there remain several other colonial era retablos along the nave at Huejotzingo, none date from this early period.
San Diego Huejotzingo
However, a pair of smaller, lateral altarpieces, in a style closely related to the retablo mayor, now rest in the later parish church of San Diego Huejotzingo. And while neither is securely dated, their design and detailing strongly support a late 16th century origin for both.
   Like the retablo mayor, these Mannerist inspired altarpieces are principally distinguished by their elegant, paired tritostyle columns whose lower thirds are carved and painted with sinuous caryatids and swags. The fluted upper sections taper upwards, festooned with angels' heads and capped by Corinthian style capitals. 
Polychrome reliefs fill the broad friezes and predellas of the altarpieces, replete with reclining angels and swags in similar fashion.

The first retablo is dedicated, like the church, to the Franciscan saint San Diego de Alcalá, and showcases a large painting of the saint portrayed as a shepherd with his flock.

The second altarpiece, almost identical to the first, features a portrait of El Señor de la Misericordia?  It is probable that both of these lateral retablos came originally from the monastery church of San Miguel Huejotzingo, and since they are broadly contemporary with its retablo mayor, it is intriguing to speculate that Pereyns and/or his collaborators also had a hand in their design and construction.
In addition, there is a marked similarity between this pair and a previously mentioned side altarpiece, also dedicated to San Diego de Alcalá, at nearby Cuauhtinchan, another major early Franciscan monastery in the Puebla region.
   Since all three appear to date from the 16th century—the only side altarpieces of the period extant in the region—it seems plausible that they were all commissioned at the same time, possibly by the same patron and further, even executed by the same team of designers and craftsmen.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry. color images by Niccolo Brooker

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Morelos: El Nicho de Hueyapan

Santo Domingo Hueyapan before the earthquake
The early Dominican monastery of Santo Domingo, a World Heritage Site, is located in remote Hueyapan on the slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl.
   It suffered greatly in the great earthquake of 2017 when the dome and vaulting over the nave collapsed during a mass; fortunately only one casualty was reported. 
major earthquake damage at Hueyapan
Hueyapan church front 2019
While restoration work on the single tower is under way, reconstruction of the dome and interior vaulting remains to be tackled—a vast undertaking. 
   No word on the extent of damage to the church furnishings is yet to hand, which included several altarpieces, and in particular, the Nicho de Hueyapan, an early 19th century masterpiece signed and dated 1828 by the noted regional native sculptor and retablista, Higinio López, the “Master of Zacualpan” whose work we saw at Tlacotepec.
El Nicho de Hueyapan
Located in the church sacristy, the niche is a portable altar elaborately carved and painted to house the image of El Señor de Hueyapan posed in the classic attitude of Christ the Nazarene, kneeling with the cross. 
    The work is notable for its complex carving that incorporates several figures, notably the Four Evangelists, Luke and Mark, a lamb, Adam and Eve, and putti in various poses, together with other Passion scenes.
Santo Domingo Hueyapan, the main retablo
two side altars
In addition to this piece, other works of art include the late baroque gilded main altarpiece along with some side retablos in colorful popular style. The current condition of all these works after the quake damage remains to be ascertained.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images by eltb and other internet sources