Sunday, August 17, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: Magdalena Quinceo, the Painted Ceiling

St. Mary Magdalene
Quinceo: the Painted Ceiling

Quinceo boasts what may be the largest and most complete painted ceiling in Michoacán, although almost certainly one of the least well known and so far unrestored. 
   Although dated by a single, scrawled inscription to the late 1800s, much of the ceiling ornament may in fact be much earlier.
The Quinceo ceiling, the apsidal end  © Gloria Alvarez
It takes the form of a low, rounded vault, with fan like avenerado (shell) sections at either end above the choir and apse. The ceiling is divided into thirty arched, painted panels spanning the nave.
   These fall into two sections: slender panels along the western two thirds of the nave, and wider panels towards the apsidal end.
The Quinceo ceiling, choir end
The Litany 
As at neighboring Zacán and San Lorenzo, the Litany of the Virgin of Loreto is the principal subject of the crowded eastern panels—the text here reproduced in Latin rather than Spanish. 

The invocatory titles and accompanying illustrations alike are taken from the widely known 18th century Klauber edition of the Litany, and here include its additional biblical verses—the only such complete example among the Michoacán ceilings or in any Mexican pictorial context to our knowledge, this despite the fact that several of the original invocations are missing or have been effaced and some of the scriptural references are shortened or incomplete.
The sloping lateral panels are crowded with portraits of the blue robed Virgin in various attitudes, with the accompanying cursive texts and biblical figures, and set in a variety of rustic landscapes, often with buildings, ships, etc., loosely based on the original illustrations from the Litany.
All are profusely ornamented with floral sprays, swags and urns in a spontaneous and colorful folksy style. A sequence of varied, red and blue sunburst motifs unfolds at the apex of the ceiling. 
Loosely composed, but rendered in a broad and luminous range of red, blue, yellow and green, these folkloric painted panels are clearly the work of indigenous artists. They are strikingly similar in style to those at San Lorenzo and may well be by the same artist or artists.

St Matthew;  St James Minor;  St Philip
The Apostles
The eight broader panels towards the west end are more sparely ornamented and devoted to portraits of the Apostles—St. James Major (Santiago); St. James Minor; St. Philip; St John the Evangelist; St. Matthew; St. Peter; St. Andrew; St. Simoneach inscribed with the saint’s name and showing his attributes.
   Portraits of the Apostles in sequence, or apostolados, are a prominent feature in many of the painted ceilings of Michoacán, especially among the smaller chapels such as Corupo, Charapan, Zapateros, Uruapan and Santa Clara del Cobre, as we shall see.
St James Major & St John the Evangelist
An image of Mary Magdalene, the patron saint, dominates the apsidal fan, while the Archangel Michael stands guard above the choir at the west end.
Mary Magdalen;  St Michael.   drawings © Gloria Alvarez
Although often exhibiting uneven composition and awkward lettering, and having suffered much from extensive water damage as well as some later retouching, these murals nevertheless retain much of their freshness and color—classic examples of popular religious folk art in the Michoacán tradition. 
   It is hoped that resources can soon be found to protect and restore this rare ceiling before it decays further.
© Gloria Alvarez
The Gloria
Another extraordinary feature of the ceiling is the large sunburst, or Gloria, with hinged golden rays affixed to the ceiling above the main altar. 
   It is reinforced and fitted with pulleys by which the “ascension” of an image of Christ of the Virgin through the “Gate of Heaven” is dramatized during the Easter ceremonies.

Text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.    Photography ©Niccolò Brooker except where noted
based in part on Los Artesanos michoacanos... by Gloria Angélica Álvarez Rodríguez
All rights reserved
English version of the Litany

Litany of Loreto: latin/english/spanish

The Litany of Loreto
graphic © 2010 Richard D. Perry

Friday, August 15, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: Magdalena Quinceo, the Church

We follow our posts on Tupátaro, the best known of the missions with painted ceilings, by visiting Quinceo, one of the least well known and documented churches, located on a less traveled road east of San Juan Capácuaro in the meseta tarasca of western Michoacán (see area map below) 
   As with Tupátaro our description comes in two parts: first, of the church itself, and then a description of the spectacular painted ceiling.
image © Ing. Alexsander
Santa Maria Magdalena Quinceo
The rural purépecha* village of Quinceo has a substantial although at first glance unprepossessing stone church set beside its detached brick tower. 
   Although the adjoining guatápera complex has long since disappeared, the altered parish church remains in good condition, surrounded by picturesque, vernacular troje * wooden houses.  
The Quinceo doorway © Gloria Alvarez
Founded in the 16th century as a visita of neighboring Capácuaro, the church is entered through the original stone doorway, framed in a similar Franciscan/Michoacán style, with a colonnaded alfiz and an archway ringed by carved rosettes and intricate shell motifs. 
detail © Gloria Alvarez
As at Capacuaro, a fine stone relief of a bearded God the Father, with globe and arm raised in benediction, is carved on the keystone.
© Niccolo Brooker
© Niccolo Brooker
Another relief of El Padre Eterno in the same attitude is carved on the arch of the sotocoro, or under choir, facing the visitor as he enters the church. 
© Niccolo Brooker
The Main Altarpiece
Although the original late baroque retablo mayor has been partially disassembled, its upper section, framed by ornate, gilded baluster columns, is still in place behind the altar, capped by yet another painted relief of El Padre Eterno.
© Niccolo Brooker
Several fine old pasta de caña images stand along the nave, including that of Mary Magdalene, the patron saint, and a processional statue of La Purísima.
The Michoacan missions (click to enlarge) ©Carolyn Brown
   *the preferred name of the language and the native people of the region.
Text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.    Photography ©Niccolò Brooker & Gloria Alvarez
based in part on Los Artesanos michoacanos... by Gloria Angélica Álvarez Rodríguez

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Tupátaro: the Painted Ceiling

Tupátaro: the Ceiling
Aside from the gilded main altarpiece (see previous post) the principal treasure at Santiago Tupátaro is its painted ceiling, the best known, one of the earliest and perhaps the most spectacular of the Michoacán polychrome ceilings—a work of art that has been called with little exaggeration the "Sistine Chapel of the Americas."
   Dated 1772 by an inscription on a crossbeam, the trapezoidal ceiling is suspended above the long nave. Painstakingly restored by the late artist Enrique Luft in the 1970s and again by INAH in the 1990s, the ceiling comprises 47 panels* painted in a luminous palette of reds, greens, blues and earth tones.
   Compounding its grand scale, vivid color, graphic power and excellent state of preservation, the Tupátaro ceiling is considered one of the most coherent, both visually and iconographically, in the region.

Scenes from the life of the Virgin: Annunciation; Assumption, Meeting with St Elizabeth. 
Two cycles of key scenes from the Life of Christ and the Virgin Mary run along the horizontal center section—adorning the easterly panels and the westerly panels respectively. The images of the Virgin are especially well preserved and compelling.
The sloping lateral sections display an extended sequence of splendidly costumed archangels with plumed headdresses. Known as ángeles pasionarios, each one bears one of the traditional symbols associated with Christ’s Passion. 
Archangel with chain
Archangel with Pilate's judgment
Above the choir, two angels carry censers, and a charming smaller panel portrays St. Cecilia playing a pipe organ, underscoring the important role of music in the colonial liturgy. 
   All the panels are brilliantly framed with decorative clouds, cherubs, flowers, indigenous plants and fruits amid a profusion of ornamental baroque scrolls.
St. Cecilia playing the pipe organ
Created by an unknown local artist(s), this dazzling display of art in a humble rural chapel was designed to visually instruct and impress a congregation of largely illiterate villagers and pilgrims. 
   This ceiling testifies not only to the power of religious devotion in this remote corner of colonial Michoacán, but to the creative imagination that gave it such eloquent expression.
Text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. 
Photography by the author and courtesy of Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Tupátaro: the church

We begin our long awaited new survey of missions of Michoacán with painted ceilings by looking at perhaps the best known of this group, Santiago Tupátaro, located between Morelia and Patzcuaro in the western part of the state (see map*).
   In our first post on Tupátaro we consider the church and its gilded main altarpiece; in the second we describe the renowned painted ceiling in some detail.

From the outside, the rustic pilgrimage church of Tupátaro is plain enough, with little indication of the treasures found within.
A simple stone cross with flared finials and a plain rosette at its axis stands in the cobbled pathway to the church door. 
And folkloric reliefs of the Sun and Moon are all that adorn the severe arched entry.

Inside the church the imposing nave was enlarged and embellished in the mid-1700s to accommodate pilgrims paying homage to the image of El Señor del Pinito, a miracle working crucifix discovered in a local pine tree.
   At the far end of the nave—which boasts one of the few original sectional wood floors in the region to survive—a stunning gilded altarpiece glows beneath the polychrome ceiling.
This elegant baroque retablo is dated 1761—one of a handful of this style still in place in rural Michoacán—and was expertly restored in the 1970s by the late Enrique Luft who also restored the ceiling. 
   Slender spiral columns wreathed with carved grapevines separate a sequence of large painted panels. These are sumptuously framed, all the intervening spaces glowing with gilded filigree ornament.
The base level of the retablo, or predella, is crowded with popular polychrome reliefs of the Four Evangelists and the Four Doctors of the Church, prominently accompanied by carved pelicans—classic symbols of Christ's sacrifice.
The lateral paintings depict scenes from the Passion of Christ in dramatic chiaroscuro style, while the center panel portrays the Nativity with the Three Kings—the crowns, haloes and robes accented in gold in the Andean manner,
   In the extravagantly bescrolled gable overhead the dynamic figure of the militant patron saint, Santiago Matamoros, is shown trampling the Moor beneath his horse's hooves.

A related item of note is the decorative 1765 altar itself, veneered entirely with silver leaf paid for by pilgrims' donations.

The Michoacan missions (click to enlarge) ©Carolyn Brown

Check out our earlier posts on the missions of Michoacán: Uruapan; Capácuaro; San Nicolas de Obispo; Huiramangaro; Tarímbaro
Text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. 
Photography by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

NEOSTYLE: La Compañía, Oaxaca

We wind up our series on neóstyle related architecture with a post on the Jesuit church of La Compañía in Oaxaca, another one-of-a-kind building with a distinctive regional flavor. 

La Compañía de Oaxaca
Although this Jesuit church, along with its rambling convento and seminary, has occupied its site since 1579, because of the frequent destructive temblors in Oaxaca, the present building only dates from the 1760s—a few short years before the expulsion of the Order from Mexico in 1767. 
   Facing east, the idiosyncratic church front combines elements from many styles, lending it a complex, sophisticated air. Classical, neo-moorish, Plateresque and baroque details contribute to the eclectic mix, an effect amplified by the varied forms of openings, niches and outsize relief medallions that animate the intervening spaces.
From the polygonal corner buttresses—intended as tower bases although no towers were added—the facade bulges outward and upward, divided by pairs of giant baluster columns similar to those of nearby San Felipe Neri—a distinctive Oaxacan motif.
   These are set against layered pilasters and stand on on tall, decorative pedestals adding to the depth and shadow. Projecting oval medallions display religious acronyms.
   Above the plain, arched doorway a statue of Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit founder, occupies the classical center niche. Overhead, stepped scrolls lean inward to the lofty triangular gable which is flanked by simple estípite pilasters and pierced by three rounded openings in neo-Romanesque style.
La Compañía, the north portal
The projecting north portal echoes the facade.  Enlivened by fluted Ionic half-columns and flowering urns set at an angle on the corners.  Above the sinuous, Moorish inspired, lobed doorway, feathery scrolls flank an octagonal monogram of the Virgin. 
   A pointed, dentilled cornice caps the ensemble and a medieval battlemented parapet ranges overhead.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  color images by the author

For more on colonial Oaxaca consult our guidebook

Monday, August 4, 2014

NEOSTYLE: San José de Tlaxcala

Several churches in other regions of Mexico have echoes of the neóstilo movement, although, like those we saw in San Luis Potosí, they often reflect regional taste and tradition in architectural detailing.
A classic example is the parish church of San José in the ancient colonial city of Tlaxcala.
   The eclectic, late 18th century front is faced with blue glazed Talavera tiles set on point in a ground of angled, red ladrillo brick, creating a dynamic petatillo or zig zag effect in the Tlaxcalan/Pueblan style.
   Architectural components of the retablo style facade, finished in dramatic whitewashed stone and stucco, combine late baroque elements like the oval Rococo windows and mixtilinear gables, with sober tiers of paired, tritostyle columns—fluted and coffered below and with spiral festoons above.
   Minimal interestípites are sandwiched between the columns on the lower tier, their sole ornament being the figural busts at their heads. The only true statue is that of the patron St. Joseph silhouetted against the choir window.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  internet images by Martín Garcia