Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Miguel de Mendoza: a colonial artist in Oaxaca. 1

In previous pages we have looked at colonial painters of distinction who worked in Oaxaca, notably José de Páez and native Marcial Santaella.
   In this new series of posts we review selected works of Don Miguel de Mendoza, a contemporary of Páez and Santaella and a native Oaxacan artist, whose paintings can be seen in churches across the Mixteca Alta region of the state and beyond. 
   Manuel de Mendoza was born in Puebla in the later 1600s, into a leading family of indigenous nobility from the chocho speaking area around Coixtlahuaca, located in the Mixteca Alta (he often signed his work with the honorific Don to indicate his elite ancestry).  
   Stylistically, his early work was much influenced by that of the eminent Mexican painter Cristóbal de Villalpando, who completed many commissions in Puebla; Mendoza may have been apprenticed to, or worked in the Pueblan studio of the master, and may even have been distantly related to the master.
   In his active period, during the early decades of the 18th century, Mendoza seems to have worked almost exclusively in his ancestral area, most notably in the town of San Cristóbal Suchixtlahuaca, where he was long domiciled and held positions of community leadership.
   Although considered a follower of Villalpando, his work evolved over time, moving closer to the full blown baroque style of his fellow Oaxacan, the prolific Miguel Cabrera. Nevertheless a consistent feature in his work is the Mannerist inflected style of the Andalusian baroque as exemplified in Oaxaca by the earlier master Andrés de Concha and later amplified into a distinctive regional style. 
Our first page on Mendoza considers the treasury of recently documented paintings in his adopted town of Suchixtlahuaca
The modest parish church, was historically subject to the grand Dominican priory of San Juan Coixtlahuaca nearby, as evidence the Dominican fleur-de-lis medallion on the facade.
Mendoza's paintings inside the church are among his earliest documented, many of them signed and dated 1709. 
  The most distinctive of these at Suchixtlahuaca adorn the dramatic side retablo of the Last JudgmentIn addition to the center panel of the subject—one of Mendoza's largest paintings—crowded with naked figures of the damned, the other panels depict a violent series of harrowing martyrdoms that add to the apocalyptic tone of this altarpiece.

the martyrdom of St Stephen and St Lawrence
At the top of the altarpiece is a portrait of the Virgin of Carmen as protectress with Sts. Francis and John the Evangelist?. This serene composition seems out of keeping with other panels in the retablo, and may possibly be taken from another altarpiece.

The final item of interest here is the base panel illustrating a Mass for the Dead, an unusual feature in altarpieces and possibly intended as a memorial.

A second side retablo of note is that of the Virgin of the Rosary, handsomely framed with spiral columns and gilded filigree in the classic manner of the Oaxacan baroque.
St Dominic receiving the Rosary;   Sts Dominic and Francis
The six paintings, mostly signed, are all the work of Mendoza, and illustrate scenes from the life of St. Dominic, richly hued in green, blue and red/orange tones.

The neoclassical side retablo of La Soledad, also holds Mendoza paintings, also probably from another, earlier altarpiece. 
Only the upper portrait of St. Bartholomew is dated (1710) and inscribed as by Mendoza, although it seems likely that other two, unrelated thematically—a Flagellation and a St. Sebastian set in a colorful landscape—are also his.
Another retablo in Oaxacan baroque style is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The large, luminous center portrait of the saint is attributed to Mendoza, although unsigned. We may also assume that the smaller lateral panels showing six scenes from the life of St. Anthony are by the artist.
Finally, a handful of other individual paintings attributed to Mendoza survive elsewhere at Suchixtlahuaca, notably a large panel in a side chapel portraying the Virgin of the Rosary interceding for souls in Purgatory (Animas). 
   It is possible that this panel formerly capped the Rosario altarpiece, where the Carmen painting now resides.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
based on, with images adapted from, the 2013 thesis, DON MIGUEL DE MENDOZA. PINTOR INDIO CACIQUE, CATALOGO E ITINERARIO ARTÍSTICO  by Perla Miriam Jimenez Santos
Last Judgment fotos:  Eumelia Hernandez.  Rosario fotos:  Davy Caballero & Perla Jimenez

See some of our earlier posts featuring important Mexican altarpieces:
Planning a trip to Oaxaca?  Take our guidebook along

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Los Reyes Ixtacala: The Interior

In our second post on Los Reyes Ixtacala we look inside the church with a special focus on the sanctuary arch. 
     Although the nave has been re roofed and repainted, the original sanctuary arch has fortunately been conserved largely intact—a stand out in the otherwise plain, whitewashed interior.
Dating, like the facade, from the mid-16th century and sculpted in similar style, the archway and its supporting pillars are densely carved with foliage and classic Franciscan motifs. 
A series of stylized foliar reliefs, with leaves and fronds assertively carved in the early tequitqui manner, make up the broad archway and its rectangular, notched alfiz above.
Franciscan insignia, including the Stigmata (Five Wounds) and the Jerusalem cross, are set in heraldic shields along the vertical panels of the complex pillars, together with intricate, foliated reliefs and "grotesque" style urns, and framed like the facade by the knotted cord of the Order.  Scrolled capitals studded with rosettes and beads cap the pillars.

The high quality and extent of the sculpted sanctuary arch and its supports suggest that it may at one time have framed an open chapel.
                                         text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. 
                                                  color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Los Reyes Ixtacala: The Exterior

Our friend and long time Mexico aficionado Niccolò Brooker has honored us over the years, by allowing us to display his spectacular photography of numerous colonial sites and art works, the product of his unerring eye for telling detail.
In addition he has ventured to and documented many outlying colonial gems previously unknown to or unexplored by us. 
Bravo Niccolò!
The church of Los Reyes Ixtacala is just one recent example.  Our post, using his images, is in two parts: first the exterior and then the interior.
Los Reyes Ixtacala
Houses of Salt
Located formerly on the shores of Lake Texcoco, this ancient salt making community* was home to one of the earliest 16th century visitas of the great Franciscan monastery at Tlalnepantla
Few early Franciscan carved facades survive unaltered.  This relatively obscure example is one, although there are some gaps.
   The sculpted porch is fashioned in classic tequitqui style, with a square alfiz prominently outlined by the familiar knotted cord symbol of the Order.
The Doorway
Banded capitals and bases with carved rosettes and curling acanthus foliage frame the broad doorway, distinguished by its plain, basket handle arch and wide inner jambs. 
  In contrast, the outer jambs are densely sculpted in grotesque style with foliated panels in high relief.  Cactus reliefs appear at the top of each panel—an unusual indigenous touch. Sculpted capitals on either side display the Franciscan emblem of the Stigmata (Five Wounds) flanked by archaic relief angels.
The Alfiz
A sinuous, foliar motif with folded and unfolding leaves is repeated along the alfiz at the sides and on top, subtly morphing into a double headed Hapsburg imperial eagle above the doorway capitals.
Angel's heads anchor the corners and a central relief again shows the Stigmata. Flecks of red and blue throughout indicate that the entire facade was at one time brightly colored, an even more impressive sight—delightful though it is—than it appears today.
Addition sculptural highlights at Ixtacala include a carved roof cross, several statues of archangels and even embedded Aztec stonework.
Aztec sculpture
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  all color images © Niccolò Brooker

* See our post on San Cristóbal Nexquipayac, another ancient salt making village on the shores of Lake Texcoco.
* See some of our recent posts on regional sculpted facades and doorways:
 Texcoco; Atliztac; Tepeapulco; San Felipe Neri DF; Coixtlahuaca; Yecapixtla; Tlamaco; Tepalcingo

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Lords of Milpa Alta

In the third of our posts on unusual reliefs, we visit the church of La Asunción in Villa Milpa Alta, south east of Mexico City
Sometime in the latter 1500s or early 1600s, a sumptuous altarpiece was commissioned for the Franciscan church of La Asunción. The centerpiece of this retablo, and all that remains of it today, is the beautifully carved and painted relief of the Virgin Mary. 
   Some aspects of this historic art work have been debated over the years, especially since its restoration in the 1990s.
First of all, the actual subject of the relief, once thought to be The Assumption, in view of the dedication of the church, is now thought to represent the Coronation of the Virgin by the Holy Trinity. 
In part, this interpretation is based on the presence of musical angels singing and playing colonial instruments, horn, native flute, mandolin and viola, heralding a joyful celebration—more appropriate for a coronation than the more sober, mystical event of the Assumption. Cherubs beside the horn and flute players point to the musical scores.
   However, the more interesting  debate concerns the figures beside the Virgin: four on either side, men on the left, women on the right. At one time they were assumed to be the 16th century Spanish encomenderos and their ladies.
But today, based on research into communal documents from the period and given the longstanding indigenous traditions of this community, they are thought to represent the native leaders of the community, heavy black beards notwithstanding, primarily because of their clearly indigenous not Spanish dress. 
   The two figures in the foreground on either side with reddish gold cloaks may be assumed to be the caciqueor native lord, and his wife—quite probably the ones who actually sponsored the relief as well as the entire original retablo.
Text © 2016  Richard D Perry
Images © and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker. All rights reserved

Based on articles by Raymundo FLORES MELO:
 “La Asunción y coronación de la Virgen. Algunas consideraciones sobre la patrona de Milpa Alta”
“Una mirada  a la Virgen. Algunas consideraciones acerca de la Patrona de Milpa Alta”
“Otra mirada a la Virgen. Algunas consideraciones acerca de la patrona de Milpa Alta” 
also, ÁLVAREZ, Rosario. “La Iconografía Musical Latinoamericana en el Renacimiento y en el Barroco” 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Texcoco: an alphabetical doorway

The monastery church of San Antonio in Texcoco, now the city cathedral, was a successor to the first Franciscan mission established in Mexico, under Fray Pedro de Gante.* But by the mid-1600s the 16th century church was falling apart and was entirely rebuilt, starting in the 1660s and largely completed by 1700. 
   Our focus in this post is on the reconstituted north doorway, formerly the portiuncula, or ceremonial entry common to most Franciscan churches. The Franciscan arms, together with the date of its renovation—1694, are emblazoned above the doorway.  
   Of special interest here are the finely sculpted reliefs framing the doorway. While the inner column is plain save for the acanthus leaves of its capital, the adjacent, canted "grotesque" style panel is densely carved with scrolling foliage in a highly plastic style, and capped with a relief of the face of Christ and the Marian monogram.
Texcoco.  north doorway: left side;            right side
The carving on the outer pilasters, although less intensified, is even more intriguing. Highly stylized letters of the alphabet, again dexterously carved in a detailed, rounded style, appear sideways proceeding up the pilasters, starting with B at the bottom right and the letter R on the left hand panel.  
B,  C,  D,  E,  F,  G.
R,  S,  T,  U,  X.   (adapted from an image by Niccolò Brooker)
It seems unlikely that these decorative lettered panels were original to the doorway, certainly in their current placement. They may have been recycled from the early church, or elsewhere, and installed in their present position during the 17th century rebuilding, no doubt to emphasize the continued importance of this historic entry. 
   Whatever the circumstance, a carved stone alphabet frieze is virtually unknown in early colonial Mexico, and this may constitute a unique example. 
   It is tempting to speculate that this former frieze may have been carved under the guidance of Fray Pedro, whose pioneering efforts to instruct the already skilled native masons and other artisans in European artistic traditions were legendary.
text and images © 2016  Richard D. Perry
* see our other posts mentioning Pedro de Gante

Friday, September 30, 2016

Zacatecas: The Guadalupe Relief

In this first of a series on various carved reliefs of special interest, we look at the facade of the Apostolic College of Guadalupe, near Zacatecas.
The Apostolic College of Guadalupe, was founded by Franciscan Propaganda Fide missionaries in the 18th century.  The church front, skilfully cut from honey colored limestone, boasts a busily sculpted facade in the ornate, late baroque Zacatecas manner, featuring two grand reliefs.
Arrayed above the church entry, the main relief is among the most intriguing in the region.  Carved in popular style by indigenous master artisans, the tableau is sculpted in the round and depicts a cast of religious figures supporting a doctrine dear to the Apostolic Franciscans—the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
At center is the patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe, standing above the crescent moon and framed by rays and scrolled clouds. 
   One intriguing detail is the winged bust of St. Francis above the keystone supporting the Virgin.  As the scholar Jaime Lara has recently noted,* this is the only sculpted example known of the winged saint in Mexico—a theme more popular in the Andean region.
The Virgin is flanked on the left by St. Luke, jewel studded palette in hand, painting her portrait. And below, a youthful St. John the Evangelist, author of the Apocalypse * accompanied by his eagle, holds a pen (missing) and his open gospel.
On the right, the "subtle doctor" Duns Scotus, wearing a biretta, stands arms raised beside the mystic Sor Maria de Agreda holding her pen and book—both noted supporters of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The other large relief, above the choir window, although somewhat rearranged, depicts God the Father and the Holy Spirit accompanied by winged seraphs and musical angels playing harp and horn in a celestial sea of angel heads and puffy clouds.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  new images © Niccolò Brooker.
* The image of the Virgin Immaculate was traditionally based on the Woman of the Apocalypse as envisioned by St. John in his Book of Revelation.
Jaime Lara,  Birdman of Assisi  ASU-ACMRS  2016