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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SILVER CHAPELS OF GUANAJUATO: The Rayas chapel

For the last of our current series on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato, we offer a two part feature on another chapel with ties to the architect Felipe de Ureña and the eminent Sardaneta family of that city.
   In 1776 Don Vicente Manuel de Sardaneta y Legaspi, now sole owner of the Mineral de Rayas silver mine and patron of the Templo de Rayas, an aristocratic hacendado, and one of the richest men in Mexico, added the finishing touches to his colonial mansion in the burgeoning city center of Guanajuato.  La Casa de Rayas, as it was known, was a suitably imposing residence for the Marqués de Rayas—a new title bestowed on Don Vicente by the king of Spain two years earlier. 
 
La Casa de Rayas: the present front;                                            the sculpture niche;
This venerable townhouse now houses the city museum, El Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, which was opened to the public in 1979. Its only original exterior feature is the ornamental niche that formerly held a statue of the Virgin of Sorrows, the Sardaneta family patron saint.
The Rayas Chapel 
Great care, as well as considerable funds, were lavished on the family chapel, located in the upper level of the hillside house. This chapel, with its elegant facade dated 1776, remains in place. 

   It was reportedly designed by Felipe de Ureña* although to judge by the dedication date this would have been very late in his career and at a time when he may have been in Oaxaca. 
The chapel entry with former sculpture pedestals (ringed)
Nevertheless, the slender portal provides an appropriately impressive entry to the chapel, very much in the felipense style. Elaborately layered, projecting estípite pilasters rise to support the scrolled ends of a broken pediment, and a large octagonal window overhead completes the design.
The archway bears a long, dedicatory inscription in Latin (1). The escutcheon of the Sardaneta family, once prominently emblazoned above the doorway but now obliterated save for the crowning tiara, was the focus of the facade, flanked by the names of Jesus and Joseph.
   Empty sculpture pedestals over the tiara and to each side of the window, once supported three statues. Although these have been lost, it is likely that they would have represented The Virgin Mary and her parents Joachim and Anna. Together with the inscribed names of Jesus and Joseph below, these statues would have signified the Five Lords (Los Cinco Señores), a widespread, late colonial Catholic devotion of the Holy Family (2). 
   The image of the Virgin, like those formerly in the exterior niche and the Cata retablo, was probably that of Dolores—Our Lady of Sorrows—whose cult was especially favored by the Sardaneta family.  
 
chapel facade details
The ornament and the interplay between its varied forms and shifting levels succeed in animating the doorway despite its limited scale and constricted space. In characteristic felipense fashion, the elongated estípites draw the eye upwards from the plain doorframe to focus on the inscriptions and the statuary above. 
All the intervening spaces are filled with rococo relief ornament, recalling the Templo de Rayas facade. 
In our final post we will look at the chapel altarpiece, also by Ureña.

(1)  “My house is a house of prayer saith the Lord. Within, whoever asks shall receive, whoever seeks shall find, and to whomever knocks it shall be opened. How awesome is this place; truly, is it not the house of God and the Gate of Heaven.”


(2)  Related to the popular cult of The Powerful hand (La Mano Poderosa) in which the five fingers of the right hand - the Hand of God - signify the five members of the Holy Family.

*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style.
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See our previous posts on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato: La Valenciana, El Santuario de VillasecaTemplo de San Juan de Rayas;
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text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

THE SILVER CHAPELS OF GUANAJUATO: El Templo de Rayas, part two: the altarpieces

For our second post on El Templo de San Juan de Rayas we track down two of the original altarpieces, now, like so many other parts of the chapel, located elsewhere.
The Altarpieces
Although the fate of the main altarpiece—there must have been one—is unfortunately unknown, two of its elegant side altars have luckily survived and are now located in the transepts of the nearby Santuario de Villaseca (Cata), another silver chapel.

   The overall design of the two retablos is virtually identical and follows closely that of the Rayas temple facade. Both follow the classic barroco estípite style of the late 1700s, framed by slender, paired estípites, stalactite like lambrequins and flamboyantly scrolled pediments, and both may confidently be attributed to the Ureña workshop.*
   The retablos have related themes: one is dedicated to Christ portrayed as the Man of Sorrows, and the other to Our Lady of Sorrows (La Dolores)—to whom the Sardaneta family was especially devoted.
The Man of Sorrows altarpiece
The Man of Sorrows altarpiece has been modified with the hollowing out of the side niches to accommodate modern statuary. 
   However, the humble portraits in the medallions below are original and no doubt portray the Marqués de San Juan de Rayas and his wife, rather than members of the Villaseca family of Cata.
  
The Dolores altarpiece
By contrast, the Dolores retablo appears to be in its original state, featuring outsize niche-pilasters with large, painted reliefs of Saints Joachim and Anna—the parents of the Virgin Mary. Although the reliefs are elaborately framed in ornate, rocaille cartouches, the portraits themselves are posed in an unassuming, popular style.
*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City.
Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style.
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See our other pages on works by the Ureña family: El Santuario de Guadalupe (Ags); El Templo del Encino (Ags); The Temple of Carmen (SLP); San Cosme, retablo (DF); Regina Coeli, retablo (DF)
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text and images © 2017 Richard D. Perry
additional photography by Benjamin Arredondo and others

Saturday, November 4, 2017

THE SILVER CHAPELS OF GUANAJUATO: El Templo de Rayas, part one

The Mineral de Rayas
One of the richest of the Guanajuato mines, the Mineral de Rayas was located atop the mother lode, or veta madre, set prominently in the hills above the city. In fact the mine still partially functions behind its forbidding, fortress-like structure. 
   The Rayas mine was expanded during the mid-1700s—its most productive years—by the proprietor, Vicente Manuel de Sardaneta y Legazpí, a prominent criollo entrepreneur, civic leader and first Marqués de San Juan de Rayas.
El Templo de San Juan de Rayas in its original location
A significant part of his legacy was the Temple of San Juan de Rayas, one of the most elegant of the silver chapels, erected in the settlement of San Juan de Rayas located beside the mine. It was completed in the 1770s, replacing a more modest chapel dating from the 1500s, at a then staggering cost of 54,000 pesos. 
   When the Rayas mine played out towards the end of the colonial era, the village of San Juan de Rayas came upon hard times, and by 1850 was virtually abandoned. The neglected temple fell into disrepair and by the early 1900s its integrity was threatened by landslides and unstable mine workings.
The Relocation
By the mid-1940s, the temple was in imminent danger of demolition because of planned construction of the Panoramic Highway that encircles the city. At the eleventh hour, the local Rotary Club came to the rescue, carefully dismantling the chief architectural elements of the temple. 
   The facade, along with the tower and a lantern above the dome were brought down from the mountainside stone by stone and reassembled to form a new front for the church of Guadalupe de Pardo, a former hacienda chapel located west of the city center in the barrio of Tepetapa, where it now remains.
While no longer in its original location, the Rayas temple is now recognized as a classic of the Guanajuatan baroque. Although not so far conclusively documented, we may infer from its distinctive design and the close connection between the architect and the Sardaneta family, that it was the work of Felipe de Ureña* or a close family member. In fact many of the architectural elements displayed in his design for the Jesuit church of La Compañía in the city center are also present in the Rayas temple.
The Facade
“A filigree in stone” as Manuel Toussaint, the late dean of Mexican colonial art studies, once called it, the Rayas temple facade, with its intricately layered estípite pilasters, expansive “moorish” doorframe and exuberantly scrolled gable, displays all of the signature features of the mature felipense style. 
   In the Rayas facade the architectural elements are sinuously layered, set one upon another against a tapestry of modeled floral relief—a pattern traceable back to Spanish Plateresque design, as well as pre-hispanic pictorial and sculptural traditions in Mexico.  
   This complex center façade stands in contrast to the flanking, blank arches, an unusual feature that suggests an unfinished state, even as configured in the original building.

The Iconography
The intricately carved tableau of the Baptism of Christ, framed by an elaborately festooned niche and prominently placed in the center of the gable, reflects the temple’s original dedication to St. John the Baptist, the namesake of the founder of San Juan de Rayas.
   
   In contrast to the sophisticated treatment of the architectural elements, this carved relief evokes a more popular feeling, especially in the arrangement and detailing of the figures. (This is generally true of Mexican architectural sculpture from almost every period—another legacy both of Spanish popular art and pre-hispanic influenced, so-called tequitqui, forms.)
Including the John the Baptist relief, several other ornamental motifs evoke water symbols traditionally associated with baptism, such as seashells, the wavelike window frame, the undulating doorway arch and upper pediment, even the dripping stalactite style pendants on the lower columns. 
   In addition to its magnificent west front, many other ornamental and structural elements of the Rayas temple, including the single south tower, the octagonal dome with its pendentives and lantern, and not least, its superb gilded retablos (see Part Two) were putatively designed by Ureña in accordance with his innovative concept of “total design,” and expertly fabricated by craftsmen from his celebrated family workshop.
 
The Tower 
The single south tower, while still ornate, is less extravagant than the facade. Tall and elegant, its large bell openings are framed by slender but finely carved estípites capped with caryatids. A circular, temple-like cupola caps the square tower. 
dome lantern
The Dome
Because of the oval configuration of the pre-existing Pardo dome, the circular Rayas temple dome and its supporting structure, although salvageable, could not easily be placed in that location.  However, the transplanted lantern is there, also elaborately ornamented with prominent estípites and projecting cornice.
 
The Pendentives
The supporting pendentives—four large, triangular reliefs of the Evangelists—have also been preserved. These can now be seen, installed somewhat inconspicuously, above the principal stairwell of the School of Architecture, located in the Unidad Belém of the University of Guanajuato—formerly the Bethlemite hospital/monastery. 
 
Carved in low relief and originally painted in bright colors, each panel portrays one of the Four Evangelists with his respective attribute: Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), Luke (ox) and John (eagle). 
In our second post we will look at the "rescued retablos" of the Templo de Rayas.
*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style. 

See our previous posts on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato: La ValencianaEl Santuario de Villaseca;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Earthquake damage in Morelos update: Hueyapan

This is the last in our current series reporting on recent earthquake damage to colonial churches in Morelos.  We will update our earlier posts as significant new information emerges.
Santo Domingo Hueyapan in happier times
The old Dominican mission of Santo Domingo Hueyapan stands high on the slopes of Popocatépetl, above Tetela del Volcán.
   Like Tetela, the plain but sturdy church front is notable for its handsome single tower, and is faced by an atrium cross cut from the abundant black basalt of the area. And the nave is lined by colorful baroque altars and a fine, gilded retablo mayor.
  
The tower, atrium cross and golden main altarpiece
Hueyapan, the nave before the 'quake   ©ELTB
 
The dome and lantern before the earthquake (
Wilhelm Karl Schepers Schaefer)
Following the 9/19 earthquake, however, the church sustained serious damage, leaving the tower cracked and battered, and collapsing two of the domed vaults—over the octagonal crossing and the apse.

Although the interior has been severely impacted, the main altarpiece seems to have escaped major harm.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Robert Jackson, ELTB and internet sources

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Earthquake damage in Morelos update: Tetela del Volcán

The little mountain community of Tetela del Volcán clings to the steep western slopes of Popocatépetl. The unpretentious Dominican mission of San Juan Bautista sits on a rise above the village plaza, commanding a panoramic vista of the volcano above and the Amilpas Valley below.
© 1987 by Richard D. Perry
Like other modest churches in the region the square facade is mostly plain, capped here by a handsome, single tower bristling with massed pilasters.*
© 1987 by Richard D. Perry
The main attraction of the convento is the extraordinary sequence of 16th century murals that adorn the walks and arcades of its delightful, dressed stone cloister.
© Robert Jackson
* Unfortunately, like so many other churches in Morelos, during the recent earthquake Tetela sustained damage to its fabric, primarily to its ornate tower, whose upper tier collapsed into the atrium below. 
No word yet on the fate of the cloister murals at Tetela!

  
Tetela, the cemetery chapel;                                        San Marcos Xochicalco
Other churches and chapels in the immediate area also suffered severe effects, including the venerable cemetery chapel as well as neighboring hillside churches at Tlalmimilulpan, Xochicalco and Alpanocan.
 
San Pedro Tlalmimilulpan;                                   San Antonio Alpanocan
text © 2017 by Richard D. Perry
1987 color images by the author.  post quake pictures by Robert Jackson and online sources

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mexico: earthquake damage in Morelos — Ahuatlan

As we have reported in recent posts, damage following the 9/19 Mexico earthquake has been visited on communities, buildings and churches large and small, especially in Morelos.
But few have suffered the total devastation as has the little church of Asunción Ahuatlan, near Totolapan (also heavily affected)
Asunción Ahuatlan was chiefly notable for its adjacent but separate open chapel, already partly in ruins but retaining some of its colorful mural decoration.
 
open chapel & mural fragments before 'quake
But after the 9/19 'quake, both the church and chapel sustained what may be irreparable damage.
Ahuatlan today, after the earthquake (©Robert Jackson)
10/25/17 Morelos update:

Se llevó a cabo una misión de diagnóstico en el conjunto de templos históricos que conforman los Primeros Monasterios del siglo 16, ubicados en las laderas del Popocatépetl.
   Como resultado de ello, se documentó que todos los monasterios han sufrido importantes deterioros de diverso grado: agrietamientos, desprendimientos, fracturas y desplomes de diversa magnitud.

Los monasterios que presentan los daños más severos están ubicados en los municipios de Tlayacapan, Totolapan y Tetela del Volcán”, indicó el gobierno mediante un comunicado.

Edificios históricos dañados:

1. La Natividad de María, Tepoztlán

2. La Catedral de Cuernavaca

3. Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Oaxtepec

4. San Juan Bautista, Tlayacapan

5. San Guillermo, Totolapan

6. San Mateo, Atlatlahucan

7. San Juan Bautista, Yecapixtla

8. Santiago Apóstol, Ocuituco

9. San Juan Bautista, Tetela del Volcán

10. Santo Domingo de Guzmán, Hueyapan

11. Inmaculada Concepción, Zacualpan de Amilpas
text © Richard D. Perry. 
images courtesy of Robert Jackson and Niccolò Brooker