Monday, May 20, 2019

Treasures of Mexico City: Santa Teresa la Antigua.

We continue our visits to Mexico State churches with a look at the former nun’s church of Santa Teresa la Antigua.
Completed in 1684 by the eminent Mexico City architect Cristóbal de Medina Vargas, Santa Teresa la Antigua is an outstanding example in the city of the late 17th century so-called Solomonic baroque style—distinguished by the prominent use of spiral columns in the lateral twin portals—a typical feature of colonial nunnery churches.
Paired columns flank both doorways, while singles frame the overhead nave windows. The portals are notable for their finely sculpted detail, including statues of the Christ child set between the broken gable pediments.

The church front is distinguished by its passages of intricately carved relief ornament. Another distinctive aspect of the church is that it leans slightly, a result of its foundations being built atop the sinking former lake bed underlying much of Mexico City.

Most of the attached convento has gone although an original tiled fountain survives in the former patio.

Santa Teresa la Antigua, the dome

Today the elegantly refurbished interior serves as a gallery for contemporary art, known as Ex Teresa Arte Actual.
More Treasures: San Bernardo; Tepepan; San Cosme; San Felipe El Nuevo; Santa Isabel Tola; Acolman; Tlalmanalco; Tlalnepantla

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry

color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and others

Thursday, May 16, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 3. the atrium cross

For our final post on Rio Tenco we look at the carved stone cross in the church atrium.
Currently precariously mounted on an arch spanning a disused fountain, the atrium cross is less well cared for, with peeling coats of whitewash. 
  The cross is plain with few reliefs, apart from indifferently carved fleur-de-lis finials.  
The toothy skull and bones at the foot of the cross is its most distinctive feature. 
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images © Niccolo Brooker

Monday, May 13, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 2. The altarpieces

For our second post on Rio Tenco we go inside the church to view the beautiful gilded main retablo of Guadalupe, fashioned like the church front in late baroque style, and newly restored by Adopte una Obra de Arte.  
The center niche portrays the Virgin of Guadalupe in classic style flanked by oval paintings of the four Apparitions mounted in the interestípites.
An image of the patron St Lawrence with his grill occupies the lower niche.
Other exceptional features of the altarpiece include the dynamic statue of the Archangel Michael at the top and the stooped figure of San Juan Diego “holding up” the entire retablo at its foot.

St. Lawrence appears again as the focus of another gilded side altar.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images by N. Brooker and from online sources

Thursday, May 9, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 1. The Architecture

This is the first of three posts on the church of San Lorenzo in Rio Tenco near Cuautitlan northwest of Mexico City.
    Our first post reports on the exterior architecture and sculpture of the church, pages on the main altarpiece and atrium cross will follow.
The Church of San Lorenzo

An imposing late baroque retablo style church front with much sculptural detail has recently been refurbished & heavily whitewashed.   
Statues of saints in the facade niches include Paul and the Patron St. Lawrence with his grill.
Reliefs include the equestrian figures of saints George and James (Santiago) as well as above the doorway, reliefs of The Virgin of Guadalupe and God the Father  attended by cherubs with cornucopia.
A large shell surmounts the recessed northern entry dotted with blackened reliefs, notably of the Holy Trinity.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Monday, May 6, 2019

Treasures of Mexico City. Tlalmanalco: the Open Chapel

Set against the majestic backdrop of the volcano Ixtaccihuatl, the arcaded open chapel at Tlalmanalco is one of the masterworks of 16th century sculpture in Mexico, "half Indian, half European and all Mexican" as John McAndrew, the art historian, has called it.
The design is elegantly simple. From the sanctuary at the rear, framed by a triumphal arch and Moorish alfiz, the walls of the chapel flare forward to embrace the broad arcade of the outer portico.
   Sensuously carved from chocolate-colored stone by native artisans, the sculptural forms are a stylistic mix. Although the underlying forms are those of Renaissance grotesque decoration, medieval imagery and symbolism give the chapel an exotic, archaic feeling, like some long-forgotten Hindu temple.
   But the unique significance of the chapel lies in its complex iconography. It is nothing less than a pictorial manifesto of late 16th century Franciscan beliefs on life, death and salvation—a sermon in stone designed to impress and instruct the native converts and reinforce the zeal of the friars.
   By the 1560s, when the chapel was being built, the friars' view of their mission in the New World had become increasingly pessimistic. The epidemics then decimating the Indian population were interpreted by the friars as divine punishment for the alarming resurgence of idolatry among their flock. 
They saw these events as portents of the Final Days, when an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of good and evil would culminate in Christ's Second Coming. His triumph would precipitate the Last Judgment and establish the New Jerusalem—the Celestial City where, the friars believed, the righteous would dwell in joy forever. 
  Although some of the symbolism remains obscure, this is the message graphically conveyed by the sculpture of the open chapel. 
The five arches of the portico picture sin and vice in all their guises, symbolized by wild animals, like horses, lions and monkeys, entwined in the rank foliage of untamed nature.
© Carolyn Brown
People too, are caught in this jungle. Some resist heroically but others succumb to temptation with agonized expressions. Skulls and crossbones below the center arch symbolize the triumph of death, but the serene crowned head at the apex, flanked by the dragons of the underworld, represents the hope of salvation for man's eternal soul.
The elaborately carved sanctuary behind the arcade is the focal point of the chapel, containing the richest symbolism. Trees of Evil climbing the richest symbolism. Trees of Evil climb the flanking pilasters, headed by grim-visaged Angels of the Apocalypse on the capitals. 
Friezes of grimacing masks, animals and skulls of grimacing masks, animals and skulls continue around the alfiz and along the cornice, where a demonic zoo of fantastic animals—gryphons, birds of prey and hybrid creatures, half animal, half plant—emerge from the serpentine foliage.
A Pyramid of Demons ascends the jambs of the archway. Trapped by a welter of spiny tendrils, the contorted faces of sinners and fallen angels alternate with grinning goats' heads in a medieval bestiary of simians, hippogriffs, three- headed eagles and scaly locusts.headed eagles and scaly locusts.
The archway itself represents the narrow road to salvation. From the chalices at the base— powerful symbols of redemption—a harmonious foliated design ascends to the radiant face of the New Adam at the apex. The knotted cord frames the arch, to emphasize the guiding role of the Franciscan Order along the perilous path to salvation.
   In the spandrels, escutcheons display the Five Wounds, and crowned angels hold up the Instruments of Christ's Passion, by which Satan's power is vanquished.

Above the archway—the symbolic entrance to the Celestial City—stands Christ as Savior, with orb and scepter. The sun's rays, radiating behind his head echoing the theophany repeated every morning as the sun rises above the chapel from the mists surrounding Ixtaccihuatl.
Note. The chapel is currently walled off.
text © 1992 & 2019  Richard D. Perry
images ©1987 & 2019 by the author
Look for our other posts on Tlalmanalco:  The Murals; The Baptismal Font; The Main Altarpiece;

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Salamanca: La Nativitas crosses

In previous posts we looked at some so-called "syndesmos" crosses, those designed to symbolize the physical body of Christ, carved with head, hands and feet.  
Here we describe another example.
La Nativitas in 1994
Located in an outlying workaday barrio on the east side of the industrial city of Salamanca, Guanajuato, the the tiny, 18th century chapel of La Nativitas is a folk baroque gem.
La Nativitas, the gable in 1994
The sculpted facade is framed by geometrical estipite pilasters and crowned by a scalloped, rounded gable. Boldly carved shells and spiraling foliage adorn the openings and niches. Archaic statues of the Virgin of the Assumption and her aged parents Joachim and Anna occupy the upper niches.

Until fairly recently a striking stone cross, thought to be the original atrium cross, topped the gable, moved there in the last century when the atrium was reduced in size. Bordered by serrated edges like other regional crosses—notably in Queretaro—the cross is carved with reliefs of the Instruments of the Passion.
One special feature of this cross is its framing as the symbolic body of Christ. A detailed relief of Christ’s head, complete with crown of thorns , wavy hair and beard, is flanked by outstretched, stigmatized hands on either arm, with a pair of crossed feet on the lower shaft.
More recently the cross was moved from the gable to a place atop the adjacent tower, replaced by a scarred statue of St Michael.
   A Calvary cross relief, also serrated or carved with "tree stubs," is mounted above the sculpted north doorway of the chapel.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
b/w images © 1994 by the author.  color photography by Niccolo Brooker and Benjamín Arredondo

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Tepoztlan: the baptismal fonts

In previous posts we have described the carved stone crosses at Natividad Tepoztlán. In this post we look at its carved stone fonts.
The present baptismal font in the church, sunk in a circular recess in the nave as we saw at nearby Cuernavaca cathedral, probably dates from the 1600s or later, and is carved in a conventional style with a fluted, shell like basin set on a square base.
As at Cuernavaca however, a second font at Tepoztlán, possibly earlier, is of greater interest. Set out by the west front of the church it too features a fluted basin set on a square base, but is also carved with relief medallions displaying the Dominican fleur-de-lis cross (fashioned in the manner of the convento murals) as well as the ancient place glyph of Tepoztlán: A hill cleft by a copper axe.
text and images ©1987 and 2019 by Richard D. Perry