Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NEOSTYLE: Santiago Tianguistenco

© Niccolo Brooker
Santiago Tianguistenco

Funded, like Santa Prisca de Taxco, by the mining mogul José de Borda, the rebuilt church front of Santiago Tianguistenco near Toluca, west of Mexico City, fits well into the neóstilo tradition. 
   The designer is thought to have been the aristocratic Ildefonso de Iniesta Bejarano y Durán, a close associate of the Taxco architect Cayetano José de Sigúenza, although it is distinct from his exquisite but more conventional barroco estípite facades at San Felipe Neri (DF) and Tepotzotlan.

Recessed between stolid towers of later date, the central section of the facade follows the late baroque pattern, opening up above a broad, arched doorway to showcase an elaborate relief of the papal arms and the layered, moorish style choir window above.
© Niccolo Brooker
But it is the lateral columns that display the signature neóstilo variety of forms.

Freestanding like those of the Querétaro cathedral, pairs of tritostyle baluster columns with rococo ornament and full Corinthian capitals frame the center facade on both tiers.
   Between them wildly spiraling columns sprout from the lower level, pushing half way through to the next level and headed by capitals with exaggerated entablatures that, like the bases, project obliquely and are crowned by cascading lambrequin reliefs.
   All these unorthodox supports are set against a background of geometrical, neo Mannerist reliefs and oval cartouches to quite exotic effect.
images © Niccolo Brooker

Another feature of interest at Tianguistenco is the relief of St. Christopher on the face of the north tower (the relief on the south tower is modern, as is the tower itself) probably late colonial, although much restored

text ©2014 Richard D. Perry.  photography by Niccolò Brooker & Norberto Real

Friday, July 18, 2014

NEOSTYLE: Santa Prisca de Taxco

Santa Prisca de Taxco 

In 1751 the wealthy and pious silver baron José de Borda decided to build a splendid new 
parish church for the town of Taxco, near his richest mine. 

Although several prominent designers and architects have been associated with the project, the supervising architect was Cayetano José de Sigüenza.  Constructed in only 8 years, this seminal church shows a remarkable stylistic consistency, both in the architecture and the interior design and furnishings (about which more in later posts).

Like the other Borda church of Santiago Tianguistenco, Santa Prisca de Taxco, although highly individual in many respects, may still be considered an exemplar of neostyle design. 
In this post we focus on the facades.
The imposing church front is framed by projecting towers that are crowned by outsized, Moorish inspired twin belfries that bristle with a variety of ornamental pilasters including estípites set obliquely on the corners.
© Carolyn Brown
The recessed center façade enclosed by an arched, egg-and-dart molding, is framed by tall, plain and spiral columns with Corinthian capitals. These are interposed with late baroque niche-pilasters incorporating statuary of saints (Peter and Paul below; St Sebastian and the patron, the early Christian martyr Santa Prisca above). 
   Passages of Rococo scrollwork and ornamental reliefs frame the arched entry and the grand oval relief of the Baptism of Christ above. The multifaceted profusion of curved and broken lines and edges establish the Santa Prisca facade as one of the most dynamic in late baroque design. 
© Carolyn Brown
The highly ornamental gable atop the facade terminates in a wildly bescrolled pedestal, precariously supporting the statues of the Evangelists John and Matthew and La Purísima at center.   The high cupola of the tiled dome, seen behind the gable, incorporates shell niches and is covered with colorful azulejo tiles in a zig zag design.
Santa Prisca: north doorway © Michal Kuban
The south porch, on the more open side of the hillside church, follows the pattern of the main facade. Two tiers of unadorned, also Corinthian, columns, flank the polygonal doorway below and the relief above, capped again on the lower level by projecting broken pediments that support freestanding statuary. 
   The voluptuous central relief of the Assumption/Coronation of the Virgin is framed by classical pilasters and panels of foliated rococo relief ornament. Shells, diamonds and lambrequins add to the decorative mix.   

text © Richard D. Perry.  color images by Carolyn Brown and others

For more on Santa Prisca:  
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch:  La Iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco   UNAM-IIE  1974

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NEOSTYLE: San Felipe Neri Queretaro

San Felipe Neri, Querétaro

This distinctive church, built between 1786 and 1804, was the last major colonial religious building to be constructed in Querétaro. Originally belonging to the Oratorian Order, today it is officially the cathedral of the city of Querétaro.
   Although reportedly built to a design by the seminal Mexico City architect, Francisco Guerrero y Torres, whose influential buildings include the famous Pocito Chapel and the church of La Enseñanza that we described earlier, the church bears little resemblance to either. 
   In fact the elevated  church front is a classic if somewhat extreme statement of neóstilo architecture. The varied columns and intervening vertical pilasters are set against a background of dark red volcanic tezontle, representing a sharp break from traditionally sober Queretaran architecture, although reminiscent of the architect's El Pocito chapel.

In baroque fashion the center facade opens to embrace the large central relief, which depicts St. Philip Neri as Protector of the Oratorian order, elaborately framed with clouds and cherubs.
    Projecting on either side of the polygonal doorway, slender, freestanding columns of pinkish white marble are variously animated with  fluting, festoons, wavelike and spiral motifs. Behind them, wavy decorative pilasters, intricately carved with foliage and the Instruments of the Passion, reach up to layered looping cornices that spring from the frame of the Neri relief.  
   Above, paired Corinthian columns with bulbous bases support the overarching segmented pediment—the only hint of neoclassical influence. 
    While the Neri facade still revels in the sinuous movement and rich surface decoration of the late baroque; its prominent use of a dazzling variety of columnar patterns and its crowning classical pediment establish it as a signature example of neóstilo architectural design. 
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and John Barreiro  

Monday, July 7, 2014

NEOSTYLE: La Enseñanza

La Enseñanza

Another Mexico City church that may be classified as a Neostyle monument is that of La Enseñanza, also designed by Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres, the architect of El Pocito.
   Its official name is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Church of Our Lady of the Pillar) originally part of a nun's convent called El Convento de la Enseñanza La Antigua (The Old Convent of the Teaching), from which the church’s popular name is derived.
   Although the present facade was damaged and essentially rebuilt circa 1912, it was originally built between 1772 and 1778, before the completion of El Pocito.

While the open center facade retains late Baroque elements like the neo Moorish door frame and choir window, together with passages of foliated ornament and outsize scrolls, the overall format of the church front is more soberly classical in format, with the suggestion of a triumphal arch.
   Narrow, lateral sculpture niches are framed by orders of sturdy paired columns that are tritostyle in form—fluted in the upper two thirds but carved with relief ornament in the lower third. The columns correctly terminate in Doric capitals below and Ionic above.
statues of St Joseph and El Pilar
Layered classical colonettes also flank the statue of St Joseph with the Christ Child in the center niche; a diminutive statue of the Virgin of Pilar is posed against the enormous choir window. 
The lower side niches house statues of St John Nepomuk—a joint patron of the church with the Virgin of El Pilar—and St Michael, while Saints Benedict and Ignatius Loyola stand above.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Estípite columns
Starting in the early 1700s an ornate baroque style, variously known as Churrigueresque or barroco estípite—so called after the complex, sculptural column or pilaster that was its signature feature—swept into Mexico from Spain, revolutionizing altarpiece and church front design and ushering in a heady period of innovation among Mexican architects and designers.
   This creative wave evolved and crested later in the century across Mexico, eventually morphing into a phase known as anástilo, or "supportless" in which structural elements had almost dissolved into swirling fields of dense Rococo ornament, primarily in altarpieces but also in late baroque facade design. 
   Such an extreme development led in turn to a reaction. Under the influence of the Real Academia del Arte, inaugurated in Mexico in 1785, a return to classical architectural tenets became virtually mandated, signaling a return to the leading role of the column in architecture and altarpiece design alike.
   Nevertheless, given the traditional Mexican penchant for decorative surface treatment, an intermediate style emerged in a loosely related group of buildings that, while returning to the primacy of the column, retained a traditional vocabulary of baroque elements. 

As long ago as 1971*, the scholar Jorge Alberto Manrique coined the term neóstilo, translatable as "new support,” for this movement, grouping together several distinctive but previously inadequately classified Mexican buildings. 
   Although some of these structures, primarily churches, reflect regional variants, their unifying feature is the re-introduction of the column or pilaster as a central feature of the facade, albeit in a wide and often highly eclectic variety of forms. 
   In fact far from adhering to any strictly classical ordering of columns, neóstilo buildings made free, often playful use of an array of earlier styles of support like Salomonic (spiral) or Plateresque columns, some even retaining the estípite in its more structural forms. 
These were often interspersed with plain and fluted columns or colonnettes, along with such hybrid supports as the tritostile column common to Oaxaca, mixing and matching different elements in the facade or even within a single column.
   Although sometimes viewed as a transitional phase between Baroque and Neoclassical, this unorthodox melding of architectural elements in several key buildings is better seen as constituting a distinct and unique phase in Mexican architecture and design—a brief moment in which an imaginative variety of forms emerged and blossomed, before succumbing to the often dead hand of the neoclassical imperative. 

In this new series we illustrate a handful of the best known and most distinctive examples associated with this architectural phase, starting with the extraordinary hillside chapel of El Pocito.
© Carolyn Brown
El Pocito (The Chapel of the Well)
In 1777 construction began on an elaborate new church over the sacred spring on the hill of Tepeyac, overlooking the basilica of Guadalupe just outside Mexico City. 

Designed by the eminent Mexican architect Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres, its oval plan with radiating domed chapels was loosely based on the Pantheon of ancient Rome.  Despite this homage to the designs of antiquity, the exterior and interior appearance of El Pocito is anything but classically correct.

© Niccolo Brooker
Curved exterior walls and convex facades of dark red volcanic tezontle contrast with ornate entries cut from white chiluca limestone—a traditional Mexican technique—to create its dynamic spatial and visual appearance. 
   This effect is further animated by the use of lobed and polygonal Moorish doorways, scrolled baroque pediments and spiky, star shaped windows, which combine with tiled parapets, Gothic like pinnacles and sinuous ribbed domes to create a dazzling experience for the viewer.
© Carolyn Brown
These effects are carried into the Pantheon like interior where the dizzying rise of its painted dome, accentuated by expanding wavy ribs, angel filled murals and obliquely lit from the bristling neo Moorish windows, contrasts with the staid arcades of paired Corinthian columns below.

Although many consider El Pocito as the last major baroque church completed in Mexico, it may be more usefully viewed as a prelude to the innovative neóstilo phase in Mexican architecture.
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
color images courtesy of Carolyn Brown and Niccolo Brooker.   all rights reserved

* MANRIQUE, JORGE ALBERTO, "El neóstilo: La última carta del barroco 
mexicano"  Historia Mexicana, 79, vol. XX, enero-marzo, México, 1971.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Art of Oaxaca: The Seven Princes

For our next post on artistic themes we encountered in Oaxaca, we look at the imagery of the Seven Archangels, or Seven Princes as they are often known.
   The seven archangels, also called the Seven Princes of Heaven, as derived from Jewish and biblical sources, both canonical and apocryphal, are Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Jegudiel, Raguel and Selaphiel, although there are acceptable variations.
   Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are the most popular and best known due to their mention in the Bible and promotion by the Catholic church.
Hieronimus Weirix: The Seven Princes of Palermo
The widespread popularity of this subject dates from the early 1500s, when a related icon or fresco, complete with their names and attributes, was discovered in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Palermo, Sicily.  Originally known as the Seven Princes of Palermo, this became the prime pictorial image of the archangels, . 
   Enjoying papal and royal endorsement, this devotion and its imagery, based on a widely circulated 16th century print by the Flemish engraver Hieronimus Wierixspread rapidly across Europe and into the Americas, where it enjoyed a vogue in Mexico.  
The subject is illustrated in several Oaxacan churches:
Oaxaca cathedral: The Seven Princes of Palermo with the Holy Trinity  (© Conde de Selva Nevada)
Two portraits of the Seven Princes are found in the city of Oaxaca. The best known is that by Martial Santaella in Oaxaca cathedral.  
   The restored Santaella painting is notable for its brightly clad, elongated figures in a neo-Mannerist style. The principal archangels are clearly named and portrayed with almost feminine features that contrast with their sturdy buskined legs.  A traditionally portrayed Holy Trinity is shown prominently overhead.
The Seven Princes with the Holy Trinity (Capuchin church of The Seven Princes, Oaxaca)  ©Felipe Falcón
The other painting, attributed to the noted baroque painter José de Páez, hangs in the outlying city church of the Seven Princes, built for the Capuchin nuns.  
   Again the archangels are richly costumed, with gold trimmed robes, and portrayed in a more popular, sentimental vein, although only Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are named. The Holy Trinity surveys the lineup from above, 
Mitla: the Seven Princes with the Holy Trinity  (© urbey1)

Another, very similar version, although faded and in poor condition, is reputed to be in the church of San Pablo Mitla, in the Valley of Oaxaca. Here none of the archangels appear to be named.
Basilica of Guadalupe (Mexico City): The Seven Princes with the Mexican Trinity * (detail)
Other versions of the subject can be seen throughout Mexico, notably the sinuous example in Mexico City and the splendid painting in the great Augustinian priory of Tiripetio,
Michoacán (below).
Tiripetio: the Seven Princes 
This spectacular, richly hued painting of the Seven Princes is in the Andean style of Cuzco, another area of the Americas where the archangels were very popular in colonial times,  
   The seven include the familiar archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel,with the four so called apocryphal archangels: Uriel, Sealchiel, Jehudiel and Barachiel. They stand in a row elegantly robed in sumptuously embroidered and gilt trimmed garments. Michael and Uriel are armed. 
   Each is identified by an inscribed, gilded halo, although naming the apocryphal angels was officially forbidden by the church in Rome to little effect in the Americas. St Michael stands in the center holding the red banner of victory while the snow capped peaks of the Andes, bathed in a sunset glow, rise in the background.

*  The Mexican Trinity is a depiction of the figures—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit— as three bearded young men, often shown seated on thrones. This portrayal is also known as the Synthronous Trinity, and was initially employed as an aid in conveying this difficult religious concept to new Catholic converts.  Although later banned by the Inquisition as heretical, it continued to be popular in Mexico until late colonial times and beyond.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author except where noted

Friday, June 27, 2014

Art of Oaxaca: The Nativity of the Virgin Mary

We follow our post on the Virgin with Portraits of St. Dominic with a look at several portrayals of The Nativity of the Virgin Mary,  as seen in Oaxacan churches.  

In an earlier post we referred to this endearing painting of the Nativity of the Virgin, located in the city church of San Felipe Neri, by the distinguished 18th century Oaxacan artist Marcial Santaella.
   This work portrays an alert St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, reclined on a curtained bed as the aged St. Joachim sits on an elegant chair beside her. One attendant holds the elaborately swaddled infant while others present food and warm a blanket over a brazier.
   The Holy Trinity looks down from above while a pair of doves—a symbol of St. Joachim—commune in the background. The fine clothing, rich, red furnishings and the many servants present reflect the wealthy household into which Mary was supposedly born.
   Versions of this event that appear in several Oaxacan churches, as elsewhere in Mexico, are generally portrayed in an accessible, folksy style that emphasizes its popular appeal in a domestic setting.
   These intimate scenes dispense with the elaborate architecture, and the numbers of attending angels and distinguished witnesses to the event often shown in European art, while prominently including Joachim, who was customarily excluded from the birthing chamber in many medieval portrayals.
   Part of the Christian story since the era of the early Church—although apocryphal and not canonical—the increasing popularity of the Nativity of the Virgin during the later colonial period in Mexico reflected a heightened interest in the controversial doctrine of her Immaculate Conception, as promoted by the religious orders, especially the Franciscans.

Another example, so far unrestored, can be seen in the church of Zautla, north of Oaxaca city, where, along with other scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary, the Nativity acts as the focal painting in the lateral retablo of the Rosary. 
   Many of the same elements are here: the seated patriarch Joachim with his hand on his heart, the fine furnishings, the servants, the warming brazier, etc., although this version is even more intimate, with a close focus on the curtained bed. No celestial onlookers here. 
   The portrayal of the birth of the Virgin in such a luxurious setting both prefigured and acted as a counterpoint to the later birth of Christ in much more humble surroundings.

A third painting on the Nativity theme, in even poorer condition although undergoing restoration, comes from the historic church of Teotitlan del Valle, a well known textile village south of the city of Oaxaca, dedicated to the Virgin of the Nativity. 
   Once again, bed curtains of sumptuous red velvet closely frame the scene as Joachim, richly attired in his traditional green robe, watches the infant Mary being washed by two servants—the focus of the painting.  
   Here too Joachim appears as a witness to a miracle rather than a participant, underscoring his special but limited role as defined by the Immaculate Conception doctrine, as well as prefiguring the parallel situation of St. Joseph in the birth of Christ.
text and images © 2014 Richard D. Perry