Monday, September 15, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Naranja de Tapia

Situated northwest of Lake Pátzcuaro, the spacious, gabled church at Naranja is mainly notable for its painted ceiling—one of the largest, the earliest and among the better preserved in Michoacán. 
image courtesy of Robert Jackson
Pitched in the form of an inverted trough and tied by carved crossbeams, the high, paneled artesonado ceiling spans the eastern part of the nave, including the sanctuary and former choir—a large space corresponding to the 18th century church before the addition of its western end.   
Apsidal end  © Niccolò Brooker
Choir end  © Niccolò Brooker
Thirteen bays span the area capped by fan of several panels at either end. The ceiling is crowded with myriad religious figures in two and three tiers along each bay—more than seventy figures in all.   
Naranja, tentative ceiling key
Although not easy to distinguish or even conclusively identify in the darkened church and in their present state of conservation, this assembly of archangels, saints, martyrs, together with the founders of the various religious orders and other prominent church leaders, along with biblical events and personalities, represents a broad if uneven history of the Church.
© Niccolò Brooker
Painted in popular style and arranged in no apparent order, the elongated, elegantly costumed figures are deftly outlined in fluid strokes and vividly accented in shades of red, blue, green and yellow amid swirls of rococo ornament. 
St Joseph and St Francis   © Niccolò Brooker
The iconographic sources for the ceiling are currently unknown. Although inscribed plaques on the cross beams bear the date of 1783, with many names including the purported signature of an unknown indigenous artist, one Pedro Ximénez, it is evident that several hands, with varying degrees of skill, worked on the numerous panels:
The Holy Family: Flight into Egypt
                                     La Púrísima                                    Santiago Matamoros          

Music, music, music...
As elsewhere in the Michoacán ceilings, notably at Cocucho and Nurio, angels are portrayed at Naranja playing period musical instruments, reflecting the importance of church music in colonial times.
At Naranja, concentrated at the choir end, we see wind and string instruments on opposing sides, shown as they would have been placed during the liturgy: the horn and chirimia, or native flute, on one side, with the mandolin, guitar, bass viol and viol da gamba on the other.

images of musicians © Carolyn Brown

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  All rights reserved
images by the author and courtesy of Carolyn Brown, Robert Jackson and Niccolò Brooker

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: San Bartolomé Cocucho

Another mission with a painted ceiling of unique content and brilliant finish in the style of nearby Santiago Nurio can be admired in the rural church of San Bartolomé Cocucho. 
Originally built by the Franciscans in the late 1500s, the church retains its imposing 16th century entry with pearl studded jambs and a surmounting alfiz
   The church was later substantially remodeled starting in the 1760s when the wooden ceiling was added or replaced.
Cocucho: the nave facing west towards the choir (Niccolò Brooker)
Cocucho, the painted underchoir (Carolyn Brown)
As at Nurio, the painted artesonado section is confined to a modest span beneath the choir. Recently restored to sparkling condition, these highly ornate and unusual murals are brightly colored in reds, greens, blues and a range of earth tones.
(detail: Niccolò Brooker) 
The Santiagueria 
The extraordinary, animated center panel depicts Santiago Matamoros, the warlike patron saint of the Spanish conquest, posed astride a white steed with raised sword and banner.   
   Smiting Moors or heretics, who are shown in Spanish dress and in various stages of dismemberment, the saint is accompanied on the left by kneeling Spaniards discharging muskets and praying. 
   The figure holding a musket beside a bishop’s crozier is believed to represent one José Cayetano Vital Montezuma, an encomendero of Cocucho and a militant champion of the Counter Reformation who later became a controversial bishop in Chiapas. 
   On the left, soldiers enter a burning building—a possible reference to the legendary Battle of Clavijo of 844 AD, in which Spanish forces routed a Moorish army with the assistance of St. James (Santiago) who appeared in the heavens to urge them on to victory. 
Cocucho:  El Padre Eterno with Christ and the Virgin Mary
In the clouds above him, The Virgin Mary appears as La Purísima, clothed in a blue robe with black shoes and surrounded by winged cherubs, appealing to the Holy Trinity—a youthful Padre Eterno at center with Christ on his left.  
   All the figures, including the vanquished are handsomely costumed in 18th century style.  Since Vital Montezuma became bishop of Chiapas in the late 1760s, this mural no doubt predates his departure and is thus one of the earliest in Michoacán. 
   This santiagueria as it is known, is a spectacular tableau, unique in the mural art of Michoacán. 
guitar,                                                                  harp 
and cello

The Musical Angels

In contrast to the strident center panel, the flanking sections of the under choir portray six fine featured angels, encased in elaborate frames with painted strap work.
   As at Nurio the angels, some richly arrayed in elaborate buskins and brocades, play a wide variety of colonial musical instruments: strings are portrayed on the left (south) and wind instruments—horn, bassoon and chirimia flute—on the right side (north)—reflecting the musical practices of the time.  Some of the panels include now mostly blank music sheets.
bassoon,  chirimia 
and horn

 (musical angel images by Carolyn Brown)

Bartholomew the Apostle, patron saint of Cocucho
Text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
Images by the author and courtesy of Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker
Based in part on research by Robert Starner.

For a recent compilation of moving images of the people and churches of the Meseta Tarasca region, including Cocucho, check out this video by Quin Matthews, who accompanied the author on one of his journeys through Michoacán

We accept no advertising. If you enjoy our posts you may support our efforts 
by acquiring our guidebooks on colonial Mexico.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Missions of Michoacan. San Lorenzo, the Painted Chapel

San Lorenzo, the guatápera gatehouse and belfry
The Painted Chapel
As at Zacán, a renovated tiled belfry/gatehouse admits the visitor to the guatápera precinct at San Lorenzo. An arcaded community building adjoins the entry and faces the chapel across a wide courtyard. 
The original doorway, dated 1687, is framed in cut stone and, like the main church doorway, edged by the knotted Franciscan cord.

The simple, whitewashed chapel front features an elongated doorframe of later colonial vintage, incised with foliage. 
   Like most guatápera chapels it is dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception and at its apex an irregular niche houses a tiny figure of Mary (currently missing).
image © Gloria A. Alvarez Rodriguez
The Chapel Ceiling
In contrast to the unadorned roof of the main church, a brightly colored artesonado ceiling spans much of the beamed chapel interior. 
   Constructed as an inverted trough, or truncated pyramid, the ceiling is supported on wooden pilasters and is divided into 11 elongated tripartite panels that span the nave, ending in a fan above the main altar of 8 triangular and trapezoidal slices. 
the San Lorenzo ceiling: view from the choir
While the flat upper panels along the nave are mostly decorated with hearts or sunbursts with floral borders, the narrative scenes along the sloping side panels illustrate the verses of the Litany of the Virgin in folkloric style. 
the San Lorenzo ceiling: apsidal end
Although the sequence is incomplete and inconsistent, the verses are in Latin and are derived from the engravings contained in an 18th century European guide to the Litany.  
   Despite its relatively small scale and uneven condition, this ceiling remains one of the most extensive and complex in Michoacán, and awaits timely restoration. 
the San Lorenzo ceiling: north side
Rendered in a colorful palette of red, blue, yellow and diverse earth tones, the illustrated Litany here, like others in the region, is accompanied by a wealth of anecdotal detail, ornamental foliage and other decorative devices. 
Here are some selected panels and details:
Mater Inviolata;    Mater Castissima;    Mater Purissima.
The Cause of Our Joy —The Virgin with musical instruments
Mater Intemerata — Mother Undefiled. 
The Virgin holds her Son who uses his cross to subdue the flames and demons of Hell
images of hell with demons and turtles (Carolyn Brown)

Several of the religious images on the main altar may be colonial in origin, including the portable statues of the La Purísima and the saints Martha and Mary Magdalene, all luxuriantly costumed and beaded. 
   A finely worked colonial statue of the Archangel Raphael rests in the principal niche.
The Archangel Raphael
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Carolyn Brown

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. San Lorenzo, the Church

San Lorenzo, the guatápera 
San Lorenzo
The town of San Lorenzo is located north west of Uruapan near Angahuan in the meseta tarasca of western Michoacán.
   Although not as well known as Angahuan or Zacán, San Lorenzo is a village of considerable architectural and artistic interest. 
   First of all, it boasts a classic, colonial pueblo-hospital layout that includes not only the 16th century church, but a largely intact and extensive walled guatápera compound (see Zacán) whose various structures are dramatically outlined against the wooded hillside.

San Lorenzo, the church front                                jamb detail
The Church 
Although altered over the centuries, most recently in 1945, the main church nevertheless retains much of its original facade including the imposing sculpted entry which is embraced by an unusual triple alfiz.  Another double alfiz frames the entire church front, terminating just below the undulating, later baroque gable.
A tapestry of stylized vines, flowers, tassels and fleurs-de-lis adorns the arch and broad jambs of the doorway, bordered by the Franciscan knotted cord.
    Rosettes and curious tasseled reliefs are placed above the archway and in the gable. The ornamental mudéjar choir window is modeled after those at Uruapan and Zacán.
San Lorenzo, mudéjar nave window
San Lorenzo, main altar
A high, rounded wooden vault—unpainted—covers the long nave which is lit by mudéjar windows in the style of the choir window. 
   A provincial 18th century wall retablo stands in the apse housing several figures of saints including the patron St Lawrence who holds a square grill, the symbol of his martyrdom.
A plain stone cross, dated 1823, is mounted on a pedestal in front of the church.
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
color images and graphics by the author except where noted.  all rights reserved

We accept no advertising. If you enjoy our posts you may support our efforts 
by acquiring our guidebooks on colonial Mexico

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Nurio: The Chapel

Nurio:  The Guatápera Chapel
From the church of Santiago we turn to the little adobe chapel of La Inmaculada—Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception—found inside the gated guatápera compound behind the main church. 
   Its humble facade retains the original stone doorframe and is ornamented with rustic reliefs of the sun and moon—traditional symbols of the Virgin Mary. A stone cross with a pointed head like the church atrium cross stands on a large, square base opposite the chapel door.

In dramatic contrast to its plain exterior, the chapel interior is a carnival of color. Like Tupataro, it retains its sectional wooden floor dating from colonial times.

view towards choir
An almost semicircular artesonado ceiling of pinewood beam and board spans the entire chapel, divided into eleven bays and closed at either end by a fan like tympanum—a monumental structure attributed to master carpenter José Chanaqua
   Dated by an inscription to 1803, this ceiling is painted in its entirety with dozens of polychrome panels attributed to the local artist José Gregorio Cervantes. 
   Painted predominantly in reds and blues with some complementary earth colors, the panels are ornamented in a popular rococo style, replete with floral festoons.

The Iconography
Despite its modest scale, the subject matter of the ceiling is among the most complex and varied in Michoacán.  
   In accordance with the dedication of the chapel to the Virgin Mary, the motifs at the apex of each bay along the nave link selected images from the Litany of the Rosary, framed by garlanded medallions.
These extend across the tympanum above the main altar (east end) which depicts the Assumption of the Virgin with many of her associated symbols—Tower of David, Lily, Mirror, and the Morning Star—in adjacent panels. 
The Assumption is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael and, on the outer panels, the figures of Mary’s parents Sts Joachim and Anne. 
© Carolyn Brown
The sun and moon are also given prominence, together with a circular, vented Gloria medallion—all colorfully detailed against a celestial aquamarine background.
The opposing tympanum at the choir (west) end is also devoted to portraits of archangels, which include Michael, Gabriel, Raphael as well as a Guardian Angel, encased in florid frames surrounded by cherubim.
By contrast, the sloping side panels along both sides of the nave portray a hierarchy of Church and biblical saints in several sequences, painted in a more rustic style and also framed by cartouches festooned with floral decoration. 
Towards the east end, two panels on either side depict the Four Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, while the six bays at the choir end are devoted to portraits of the Twelve Apostles, some now unfortunately damaged beyond recognition. The Patriarchs of the Latin Church—Saints Gregory, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine—occupy the intervening panels. 
   The chapel also houses several late colonial furnishings of quality, including retablos, statuary and andas, or processional altars.  Outstanding among these are the gilded altarpieces, all recently restored, many with images of the Virgin.
Nurio, the main retablo   © Niccolò Brooker
main retablo - detail with crown and Padre Eterno
The red and gold baroque main retablo, for instance, contains an imposing statue of La Purísima—the chapel patron—finished in fine estofado detail and wearing a silver crown. 
Again, she is accompanied by the figures of Sts Joachim and Anne and flanked by popular portraits of Santiago Matamoros and St. Catherine of Alexandria on the lateral wings of the altarpiece.

© Niccolò Brooker
One unusual item in the nave is the tiny choir loft or gallery by the entry in the northwest corner—a curious counterpart to the baptistery structure under the choir in the main church. 
   Supported by a decorative carved column and girded by a wooden balustrade, it is attractively painted in folkloric style with yellow and green floral ornament.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author, Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker.
all rights reserved.