Saturday, March 17, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The Open Chapel

In a previous posts we have described various aspects of this former Franciscan monastery, including its architecture, sculpture and muralsIn this post we look at one of its most original elements, the grand open chapel, located on the west side of the cathedral church.
In the early years, before the church and even the convento were completed, the Franciscans faced the problem of how to minister to the countless new converts. Their innovative response was this great, arcaded open air chapel, described by John McAndrew, the distinguished art historian, as, “a dramatic design, strikingly ambitious and elegant, the most original work from the first half of the 16th century in Mexico.”
From the vaulted sanctuary at the rear, the friars could preach and administer the essential sacraments in full view of the masses assembled in the facing atrium.
The imposing frescoed convento entry stands to the left of the sanctuary.
In front of the sanctuary, a majestic transverse nave soars to a height of over 60 ft, creating an almost Gothic sense of lightness and openness—a space that may also have functioned as a portería for the convento beyond. 
   Tall, slender pillars capped by delicately carved oak leaf capitals support the triple arcade out front, which is braced by stepped open buttresses that also serve to direct the viewers gaze in towards the sanctuary.
Above the arcades, the crenelated parapet of the chapel is inset with Jerusalem crosses cut from coarse black basalt. Although repaired and altered over the centuries, the chapel remains in need of further cleaning and conservation.
Visit our other posts in this series on Cuernavaca: 
The North Doorway; The relief of the Assumption; The Atrium Cross; The Baptismal Fonts;
see our sister blog for posts on the murals of Cuernavaca cathedral
text and images © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: a sculptural relief

angels of the under choir
Cuernavaca cathedral, formerly the Franciscan monastery of the Assumption, is noted for its architectural sculpture and detailed stone carving, as well as its varied murals
One area where fine stone carving is viewed to advantage is the well preserved 16th century under choir of the church, notably in its supporting columns and the handsome wheel vault overhead.

At the hub of the vault is placed an intricately carved, unusual rectangular relief of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, a reminder of the dedication of this cathedral church.
   The praying figure of Mary is borne heavenward by angels, as God the Father above places the crown on her head. He is flanked by trumpeting angels with monograms of Christ and the Virgin on banners, all rendered in fine detail—a delightful and accomplished example of early colonial Mexican stone carving, undoubtedly the work of native sculptors.
Visit our other posts in this series on Cuernavaca: 
The North Doorway; The Open Chapel; The Atrium Cross; The Baptismal Fonts;
see our sister blog for posts on the murals of Cuernavaca cathedral
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and ELTB

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Cuernavaca Cathedral: The North Doorway

This is the first in a series of posts on the architecture and relief sculpture of historic Cuernavaca Cathedral, in the state of Morelos, in tandem with several posts on the murals, on our sister site.
  In a previous post we remarked on the pervasive images of death throughout this former Franciscan monastery.  Here we focus on the north doorway of the cathedral, the main ceremonial entry to the church in colonial times, as it remains today.
This lofty, 16th century entry retains its medieval appearance and ambience. Unadorned columns capped by Gothic capitals flank the plain arched doorway. 
Above the doorway, a lofty, rectangular alfiz encloses a steep, triangular pediment, which in turn frames a trilobed, mudéjar niche with foliated jambs. Archaic reliefs of hovering angels, sculpted tequitqui style with spread wings and windblown draperies, lean in from either side
Overhead, a crowned monogram of the Virgin Mary, dated 1552 and emblazoned within a wreath, was no doubt intended to remind the faithful of the dedication of the church to the Assumption of the Virgin, as well as the historic significance of the north doorway, or portiuncula, of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Assisi, rebuilt by St. Francis himself.
Finally, a foliated Calvary cross with a crown of thorns around the neck stands over the pediment, atop a chilling skull and crossbones set against the black rocks of Golgotha—an arresting memento mori to impress the entering worshipper or pilgrim.
text and images © 2018 Richard D. Perry

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Hidden Gems: Santiago Tilapa

From time to time we take a look at modest, often rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.
Santiago Tilapa is an Otomí village near Tianguistenco, south east of Toluca in western Mexico State. This 16th century chapel was reworked in the 1670s as the parish church, when the tower was added. It has been recently restored. 
Santiago Tilapa plan (Inez Ortiz)
Framed by its large atrium and elevated gateway, the large, plain church front nevertheless displays several highly distinctive features. Floating cornices with supporting corbels—possibly part of former alfiz—frame an ocular choir window.

Atop the upper cornice is an embedded stone relief cross of interest. Unusual carved motifs include a spiky crown-of-thorns at the crossing that once enclosed an insert, possibly obsidian?  
   What appear to be paired, opposing song or speech scrolls alternate with quatrefoil rosettes on the arms and shaft. Wound holes are drilled into the extremities of the arms and the shaft—the last issuing dripping streams of blood. The IHS plaque on the surmounting plaque suggests a date from later colonial times.   

The archway extrados
But the most striking feature of the facade is its extraordinary sculpted doorway, almost certainly dating from the 16th century and clearly reassembled/relocated—the original plinths, carved with foliage/serpents, are now elevated.
The extrados inscription, detail
The arch intrados
The focus of the rounded doorway is its archway, densely carved along the inner face (intrados) as well as the outer arch (extrados.)  Thorn and ribbon moldings enclose relief inscriptions formed by highly stylized, glyph like, foliated letters in the style of a Gothic illuminated manuscript or Maya glyph. Although not fully readable, possibly because of later reassemblage, the texts appear to concern praise.
The intrados, detail
The arch rests on jambs carved with exuberant foliated pilasters, although they show different stone types and styles of carving, no doubt due to partial rearrangement or replacement at one time.

Elaborately carved, outsize capitals on either side—now unfortunately defaced—portray winged angels rising above song scrolls, proclaiming this as the sacred entry to the house of God.
Inside the chapel a flat, beamed roof spans the nave, set on carved wooden brackets atop the walls, while two stout posts with ornamental zapatas support the choir.
But the centerpiece is the exquisite wooden artesonado ceiling above the apse, carved with alternating diamond and oval coffers and an octagonal boss or gloria
Another early colonial survivor is the rugged stone baptismal font, rimmed by the Franciscan knotted cord.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
Some of our other Hidden Gems: Xichú de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán; Xanenetla

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hidden Gems: Santa Inés Xanenetla, a folk baroque chapel in Puebla

From time to time we take a look at modest Mexican churches with a colonial pedigree that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of special artistic interest.
Xanenetla, supporting angel
Named for the light volcanic gravel of the locality (Xalnenetl)—a favored construction material as well as an ideal medium for the pottery and tiles for which the barrio is noted—Xanenetla was originally settled in the 1550s by indigenous workers from the Valley of Mexico, drafted as labor for the building of the city of Puebla.
In the 1620s, a large convent was founded here to house elite Dominican nuns that was dedicated to the 15th century prioress and miracle worker St Agnes of Montepulciano
In the 1770s it was decided to rebuild the nun’s chapel, which was rededicated in 1777. The present folk baroque facade dates from this time, a colorful local landmark noted for its painted stucco estípite pilasters and reliefs, whose colors change from time to time—formerly burnt orange, white and red; currently green and light blue!
As is customary, saints Peter and Paul flank the doorway, while the pilaster medallions portray saints Dominic and Catherine of Siena, and the Franciscans Francis and Clare—all in popular style.

A statue of Santa Inés stands atop the facade balustrade. Curiously, her namesake, the lamb (agnes=lamb) which usually sits atop the book she carries, here rests on her head! (a traditional relief of Santa Inés from Santo Domingo de Puebla is on the right)
And much eroded figures of archangels stand out between the columns of the elaborately tiered bell tower.

The Archangel Raphael;                   The Guardian Angel;

Of special historic interest are the large 18th century paintings hung along the nave, portraying key events in the history of the convent depicted in a manner that contrasts with the folkloric style of the facade. 
   Above, Bishop Domingo Pantaleón Álvarez de Abreu bestows the veil on the founding sisters, and below, we see the presentation by Pope Benedict XIV of the official cedula authorizing the founding of the convent (detail).
Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by ELTB

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

El Rosario, Sinaloa. the main altarpiece

In the next of our series on the notable altarpieces of Northern Mexico, we visit the rebuilt/reassembled parish church/cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, a historic mining town in the state of Sinaloa, to view its newly restored main retablo.
In 2014 restoration was completed of this magnificent, gilded baroque altarpiece in the baroque church of El Rosario—the finest of three such retablos in the state of Sinaloa. Conservation measures involved cleaning, fumigation, repair of carved details including the original statuary, and re-gilding the entire altarpiece.
Funded by the riches from the local mines, which provided the gold with which it is sheathed, the 30 foot high altarpiece dates from the 1770s and is designed in the sinuous, late baroque manner called the Churrigueresque, or barroco estípite style. 
   It was moved in the 1950s together with the 18th century church after reassemblage on its present site (the church was on the point of collapse due to subsidence from mine workings.)
Carved from cedar, the retablo is framed by four prominent, be scrolled, estípite pilasters that enclose equally bold, serpentine interestípites or niche-pilasters. 
   The niches support rather than enclose statues of saints, that comprise saints Paul and Joseph with the Christ Child on the lower tier, and Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin, above them. The Archangel Gabriel dominates the curved top tier accompanied by St. Dominic and St. Peter.
The richly costumed figure of the patron, the Virgin of the Rosary, occupies the curtained niche on the lower tier. 
See our earlier posts in this series: the Ureña altarpiece of Saltillo/Monclova; Parras de La Fuente; Sabinas Hidalgo;
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry.  color images by Niccolò Brooker