Thursday, October 23, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Nave Altarpieces 3

Opposite each other beneath the choir at the west end of the church are a pair of smaller retablos: those of San Isidro and Santa Lucia.
  Although they essentially follow the same format as the other nave retablos, but on a smaller scale, they are probably the latest in date and certainly the most extreme examples of the anástilo manner in the church. 
   The principal saints' statues are contained in an arched center vitrine, flanked by secondary figures including angels emerging from almost hidden niche-pilasters.  
  In these retablos the framing arch, ringed by a chain molding of floral bouquets, seems de-emphasized, overshadowed by the ornamental gable and its animated statuary.

San Isidro
The retablo of San Isidro—the patron saint of farmers—is the most complete of the two. The enclosed central figure of the saint, clutching his staff, is flanked on his left by a colorful and dynamic statue of St. George, who steps out with flying drapery and lance to spear the squirming dragon under his feet.

The upper section features a statue of San Roque. In the center medallion, flanked by projecting angels with martyrs' palms, is a cowled bust of the bearded hermit and healer San Antonio Abad. Both saints are traditional protectors against injury and disease.

Santa Lucia
The second altarpiece is dedicated to the Virgin Martyrs of the early Church—St. Lucy in the center niche is accompanied by Sts. Barbara and Catherine of Alexandria, all in flowing garments but also lacking their identifying attributes.

St. Ursula occupies the top of the retablo, once more flanked by animated angels brandishing martyrs' palms, along with a bust of St Agnes.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia.
sources: Taxcolandia;   
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch:  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Nave Altarpieces 2

We continue our discussion of the six lateral retablos in the church nave with the two altarpieces nearest the transepts: those dedicated to San José and that of Los Dolores opposite.
   As with their neighbors, the retablos have no supporting elements other than the niche-pilasters, themselves almost eclipsed by the attached statuary and sculptural relief. Like the others they feature densely bescrolled upper tiers and are outlined by broad, ornamental borders with linked clusters of shells.
San José
Also known as the retablo of the Holy Family, the emphasis here is on family genealogy. St Joseph holds the Christ Child in the center niche.  Joseph was the popular patron saint of the evangelization of New Spain and traditionally enjoys special affection in Mexico.
   Joseph is flanked by large figures of Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary, gesturing in voluminous cloaks: together with Jesus, Joseph and Mary, they make up the Holy Family or Cinco Señores.  Smaller statues of the rarely portrayed parents of St Anne (Emerentia and Stollanus) appear on either side.
   The bearded figure of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, stands atop the retablo, again accompanied by statues of his parents, saints Zacarias and Isabel.
John the Baptist and parents

Los Dolores
The agonized but sumptuously costumed figure of the Virgin of Sorrows is enclosed in the center vitrine, flanked by the traditional mourning figures of the Three Marys, including Mary Magdalene, and the youthful St John the Evangelist grasping the poisoned chalice.  Below, angels hold the Instruments of the Passion.
   The Passion theme of the retablo is further emphasized by the trio of crucified figures at the top: Christ, flanked by Dimas and Gestas.
Christ Crucified and the two thieves Dimas and Gestas

Santa Prisca: church plan with retablos (Tascolandia)
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch:  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Nave Altarpieces 1

In this and subsequent posts we look at the six lateral retablos in the church. As we noted earlier, these are smaller in scale than the main and transept altarpieces, although no less ornate. 
   The retablos in question are, along the north side of the nave, those of San José, San Juan Nepomuc and San Isidro. On the south side they are dedicated to Dolores, El Pilar and Santa Lucia (see plan below). 
   With the exception of the San Isidro and Santa Lucia altarpieces at the west end of the nave, all the retablos are outlined by broad, gilded borders incorporating a zigzagging vine encrusted with shells.
   Thought to be a little later than the three principals, the nave retablos are nevertheless all considered to be the work of the same designer, Isidro Vicente de Balbas and his workshop.  
   Framed by rounded, shell outlines they feature more open centers, with sumptuous, intensely sculptural niche-pilasters generally supplanting the estípites of the earlier retablosexemplifying the minimally structured, more decorative anástilo manner of the terminal baroque style in altarpiece design.  
In this post we look at the two retablos facing each other in the middle of the nave: those of the Virgin of Pilar and St. John Nepomuk.

The Virgin of Pilar
Dedicated to the patron saint of the founder José de la Borda, this altarpiece is popularly called the retablo of the Archangels, all seven of whom are prominently featured.
   The Virgin is ensconced in the canopied center vitrine, flanked by four of the lesser archangels. The better known figures of Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are featured in the upper section.

St John Nepomuk
Designed in almost identical fashion to the retablo opposite, once again the principal saint, St. John Nepomuk, takes place of honor in the glassed in center niche. 
And instead of archangels, the surrounding figures represent exemplary priests and martyrs from Church history—some obscure and other better known, such as St. Lawrence on the right and St. Vincent de Paul on the left.
Three Jesuit saints are displayed in the upper section, including St. Francis Xavier and St. Francis Borgia.

Santa Prisca: church plan with retablos (Tascolandia)
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch:  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Transept Altarpieces

Santa Prisca: the Guadalupe retablo (detail) © Carolyn Brown
In this second post we look at the twin altarpieces (retablos) facing each other in the transepts of Santa Prisca beneath the dome. 
   While both are modeled on the balbasiano style of the main altarpiece, there are minor although significant differences. In both cases the estípites are far more prominent, with minimal intervening niche-pilasters. 
   In addition they carry a greater ornamental and narrative load, housing large scale sculptures and incorporating painted medallions, making the retablos easier to read. 
  The centers of each retablo are also a little wider and more emphasized, with a pronounced upward movement—a feature that is more fully developed in the other church altarpieces and elsewhere *  

The Guadalupe Altarpiece
A painting of the Mexican national patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe, occupies the place of honor at the center of this retablo. On either side, embedded in the flanking estípites, are painted medallions of the associated Apparitions of Mary to San Juan Diego. 
Below these are full length statues of relatively obscure bishops each with his episcopal cross and a mitre held by the putti below.    

The main figure of note is that of St. Isidore, a Doctor of the Church and early archbishop of Seville. A promoter of classical learning and Catholic orthodoxy, he stands at the apex of the retablo accompanied by four other saints and bishops including his brother St. Fulgentius of Cartagena. 
   The widespread origins of many of these prelates is intended to emphasize the universal strength of the Catholic Church and its teachings.

The Rosario Altarpiece
In the same manner as the Guadalupe retablo, a painting of The Virgin of the Rosary takes the center spot, flanked by medallions illustrating key scenes in the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary. 
The Four Doctors of the Latin Church stand below holding their pastoral crooks, and an oval bust of St Francis de Sales—famous for his anti Protestant writings and evangelism—is emblazoned in the center pavilion. 
   Again, the Counter Reformation theme of the universal power of the Church is sounded in this retablo.

As with the Guadalupe retablo opposite, a well known saint, this time Nicholas of Bari, is given prominence in the upper gable—as the patron saint of miners he is especially appropriate to this silver city.

Santa Prisca: church plan with retablos (Tascolandia)
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch,  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

* This is a signature feature of the later development of the barroco estípite altarpiece, spearheaded by the designer/architect Felipe de Ureña (see the Ureña pages on our web site). 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Main Altarpiece (retablo mayor)

Santa Prisca, the nave facing east.  © Claudio Giovenzana.
In an earlier post we described the exterior architecture of Santa Prisca. Now we turn to the church interior of Santa Prisca—one of the few to survive essentially unchanged from the 18th century.      
   Richly layered, rusticated pilasters line the nave, contrasting with the plain vaults above. Santa Prisca is also rare in that it retains all of its original altarpieces in place and essentially unaltered. 
Most if not all of the retablos are now attributed to Isidoro Vicente de Balbás, the noted retablista and adopted son of Jerónimo Balbás, designer of the metropolitan cathedral altar of Los Reyes in Mexico City.  
   Completed at different times, they vary in complexity and richness. Designed in highly ornate late baroque style, with sumptuous estípites and niche pilasters, they soar into the vaults along the nave, apse and transepts of the church (see plan below)
In the following posts we will look at the altarpieces either individually or in related groups, starting with the main altarpiece, or retablo mayor.
Santa Prisca de Taxco, the Main Altarpiece
Documented as the work of Isidro Vicente de Balbás, the exuberant retablo mayor reveals the designer's debt to his father's seminal design for the Altar de Los Reyes in the Mexico City cathedral—a variant of the late baroque style referred to as balbasiano
   Beneath an undulating gable, giant estípites, inset with statuary and encrusted with gilded filigree ornament, almost meld into the even more sumptuous interestípites, or niche-pilasters between them.
Retablo de Los Reyes (metropolitan cathedral) © Niccolò Brooker
An image of The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima) occupied the glassed in center niche. And almost lost amid the profusion of saintly reliefs, canopies, mixtilinear pediments and the swirl of surrounding relief ornament, are statues of the co-patrons of the church: the contorted, nearly naked figure of St. Sebastian, and the serene, richly robed image of Santa Prisca—both martyrs of the early Church.
   For a fuller description, in Spanish, of the iconography, see the Taxcolandia web site and the classic monograph by Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch.

Santa Prisca. church plan with retablos (Taxcolandia).

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images © Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch,  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Tlalpujahua: La Capilla del Señor de Los Zapateros

We bring our series on the painted churches of Michoacán to a close with a look at a barrio chapel in the old colonial mining town of Tlalpujahua, in the far eastern part of the state.

Tlalpujahua.  La Capilla del Señor de Los Zapateros

Tlalpajahua is best known for its distinctive baroque church of El Carmen (San Pedro & San Pablo—see below).  It is also home to several interesting barrio chapels, notably that of El Señor de Los Zapateros.
   Founded by dissident miners as early as the 1500s, this hillside community flourished in later colonial times under the aegis of its wealthy and powerful cofradía.  
Among the chapel’s many notable artistic features is the stuccoed façade, sculpted filigree doorway, and its lofty gable adorned with sculptures of the Archangel Michael and the patron saint.  
Out front is a rustic stone cross carved on both sides with the Instruments of Christ’s Passion. 
   On the face shown here we see, from the top, a Lantern, a Ladder, a Column with Cockerel and at the foot, a Jug and Ewer. Corn plants curl up on the sides.
In the apse, a handsome gilded altarpiece, designed in the ornate, late baroque "Churrigueresque" manner, showcases the image of El Señor de Los Zapateros—a realistic cristo de caña reputedly dating from early colonial times. 
The Ceiling
But the most striking feature in the chapel is its wooden artesonado ceiling suspended above the nave. Its deep blue expanse is dotted with folkloric depictions of all Twelve Apostles, brightly colored in a palette of browns and ochers accented with red and blue.  These are undated although recently restored and repainted.

Portrayed in a variety of attitudes, the haloed saints are shown emerging from a bank of frothy clouds, each along with his name, traditional attributes and, as at Charapan and Corupo, inscribed with a line from the Apostles Creed.
This celestial theme is further enhanced by a dazzling “Gloria” painted on the fan of the apsidal vault. 
   A golden sunburst emanates from the host rising from the chalice at its center. The gloria is ringed with rose tinted clouds and stars beyond which winged angels hold up the Instruments of Christ’s Passion—a radiant vision of Heaven for the faithful.
Tlalpujahua, parish church of El Carmen (© Felipe Falcón)
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. 
color images by Niccolò Brooker, Felipe Falcón and Benja Arredondo

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: Santa Clara del Cobre

As the name indicates, Santa Clara del Cobre is devoted to the production and sale of artisanal copper work—an industry established here in colonial times.
   At the heart of the spaciously laid out town center are two late colonial churches: the principal parish church of La Inmaculada, and the adjacent chapel, dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Sagrario.
The latter building, smaller than the parish church although still with an impressive front, occupies the site of the former native hospital and chapel, or guatápera.  
   Dedicated to a female saint, as was customary, the chapel is vaulted by a curved wooden ceiling divided into sections that span the entire nave.
The ceiling is sparsely painted with sunburst glorias at intervals along the apex, alternating with simply framed oval busts of the Apostles on the sloping sides.
As at Tanaquillo, the repainted portraits are brightly colored, set against sky blue backgrounds.  In most cases the Apostles carry their usual attributes and are further identified by their names inscribed below. 

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images courtesy of Benjamín Arredondo and by others