Monday, June 26, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: The North Doorway

In a recent post on our sister site we described the murals inside the church at San Miguel Huejotzingo, in which the north entry played a central, ceremonial role. Here we look at this complex, sculpted doorway in greater detail.
   More sensuously carved than the west doorway of the church, the ornate Plateresque north entry may have been influenced by the Manueline style—an ornate amalgam of late Gothic, Moorish and oriental architecture that flourished in 15th century Portugal. 

Like all the sculpture at Huejotzingo, the exotic detailing of the north porch reflects religious symbolism, in this case related to its historical function. 
   From medieval times, the north doorway of the church had held special significance for the Franciscans. The portiuncula, as it was known, commemorated the rebuilding of the tiny ruined chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just outside Assisi, by the young, newly converted St. Francis. As the processional entry to a Franciscan church, it was usually opened only on certain feast days, such as Easter Friday. 
   Also known as the Door of Jubilee, in a wider sense it symbolized for the friars the portal of Paradise, the entry of the faithful to the New Jerusalem.  In fact some believe that details of the Huejotzingo design were based on an Old Testament description of Solomon's Temple, one of the biblical models for the Celestial City that would be established after the Second Coming of Christ—an event imminently anticipated by the more eschatological missionaries. 
The Jambs
The broad, foliated doorjambs are bracketed by pearl moldings above and below and divided by unusual half columns with bulbous "basket" capitals and bases. Heraldic shields displaying the crossed Keys of Heaven are affixed to the center of either column, superimposed upon crucifixes hung with reliefs of the Instruments of the Passion. 
   The columns are headed by enormous finials of sprouting acanthus leaves topped by bunches of grapes, that burst through the doorframe into the archway overhead.
The Archway
A distinctive chain molding 
around the center archway is thought to signify the Order of the Golden Fleece, an aristocratic religious/military order headed by the Spanish Emperor Charles V.
   Similar chain moldings appear in the porteria and posas of the monastery, although the pervasive presence of this motif here at Huejotzingo is unexplained.
chain moldings on the porteria and posa
The outer floral ring above the archway is especially bold. Alternating, broad leaf clusters and swelling buds sprout from the molding, vigorously modeled in the round.  
   A generous alfiz studded with rosettes frames the entire doorway, also enclosing escutcheons of the Five Wounds on either side.

Check out our other recent posts on colonial facades and doorways of note: 

text and photography © 1989, 1992 & 2017 Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: a painting by Talavera

In a previous post we described the grand painting at San Juan Coixtlahuaca depicting the meeting of saints Francis and Dominic, by the painter Pablo José de Talavera, one of a noted family of poblano artists, who also worked in Oaxaca.
images by José Ignacio Lanzagorta
Talavera is credited with two other monumental paintings of historic events, both hung in the 18th century church of La Soledad in the city of Puebla. 
   The first depicts a crowded procession of the image of the Virgin of La Soledad through the streets of the city, while the second records the issuing of a papal bull that authorized the building of the new church.

Recently our attention was drawn to another canvas by Talavera, executed on a more modest scale, in the Pueblan monastery church of San Miguel Huejotzingo
   This richly colored composition illustrates in a popular style the theme of the Fulfillment of Christ—a doctrine according to which the events in Christ’s life and death were thought to fulfill many of the prophecies in the Old Testament.        
    The painting depicts Christ on the cross, flanked by the figures of Justice and Faith on the left, and a horned and goat legged Satan hunched on the right. Justice wields a sword and scales while Faith holds a crucifix and a heart shaped vessel to catch the blood of Christ. The painting is inscribed with several relevant biblical quotations in Latin.
   The painting is signed "Talavera imbent (inventor)" emphasizing the artist’s creative achievement in addition to his artistic proficiency, and thus his professional status as a “learned practitioner of a noble art.”
However, according to our colleagues at PESSCA, the image is an almost exact copy of a 1578 engraving by the Flemish printmaker Hendrick Goltzius, part of a series on The Allegories of Faith.    Nevertheless, the confident adaptation of the small print to a larger format, with vivid, added color and finely observed detail, testify to Talavera's skills as an artist and draftsman.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by José Ignacio Lanzagorta and courtesy of PESSCA
See our sister site for a series on the Huejotzingo murals.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Totimehuacan 3: the paintings

For our third and final post on Totimehuacan, we look at two other outstanding colonial artworks that stand in the nave of the parish church of San Francisco.
   These are large, complex paintings of high quality: a monumental Last Judgment, and a crowded canvas depicting Purgatory (Las Animas).

The Last Judgment
This extraordinary composition, dating from the late 1600s, is by the Andalusian painter Antonio de Santander, patriarch of a leading family of Pueblan artists.
By customary tradition, Christ sits in judgment atop a globe, flanked in this case by the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist and assembled saints and ranks of the Elect.  St. Francis as standard bearer clutches the cross, accompanied by angels holding the Instruments of the Passion. 
St Michael flanked by angel and devil
Below, to one side of St. Michael portrayed with his fiery sword, the saved ascend to gate of Heaven, while the condemned look down in despair towards the mouth of Hell and its demons below.
   An interesting touch is the angel and devil posed on either side of the archangel, holding open books with contrasting Latin inscriptions, respectively: "I was the Father, the eye of the Poor." and "We oppress the Poor." 
The Thomassin engraving of the Last Judgment (1606)
 The composition is loosely based on a widely sourced print by the French engraver Philippe Thomassin.

Las Animas (aka The Communion of Saints)
In this crowded second canvas, a vigorous Archangel Michael is again the focus, dominating the lower tier. Beside him, St. Dominic and St. Francis reach down to the struggling souls in Purgatory. 
   Founders of the other religious Orders line up behind St. Michael, while a company of prominent saints, apostles and martyrs of the Church fill the celestial tier above. The Trinity occupies the top level accompanied by the Holy Family and the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, while angelic musicians play below the dove of the Holy Spirit.
   Possibly commissioned as a more inclusive companion piece to the Last Judgment and although unsigned,? it is likely also the work of Antonio de Santander or members of his family workshop.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  
images by PESSCA and adapted from published material by Jaime Morera.
Please review our other posts on Last Judgment depictions in Mexico, at: SuchixtlahuacaXoxotecoEl Llanito; Yanhuitlan.   upcoming:  Jarácuaro;  Zirimícuaro; 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Totimehuacan 2: the altarpieces

In our first post we described the now abandoned buildings of the early Franciscan monastery at Totimehuacan. Here we look at significant colonial paintings and altarpieces, some saved from the monastery, that are preserved in the nearby parish church.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the furnishings is the well preserved side altarpiece illustrating the Miracles of St. Anthony of Padua, whose statue occupies the center niche.
Still in generally excellent condition, the retablo, although fashioned in Plateresque style with elegant, fluted Corinthian columns, is thought to date from the early 17th century. The paintings are rendered in a light and colorful popular style.
A related work of quality is this ornately carved and gilded side retablo of the Calvary, notable for its almost life-size statues of Christ Crucified and the attendant Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist.
Please review our previous posts on Pueblan altarpieces of note: 
TecaliPuebla CathedralCuauhtinchanAtlixco Third OrderAtlixco San FranciscoSan José Chiapa
text and images © 1989 & 2017  Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Totimehuacan 1: a noble ruin

Totimehuacan in 1989
San Francisco Totimehuacan
In this blog we have looked at several early Franciscan monasteries in Puebla.*  Most are still in use after almost 500 years, and some, like the basilica at Tecali, are now roofless and disused. 
   However, few of these grand early churches remain in such a ruinous and neglected state as the great 16th century monastery at Totimehuacan, formerly one of the most important and handsome Franciscan houses in the region.
Totimehuacan today
In the first of three posts on Totimehuacan we review the architectural high points of the church and convento.
    Founded in the 1560s, construction of the massive church, girded by a large atrium, took another 20 years. Reputedly built to a design by the celebrated Spanish architect Francisco Becerra, who also worked on nearby Cuautinchan and Puebla Cathedral, the church was remodeled more than once in the colonial period.
Totimehuacan, the facade
Even in its present abandoned condition, the 16th century west entry retains its severe Renaissance grandeur, closely related to the purista style front at the nearby Basilica of Tecali. 
   Sleek paired columns reach up from high, squared bases to frame the outsized arched doorway, forming a classic triumphal arch.
Tecali, the Basilica
The roofless nave to the west, and east
Little now stands of the lofty vaulting of the nave, save for the ribbed section above the polygonal apse, which, together with the now missing wooden main altarpiece, long helped to protect a large 16th century Calvary fresco in the rear lunette—all that remains of the once abundant church murals. 
  Although only fragments remain, they testify to its high quality and possible affinity to the similarly placed Crucifixion scene at Tecali.
The two story convento also remains in ruins, with only a few column sections and gaping openings to indicate its former scale.   
In our next post on Totimehuacan we will look at the colonial furnishings preserved in the parish church, including retablos and an unusual painting of the Last Judgment. 
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author, Niccolò Brooker and ELTB

* please review some of our other posts on Puebla: Puebla cathedralSan José ChiapaSan José de PueblaSan Francisco de PueblaIzucarEl CarmenLa LuzSan AntonioSan MarcosGuadalupeEagle WarriorsJolalpanTecamachalcoQuecholac

Friday, June 2, 2017

San Juan Bautista Cuautinchán: the main altarpiece

In a post on our sister site, we review the diverse early murals at the Franciscan monastery of San Juan Bautista Cuautinchán, south of the city of Puebla. 
   Erected in the 1570s to a design of Francisco Becerra, the Spanish architect who designed Puebla Cathedral, the rugged, twin-towered church was built to last, despite suffering recurrent blows from earthquakes.

Among its early colonial treasures, the main altarpiece in the church stands out. Although reputed to be the earliest altarpiece of substance in Mexico, its actual origins and authorship remain in question.
   One story has that it was originally commissioned and fabricated, circa 1570, for the main altar of Franciscan church of the Five Wounds in the city of Puebla. In this version, Francisco Becerra, the eminent architect, may have been the author of the altarpiece, although other documents name Nicolás Tejeda de Guzmán, a noted painter, and Pedro de Brizuela, a sculptor, as principals.
  Then, in 1599 the mestizo artist Juan de Arrúe, who is believed to have painted some of the main panels, acquired it as part payment for other work and sold it to the pueblo of Tehuacán for their convento, then in completion, and undertook various alterations.
   However, an earthquake severely damaged the church in Tehuacán before it could be installed, so the retablo was transferred to the community of Cuautinchán and duly installed in its church of San Juan Bautista in 1601. 
   Yet another version posits Arrúe together with his father, a Sevillian sculptor, as the authors of the altarpiece, which was actually created for Tehuacán. Damaged after the earthquake, it was restored in Puebla, and then, being out of scale with the rebuilt church at Tehuacan, passed on to Cuautinchán. Whatever the facts, its antiquity is undoubted.

Its structure is relatively straightforward, with the focus on the paintings. The compartments are simply framed by slender fluted and baluster columns in Renaissance Plateresque style and horizontal friezes with angel's heads.
The Cuautinchan retablo, upper tiers
The narrative program consists almost entirely of six large paintings, which we may attribute to Arrúe. They illustrate key episodes in the life of Christ in a sober if warm Renaissance style, tempered by a colorful Mannerist palette—perhaps reflecting his Andalusian heritage, or more likely the influence of the Sevillian painter Andrés de Concha with whom the artist may have worked in Oaxaca. 
On the first tier we see a dramatic Annunciation, and a Nativity scene (Adoration of the Shepherds) which includes a traditional bagpiper.
   The center tier depicts a related Three Kings (Adoration of the Magi) and the Resurrection, while the top tier includes the Ascension and Pentecost. The Assumption of the Virgin in the center panel is a later work.
Across the foot of the retablo, the predella, represents the Apostles, in this case including, unusually, Judas Iscariot, without halo but holding the bag of coins on the extreme right (i), whose large, bent nose signifies his moral deformity.   
   Columns of smaller scale portraits of saints flank the retablo on either side. The only statue, in the central niche, may have originally portrayed St. Francis, but was changed for Tehuacán, whose advocation was La Purísima, as it remains. 
   After long years of neglect the altarpiece was first conserved in 1987, and more recently in 2006 when the paintings were restored.

Please review our previous posts on Pueblan altarpieces of note: TecaliPuebla CathedralCuauhtinchanAtlixco Third OrderAtlixco San FranciscoSan José Chiapa
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolo Brooker and others.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Oaxaca. San Mateo Capulalpan

For the last in our current series of posts on Oaxaca, we look at a close neighbor of Ixtlan, the mountain church of San Mateo Capulalpan. Following along a mountain road that winds southeast of Ixtlan, the first sight of Capulalpan is its imposing church, perched above a windswept atrium with panoramic views of the surrounding ridges of the Sierra Juárez
Between sheer, symmetrical towers, the severe classical facade rises in measured stages to a tall, triangular pediment. Nine steps lead up to the west entry, which is framed by subtly layered pilasters and sculpted cornices. 
   A carved inscription over the doorway is dated 1715, although another date, 1731, appears on the underchoir .
A simple statue of St. Matthew, the patron saint, holds up his gospel in the diminutive upper niche below a relief of the papal insignia.
The nave is a model for several other Sierra churches. Roofed by a trapezoidal wooden ceiling, it is braced at intervals by carved tie beams. The centerpiece is an octagonal ceiling over the crossing—a complex mosaic of shaped and fitted cedar in mudéjar style. 
The Altarpieces
As at Ixtlan, the chief artistic legacy at Capulalpan is its spectacular collection of colonial wooden altarpieces, which come in all shapes, sizes and finishes.
   Closely fitted into the narrow apse, the gilded main retablo is a masterpiece in traditional Oaxacan style, dating from the 1730s. Rising in four tiers and five vertical columns to the roofline, the center pavilion of the retablo projects dramatically forward, its rectangular compartments framed by spiral columns wreathed with vines and cornices dripping with spindles. 
Carved foliage and arabesques proliferate throughout. A solemn, bearded statue of St. Matthew stands in the recessed center niche, surrounded by fourteen large, rectangular canvases portraying scenes from his life. 
As at Ixtlan, smaller, highly ornate retablos are angled on either side of the sanctuary arch.
Exceptional late baroque, mostly Churrigueresque altarpieces line the whitewashed nave. While some are gilded, others remain unfinished, their dark red cedar estípite pilasters lacking their final paint and gold leaf.
Several retablos incorporate archangels in the form of caryatids, displaying elaborately layered, ruffled tunics—a signature motif in the Sierra region. A few, even more ornate, smaller retablos have undulating, shield-like outlines with fanciful foliated fringes.
Among the numerous engaging figures of archangels, one superb, unfinished statue of a youthful, fresh faced but one-eyed St. Raphael stands out, fitted with stylized wings, ruffled skirt, wide sleeves and a lofty plumed headdress all carved from cedar. 
   Elsewhere, a carved and painted figure of God the Father (part of a Trinity sculpture) sits in an ornate frame also encrusted with archangels.
A number of fine colonial paintings stand out at Capulalpan, among the most notable being a sympathetic 17th century portrait of the youthful St. Rose of Lima, in the south transept. 
   Dressed as a novice, in one hand she holds up a bouquet with an image of the child Jesus, while from the other hangs an anchor with a representation of the city of Lima, Peru, of which she is the patron saint.
text © 2017 by Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón