Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Morelos. San Agustín Jonacatepec

We continue our updates on Morelos with a visit to the early Augustinian priory church and convento of Jonacatepec.
In the year 1558, the temple and convento of the town of Jonacatepec, "Onion Hill," were founded by Augustinians Fray Jerónimo de San Esteban and Fr Jorge de Avila, who are buried under the altar of the church. The main feature of the complex is its vast atrium, the largest in Morelos. 
The convento as it stands was built in the 1560s and displays distinctive features. First, it is fronted by an arcaded porteria still blocked by later masonry. The larger center archway of the triple arcade formerly gave access to an open chapel, now subsumed into an enclosed side chapel.
The two story cloister of this convent is well-preserved, if a little battered, even to the survival of some inscribed medallions installed below the roof lines in Augustinian fashion. Again, the triple arcades on each side are braced by elongated prow buttresses that boldly extend through both levels almost to the roofline.
No early murals survive.
The present priory church of San Agustín is much later and dates from the 1700s. Its rustic retablo style facade is of note mainly for its sculpted relief of the patron St Augustine in the gable niche.
Most of the church furnishings were replaced by neoclassical altars, with the exception of this retablo in late baroque style possibly attributable to noted regional sculptor/designer Higinio Lopez.
chapel font
church baptistry font 
However, two early monolithic stone baptismal fonts remain, one in the church and the other in former open chapel.
San Agustín Jonacatepec in 2020
The church sustained fairly minimal damage to its domes and belfry during the 2017 earthquake, which is being currently addressed.
text ©2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author, eltb and courtesy of Robert Jackson.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Morelos: The Oaxtepec altarpieces

In earlier posts we described the fine retablos at Pazulco and Tlacotepec in the state of Morelos. We continue this series with a look at the transept altarpieces of Santo Domingo Oaxtepec, the first Dominican mission to be established in the area, in 1545.
Although the church itself dates from the 1500s, and is especially notable for its Gothic inspired vaulted nave, the two surviving  transept altarpieces are much later, dating from the 18th century. 
Both are fashioned in the gilded Churrigueresque or barroco estípite style of the later 1700s.
The retablo in the left transept is the bolder of the two, its sculpted, curtained niches framed by prominent estípite columns. Although undocumented, its style recalls the work of regional native designer/sculptor Higinio López.
Although much of the original statuary is missing, two figures survive in the upper tier and a fine God the Father projects from the curved gable.
The second retablo, dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, is more subtle, with more discreet pilasters and gilded arabesque ornament. The sole original statue is that of a worn Archangel Michael in the gable niche.

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolo Brooker and ELTB, with acknowledgment

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Aguascalientes. San Blas de Pabellón

Although the smallest Mexican state, Aguascalientes boasts several outstanding colonial monuments, some of which we have featured in previous posts*
In this post we go to the community of Pabellón de Hidalgo, north of the state capital, to visit the parish church of San Blas.
The present church was completed in 1782, and presents a late baroque front with ornate sculpture niches, a mixtilinear gable and a single two tier tower encrusted with complex half columns and layered pilasters. 
A statue of the patron St Blaise, an early Christian Armenian saint, occupies the uppermost niche. A sequence of arched buttresses brace the north wall of the nave.
statue of San Blas                                 tower 
The recently restored interior presents an ornate late baroque main altarpiece, also dating from 1782, fashioned in a layered style reminiscent of the tower and densely carved with foliated relief.
In the center is a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe, reputedly painted by the eminent baroque artist José de Páez, flanked by statues of archangels. St. Blaise appears again in the upper niche, flanked by the figure of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
photos by Francisco Kochen
A second painting, along the nave, also by José de Páez, whose work we saw in Oaxaca, depicts an Animas scene including the figures of St Francis and St. Nicholas of Tolentino in the starry robe with his plate of quails. Francis reaches down to a half naked figure in Purgatory believed to be a portrait of the artist.

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry.  
color images © ELTB except where noted

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Yucatan: the Motul Pulpit

For last in our current series of posts on Yucatán we take a detour to the town of Motul east of Mérida.
San Juan Bautista Motul was one of the larger, early Franciscan monasteries in Yucatán, built using quantities of cut stone from the abandoned Maya pyramids of neighboring Uci.
In the late 1580s, the convento was complete and the church was well under construction, and by 1600, the monastery was the active hub of a network of seven outlying visitas, rivaling its grand sister mission at Dzidzantún in importance.
Subsequent alterations drastically changed the original, plain facade of the church, with the notable addition of the colonnaded porch and baroque towers. The bold neoclassical entry is softened by delicate passages of sculptural relief including busts of John the Baptist—the patron saint of the church—and St. John the Evangelist set in the spandrels above the doorway.
One of the few furnishings to escape the later destruction visited by the 20th century Revolution is the remarkable old wooden pulpit. Dating from the early 1600s, it is octagonal in shape. 
St Thomas Aquinas;                                            St Francis and caryatids
Four shallow niches contain four relief figures of noted Franciscans, including St. Francis and St. Thomas Aquinas, carved in an archaic, Romanesque manner. This scheme diverges from the usual portrayal on pulpits of the four Evangelists.
caryatid detail
The niches are separated by narrow panels projecting at an angle on the corners, carved with slender, crowned caryatids reminiscent of the retablos at Mani. Traces of color, including orange, blue and even gold, indicate that the pulpit was originally richly painted with a rich estofado finish. 
Recently the pulpit was removed and disassembled prior to much needed restoration.
text, graphics and color images © 2019 by Richard D. Perry

Look for our page on the unusual cloister murals of Motul.
See our earlier pages on pulpits of special note in Yucatán: ChemaxUmanCalkini

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Yucatán. Mérida Cathedral: the coat of arms

We wind up our current posts on Yucatan with pages on two colonial  artifacts of special interest. 

Merida cathedral

In an earlier post we discussed the lost main altarpiece of Mérida cathedral. In this post we look at the grand coat of arms emblazoned on the upper cathedral facade.

Although dating from colonial times, the present configuration of this escutcheon shows later changes, notably the presence of the Mexican national symbol of the eagle atop a cactus in the central shield, a modification made following the Mexican Revolution.
   Otherwise it remains as it was, with the date 1599—marking the completion of the building, as well as the original crown and the chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece closely associated with the Spanish monarchy.
Possible reconstruction of original escutcheon with the imperial arms of Phillip lll of Spain. (courtesy Miguel Bretos)

text and graphic © 2020 Richard D Perry
For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Yucatán. San Pedro Samahil

The church at San Pedro Samahil is an unusual sight on the Hunucmá loop west of Merida. Fronting the remains of a rustic 16th century visita of nearby Uman, the wide aisled church is set within an elaborate walled atrium. 

 The long nave, capped by crenellated parapets leads to a raised sanctuary and side rooms–—formerly the old open chapel of the visita mission.

The main attraction of this 19th century church is its elegant neo-classical facade, a charming and quite sophisticated combination of Italianate lines with added baroque detail.
    Substantial domed bell towers, unusual for churches of this size in Yucatan, surmount the church front.
Pairs of freestanding Ionic columns support the outlying porch which frames the plain arched doorway, flanked by decorative "Ionic" pilasters spaced across the facade.
   Delicate interior colonnades lighten the nave, lending contrast to the heavy vaulted sanctuary—the former open chapel. A painted stone font in the nave, carved with the knotted cord, mutely reminds us of the mission’s Franciscan origins. (pictures to come)
Unusually, battered colonial statues, some headless, stand atop the entry gateposts.
text © 2002 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Yucatan. Santiago de Mérida

We continue our survey of Barrio chapels in the City of Mérida with a visit to the church of Santiago in this attractive eponymous neighborhood.
This church was completed in 1637, although little now remains to remind us of the original structure except for the modest sanctuary and the dated inscription placed above the entry. 

The later nave is capped by a decorative, wave-like parapets. The imposing 19th century front features a baroque doorway and a rather overwrought espadaña in three tiers with outsize pinnacles.
Long arcades resting on plain stone columns divide the the side aisles from the nave which is covered like nearby San Juan with a modified log ceiling. 
An austere white and gold retablo in broadly neoclassical style occupies the sanctuary.

text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and from online sources

For more on the history and art of the Yucatan missions, consult our published guides.