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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Arts of Colonial Mexico. The Guidebooks: West Mexico

Our aim in this blog is to make Mexico's colonial artistic heritage come alive for the English speaking reader. 
   Over several years, your author, writer and illustrator Richard Perry has published a series of informative, pictorial guidebooks to those regions of Mexico with the richest colonial artistic heritage.   
   For each region we outline  in a clear descriptive style. the local history, folklore, and the artistic context for each building or work of art of note. In each case the text is supplemented by numerous illustrations, maps and plans.
   All the guides are illustrated by original line drawings by the author which render the architectural and sculptural detail with a clarity unobtainable in any other medium.


BLUE LAKES & SILVER CITIES
The Colonial Arts and Architecture of West Mexico
In this handsome guidebook from Espadaña Press, specialist author and artist Richard Perry takes the reader on another grand tour of colonial Mexico.
   We travel north and west of Mexico City to focus on the Spanish colonial province of Michoacán, an extensive region that included parts of the modern Mexican states of JaliscoGuanajuato and Querétaro.
   One of the great cultural heartlands of viceregal as well as pre-Columbian Mexico, this scenic region of lakes and mountains is exceptionally rich in a broad variety of imposing colonial buildings, most containing an array of exquisitely wrought art treasures. 
   These monuments range from humble 16th century mission hospitals still preserved in many rural villages, to great early monasteries, and the elegant Baroque churches that grace the celebrated "silver cities" of the region. The range of colonial art works include early monastic murals, created by native artists in the 1500s, as well as exquisitely carved, painted and gilded altarpieces from the 18th century.
   We explore in detail numerous lesser known colonial towns and villages as well as the great historic centers of Guadalajara, Querétaro, Morelia, Guanajuato, Patzcuaro and San Miguel Allende among others.
   Informative and stimulating, this comprehensive handbook is also a visual feast, enriched with over 200 original line drawings by the author.  With its useful maps and plans, full glossary, bibliography and index, Blue Lakes & Silver Cities is a standout among our unique family of companion guides to colonial Mexico, indispensable for both the art traveler and home reader.

This guidebook may be ordered through Amazon.com from our preferred distributor Practical Patchwork.

Readable... Portable... Affordable...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Coixtlahuaca: The Convento

For our final post on Coixtlahuaca we look at the convento and its many treasures:
The Convento
The rambling convento, although more modest than its counterparts at Cuilapan or Yanhuitlan, encloses a cloister with a weightier feel. 
   Only the lower level is now intact, its fluted arches resting on solid piers with attached half columns and plain, squared buttresses.
As inside the church, the roof bosses along the ribbed walks are minutely carved with religious emblems: the Lamb of God, the Five Wounds, pierced hearts, stars, books, religious monograms and the Dominican cross.  Any painted images that once lined the walks, however, have disappeared.
Among the cavernous side rooms is the former refectory. There hangs an extraordinary semicircular painting that depicts St. Francis and St. Dominic at table with Franciscan and Dominican friars, waited upon by archangels.
   Painted and signed by the noted Pueblan 18th century artist Pablo Talavera the scene reflects the apparently cordial relations between these usually competing mendicant orders in the Mixteca Alta.
Painted colonial statuary with estofado costuming
Other colonial works of art are scattered throughout the convento, with old altarpiece statuary, and paintings by Oaxacan artists including members of the noted Zarate family.
A variety of ornamental carved doorways, several with pointed Isabelline arches and framed with alfiz moldings, enrich both church and convento. 
One cloister portal is carved with intricately patterned scrolls and foliage, while another, situated at the top of the stairway to the choir, is surmounted by an assertive candelabra alfiz enclosing a sinuous thistle pattern. 
Although the arcades of the upper cloister are missing, the visitor can still explore this level by climbing the baronial stairway on the south side. Much of the rest of the monastery awaits restoration. To the south, little remains but catacomb-like chambers beneath crumbling arcades.
ruined parts of the convento in 1985
Despite, or perhaps because of its neglected condition, Coixtlahuaca is the least changed of all the early Oaxacan monasteries. In fact, this neglect and the toll exacted by recent earthquakes have rendered the fabric of the church even more fragile. Cracks in the walls and vaults threaten collapse, to the extent that visits to the church and convento had until recently been restricted. Fortunately, remedial measures are under way to assure the integrity of this historic structure.
  Today, formerly remote Coixtlahuaca lies just a kilometer or two from the new Puebla—Oaxaca toll road, ensuring easy access. It can also be reached from the old Route 190, via Tejupan—a scenic route through wooded ravines and arid badlands.
Coixtlahuaca, the Tecpan (adapted from Vences Vidal)
The Tecpan
In major mission towns across the Mixteca Alta, the local indigenous nobility played a leading role in early colonial society. The palace of the cacique, or hereditary native lord, occupied a prominent place in the community, politically, socially and geographically.
   In Coixtlahuaca, this tecpan—as such buildings were commonly known—occupied its own precinct adjacent to the main square. Damaged and reconstructed numerous times over the centuries, little now remains of this historic structure, save for an anonymous L-shaped complex with Isabelline doorways and a remnant arcade adorned with foliated reliefs. 
   A stone carving of the Spanish royal coat-of-arms, formerly emblazoned on the tecpan facade as at Cuilapan, was recently removed and stored in the convento.
text & images © 2015 Richard D. Perry
sources:  Evangelizacion y arquitectura dominicana en Coixtlahuaca   Magdalena Vences Vidal Salamanca 2000
                Exploring Colonial Oaxaca.  Richard D Perry   Espadana Press  2007

Arts of Colonial Mexico. The Guidebooks: Missions of Central Mexico

Our aim in this blog is to make Mexico's colonial artistic heritage come alive for the English speaking reader. 
   Over several years, your author, writer and illustrator Richard Perry has published a series of informative, pictorial guidebooks to those regions of Mexico with the richest colonial artistic heritage.   
   For each region we outline  in a clear descriptive style. the local history, folklore, and the artistic context for each building or work of art of note. In each case the text is supplemented by numerous illustrations, maps and plans.
   All the guides are illustrated by original line drawings by the author which render the architectural and sculptural detail with a clarity unobtainable in any other medium.


Following Cortés' military defeat of the Aztecs, all across their great empire and the lands of its neighbors, Spanish friars embarked upon the "spiritual conquest" of Mexico.
   As the 16th century progressed, monasteries and missions great and small arose in every town and village ­ highly visible citadels of the new Catholic religion and Spanish colonial rule. Four hundred years later, many of these venerable monasteries still stand, their sculpted churches and timeworn cloisters girded by battlemented atriums.
 Within their walls lie exquisite gilded altarpieces and religious sculptures and folk altars. Cycles of spectacular early religious murals, painted by Indian artists under the direction of the missionary friars, have recently come to light, hidden for centuries beneath layers of whitewash. 

   Mexico's Fortress Monasteries explores sixty of these outstanding colonial monuments, located throughout the colonial heartland of Mexico. Now accessible by paved roads, many of these venerable monasteries have been newly restored and are a rewarding destination for the cultural traveler. 
   Our guidebook is designed for the traveler, in country or in the armchair. Still the only guide of its kind in English, it is superbly illustrated by the author with detailed line drawings, maps, plans and diagrams. To aid the traveler, the guide is divided into five regional itineraries:

Chapter One.
The Valley of Mexico, focusing on Mexico City and its environs, from Acolman in the north to Xochimilco in the south.

Chapter Two. The state of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City, where the Franciscans and Augustinians built some of their most elaborate monasteries: at Tula, Actopan, Ixmiquilpan and Metztitlan. 

Chapter Three. The region of Puebla and Tlaxcala, east of the Valley of Mexico, where many of the first missions were established, at Huejotzingo, Cholula and Tlaxcala city; the densest concentration of Franciscan monasteries in the world. 

Chapter Four. Cuernavaca and the state of Morelos, the favored "land of eternal spring," where the religious orders vied to erect the most beautiful monasteries: the great Franciscan house in Cuernavaca, now the cathedral; the Dominican church at scenic Tepoztlan, and the chain of monumental Augustinian priories along the foothills of the sierra tepozteca

Chapter Five. In which we visit Oaxaca, a region noted for its magnificent Dominican priories and churches: the recently restored Dominican mother house of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca city, the priory of Cuilapan near Monte Alban, as well as the magnificent churches of the Mixteca Alta region north of the city.
As the most complete guide book on these missions in English, Mexico's Fortress Monasteries is an indispensable reference work as well as a unique traveler's guide. Updated with an informative introduction, a full bibliography and index.

This guidebook may be ordered through Amazon.com from our preferred distributor Practical Patchwork.

Readable... Portable... Affordable... 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Arts of Colonial Mexico. The Guidebooks: Yucatán

Our aim in this blog is to make Mexico's colonial artistic heritage come alive for the English speaking reader. 
   With the same focus, over several years your author, writer and illustrator Richard Perry, has published a series of informative, pictorial guidebooks to those regions of Mexico that claim the richest colonial artistic heritage.    
   For each region we outline in a clear descriptive style the local history, folklore, and artistic context for each building or work of art of note. In each case the text is supplemented by numerous graphics, maps and plans.
   In addition, all the guides are illustrated by original line drawings by the author which render the architectural and sculptural detail with a clarity unobtainable in any other medium.

Here we showcase our two companion guides to Yucatán:

Yucatán

Best known for its ancient Maya cities, the Yucatán peninsula is also dotted with dozens of Spanish colonial churches and chapels, the majority of which are virtually unknown to the visitor.  Created with the traveler in mind, Maya Missions fills this information gap and remains the only guide in English to the special artistic heritage of Yucatán. 
  In our second edition we suggest six itineraries, each accompanied with detailed maps, plans and directions.
   Starting from the old fortified port of Campeche, we continue to the provincial capital of Mérida, where we review such notable buildings as Mérida Cathedral, the first cathedral in Mexico and La Casa de Montejo, the finest Plateresque palace in the Americas. We also visit historic Valladolid, the second city of Yucatán, also home to a cathedral and a grand 16th century monastery.
   The heart of the guide is its route exploring the 16th century missions, ornate baroque churches and rustic Indian chapels that are to be found in small towns and villages across the peninsula.
   Prominent monuments include Izamal, a vast monastery built atop a former Maya pyramid, and Maní, a former royal Maya city famous for its mission and open chapel.


Travelers to the peninsula may also be interested in Exploring Yucatan, our companion guide to Maya Missions.
   For centuries, explorers, adventurers, artists, naturalists and archeologists have recorded their experiences of work and travel in Yucatan: Bernal Díaz del Castillo, Bishop Diego de Landa and John Lloyd Stephens among many others. Their vivid memoirs give us historic insights into the attitudes of the past, document how conditions have changed over time, and help to illuminate the present in this exotic tropical region of Mayan Mexico.
  We selected and edited a broad selection of excerpts from these classic writings and collected them in one portable volume to entertain and enlighten today's traveler to Yucatán. 
   Selections are organized geographically around the major Mayan sites and regions of the Yucatán peninsula, from Campeche on the Gulf coast to the Caribbean coast of Quintana Roo and its Maya hinterland. 
   The narratives are accompanied by numerous historical and new illustrations, including some by Richard Perry, who also selected the readings and edited the anthology. 
   With maps, glossary, bibliography and full index, Exploring Yucatán is essential reading for the armchair and active traveler along the Ruta Maya.

These guidebooks may be ordered through Amazon.com 
from our preferred distributor Practical Patchwork. 

Readable... Portable... Affordable...

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Arts of Colonial Mexico. The Guidebooks: Oaxaca and Chiapas

Our aim in this blog is to make Mexico's colonial artistic heritage come alive for the English speaking reader. 
   Over several years, your author, writer and illustrator Richard Perry has published a series of informative, pictorial guidebooks to those regions of Mexico with the richest colonial artistic heritage.   
   For each region we outline  in a clear descriptive style. the local history, folklore, and the artistic context for each building or work of art of note. In each case the text is supplemented by numerous illustrations, maps and plans.
   All the guides are illustrated by original line drawings by the author which render the architectural and sculptural detail with a clarity unobtainable in any other medium.

Here we showcase two of our guides to the more indigenous southern regions of Mexico: Oaxaca and Chiapas.


From the baroque temples of the city of Oaxaca, a colonial capital built on a human scale, to the glistening domed chapels that grace even the smallest village, the colonial churches of Oaxaca and their treasures are a source of pleasure and surprise to travelers.
   This new book, by specialist author and illustrator Richard D. Perry, is here to guide you—the first book to describe these splendid churches especially for the art traveler. Perry's detailed line drawings enhance his knowledgeable text.

The guide is divided into four sections:

Chapter One  Detailed descriptions of the principal colonial churches, monasteries and mansions of the City of Oaxaca, their history and artistic heritage.

Chapter Two  In which we look at the varied colonial arts and monuments of the many towns and villages of the populous Oaxaca Valley that surrounds the city, as well as the nearby Sierra region.

Chapter Three  Here we explore the historic priories, monasteries and many village churches of the rugged Mixteca Alta region, north of the city of Oaxaca.

Color Section  Following these itineraries, we include a special 40 page supplement of photographs by noted Mexican photographer Felipe Falcón, illustrating outstanding examples of Oaxaca's colonial art and architecture.

Designed in a compact but elegant format, with maps, plans, a useful glossary and full index, Exploring Colonial Oaxaca is an indispensable guide for the Oaxaca aficionado and the art traveler in Mexico.


After the 16th century Dominican friar Bartolomé de Las Casas took up their cause in 1545, the plight of the highland Maya of Chiapas has occupied center stage in the history of this scenic but impoverished region.  During his brief term as the first bishop of Chiapas, Las Casas encouraged the founding of missions across the area, many of which remain in use by the Maya to this day.
   Forged in the artistic traditions of Islamic and Christian Spain, these unique colonial buildings also drew on the heritage of ancient Mexico and Guatemala, infused with the spirit of the native Maya.
   Our affordable guidebook sympathetically describes these missions, as well as the other notable Spanish colonial monuments of this isolated region: city churches, Dominican monasteries and convents, urban mansions and even a 16th century fountain -- newly restored and one of the most spectacular colonial structures in the Americas.
  • The first part of the guide looks at the city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the colonial capital of Chiapas. There, we walk the visitor through its cathedral, urban churches and monasteries, colonial mansions and humble barrio chapels, describing the colonial artworks that they contain.
  • In the second Chapter we explore southern Chiapas, the less visited towns and villages along the old Camino Real between San Cristóbal and the Guatemalan border, and their often overlooked colonial monuments.
  • The last chapter describes the ancient town of Chiapa de Corso and its colonial buildings, notable its spectacular 16th century brick fountain unique in the Americas, and describes a foray north into the little known Zoque region of Chiapas, with its great ruined Dominican missions.
Author Richard Perry once again enhances his survey of the distinctive viceregal arts and architecture of the region with his detailed line drawings. 

Essential reading for the traveler along the "Ruta Maya", More Maya Missions is also a valuable reference work, complete with helpful maps, glossary, bibliography and full index.


These guidebooks may be ordered through Amazon.com
from our preferred distributor Practical Patchwork.


Readable... Portable... Affordable...

Coixtlahuaca: Inside the Church

Coixtlahuaca, the nave facing east (©Benjamin Ibarra Sevilla)
The Church Interior
The spacious interior at Coixtlahuaca exceeds even the grandeur of YanhuitlanMagnificent wheel vaults cover the choir and the main bays. Radiating ribs—molded, incised and painted with floral designs—create a colorful canopy high above the long nave.
The roof bosses, intricately carved in tequitqui style, are perhaps the most detailed in any 16th century Mexican church.   
Diminutive Crucifixion scenes with St. Dominic and Mary Magdalene occupy the two westerly hubs, ringed by miniature inscribed portraits and the attributes of various saints—the disembodied head of St. John the Evangelist, his poisoned cup, and the eyes of St. Lucy appear in the outer medallions. 
The poisoned cup of John the Baptist (graphic courtesy of Carlos Rincón Mautner)
To one side of the vaulted under choir opens the festive entry to the chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe, formerly the baptistry. 
   Flanked by a pair of spiral columns, its flattened arch is extravagantly carved with gaily painted stars and rosettes.
Painted stone fonts beside the entry and the boldly paneled red and gold wall pulpit, mounted high on a molded, corbeled base, add further color to the nave. An 18th century table organ rests in the choir loft.
   At the east end, in contrast to the narrow, coffered sanctuary at Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca boasts a broad apse, roofed by an expansive rib vault which provides a grand setting for the magnificent main altarpiece.
The Main Altarpiece
The dazzling retablo mayor is the artistic and spiritual focus of the church. Its ornate white-and-gold baroque framework rises through five tiers, each encrusted with luxuriantly carved foliage and scrolled cornices. 
   The altarpiece is divided into five vertical calles by complex estípite columns, although a few Renaissance columns survive from an older, 16th century frame, identified by their swagged, fluted shafts.
 As at Yanhuitlan, the altarpiece is a showcase for paintings and sculptures from the earlier retablo. 
   Of the fourteen painted panels, eleven are attributed to the 16th century Sevillian master, Andrés de ConchaThese major works, considered to be among the finest cycles of Mannerist paintings in the New World, were recently removed and restored by INAH
The Annunciation and the Adoration of the Shepherds, before restoration (click to enlarge)
Occupying the outer compartments of the three lower tiers, they illustrate significant episodes from the life of Christ: the Annunciation, the Adoration of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the Temple, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
The Adoration of the Shepherds — as restored (©INAH)
The compositions are striking, with serene figures painted in a cool palette of blue, green and violet. The Annunciation in the lower right panel is particularly appealing: a lithe Archangel Gabriel inclines intimately towards the graceful Virgin, who modestly lowers her eyes.
In contrast to the tender Nativity scenes below, in the upper tier Christ ascends before the amazed gaze of the Virgin and Apostles—a slashing angular composition dramatized by Christ's red robe rising against a glowing background.

 
St Peter and John the Baptist
Simon Pereyns, the Flemish sculptor who created the famous altarpiece at Huejotzingo (Puebla) and collaborated with De Concha at Yanhuitlan and elsewhere, may have carved several of the figure sculptures at Coixtlahuaca. Various saints, apostles and Doctors of the Church are portrayed in heroic poses with luxurious draperies and eloquent expressions. 
  Restoration of this magnificent altarpiece is almost complete, assuring its rightful place of honor among Mexico's finest artistic treasures.
Several other retablos of considerable artistic and historical interest occupy side niches along the nave. One large and particularly handsome example is designed in classic Oaxacan baroque style, bordered by a gilded frame of intricate spiral columns and cornices hung with spindles. 
   The central painting of the Virgin of the Rosary, clad in billowing robes, is surrounded by statues of saints in shell niches and brightly hued paintings depicting the life of Christ in the outer compartments.
text & images © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  except where noted
sources:  Evangelizacion y arquitectura dominicana en Coixtlahuaca   Magdalena Vences Vidal Salamanca 2000
                Exploring Colonial Oaxaca.  Richard D Perry   Espadana Press  2007

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Coixtlahuaca: The Church, West Front

The West Front
While it is clearly related to the north portal, the west front is more assertively classical. 
   Based on the designs of the Renaissance architect Sebastiano Serlio, the bold forms and imagery of this facade create dramatic visual power, especially when thrown into sharp relief by the intense highland sunlight of the Mixteca Alta.
A coffered archway and pilasters, richly embossed with rosettes, frame the imposing doorway.  Dominican insignia again project from the spandrels and the Latin inscription on the frieze: "My house shall be called a house of prayer among all peoples," is dated 1576 and may commemorate the dedication of the church.
The triangular pediment above the doorway encloses a complex bas-relief of the Spanish imperial coat-of-arms, framed by a two-headed Hapsburg eagle that recalls in its form the entwined snakes of the open chapel—one of the finest pieces of tequitqui sculpture in Mexico.
The rose window overhead is virtually identical to that of the north portal, separated by slender colonnettes from the massed tiers of shell niches that extend upwards on both sides of the facade. Each niche is carved with winged cherubs and some contain knotty tree crosses, greatly adding to the texture of the facade. 

The identity of the headless statue above the rose window was traditionally thought to be St. Dominic holding up the church or even an archangelHowever, the figure may in fact represent St Barbara, a substitute for an earlier statue—possibly a lost statue of Christ—whose presence there would better account for the busts of the Four Evangelists looking inward from the adjacent medallions.
Above the statue soars the eagle like dove of the Holy Spirit, now also headless
The single-stage south tower, much repaired, is typically Oaxacan, ornamented with a tiled cupola and applied pilasters in folk Ionic style.
text & images © 2015 Richard D. Perry (original color images from 1986 & 1990)
sources:  Evangelizacion y arquitectura dominicana en Coixtlahuaca   Magdalena Vences Vidal Salamanca 2000
                Exploring Colonial Oaxaca.  Richard D Perry   Espadana Press  2007

Friday, March 13, 2015

Coixtlahuaca: The Church, North Facade

In the following posts we look at the exterior features of the great priory church of Coixtlahuaca, focusing first on the north facade of the church, its design and iconography (#2 on plan).
The North Facade
Close to the open chapel, this portal was the main processional entry in early colonial times and enjoyed enormous symbolic as well as practical significance. In fact, this elaborate ornamental entry was seen both figuratively and literally as the gateway to Heaven, illustrating the Christian message for an unlettered congregation.
  The design and especially the iconography of this epic 16th century facade, with its details sharply carved in classic tequitqui style, spoke to the beliefs, concerns and motivations of the early Dominicans: that salvation and admission to the Kingdom of Heaven can only be achieved through the Catholic Church with the mediation of the Order.
  The lofty doorway takes the classic Dominican form of a coffered triumphal arch, simply but elegantly framed by fluted, paneled pilasters and dentilled cornices. Medallions of the Dominican cross are placed in the spandrels as in the open chapel.
Three life-size relief statues separated by floating half-columns occupy the pediment above the doorway. St. John the Baptist is the central figure, identified by an inscription as the patron of both the church (templo) and the community (ciudad). 
   Raising the banner of Victory and holding up a lamb, John the Baptist proclaims the coming of Christ as Saviour. On either side sit the saints Peter and Paul—pillars of the Latin Church and by tradition apostles to the Jews and the Gentiles (Indians) respectively.
image © Felipe Falcón
A handsome rose window with geometric Renaissance detailing occupies the upper tier of the facade. Rosettes—a classic Dominican motif—are set in coffered bands that ring the inner opening and stud the twelve outer "petals" of the design, symbolizing the Twelve Apostles.  A virtually identical opening also graces the west front of the church.
 Arma Cristi reliefs: left and right   (© Felipe Falcón)
The Arma Cristi
But the most arresting features of the north facade are the large scale, paired reliefs that flank the rose window. Arranged in a schematic composition and carved in a flattened, tequitqui style, these display the Arma Cristi, or Instruments of Christ's Passion surrounding a central crucifix.
Arma Cristi, detail  (© Felipe Falcón)
Sun, moon and stars add to a full panoply of associated objects: crown of thorns, scourge, ladder, cockerel, Veronica's veil, and the 30 pieces of silver spread in a band at the top.    
   Angry speech scrolls—a prehispanic motif—issue from the mouths of two onlookers and Judas is shown with a bag of silver around his neck.
text , graphic and color images © 2015 Richard D. Perry 
(original color images from 1985 & 1990)
sources:  Evangelizacion y arquitectura dominicana en Coixtlahuaca   Magdalena Vences Vidal Salamanca 2000
                Exploring Colonial Oaxaca.  Richard D Perry   Espadana Press  2007