One widespread pictorial device in colonial Mexican art, both in murals, reliefs and easel painting, is that of the tree. Although employed in several variations of complexity and scale, the fundamental theme is that of genealogy, primarily of the religious orders and their founders.
|Tree of Jesse. 1498 print by engraver Philippe Pigouchet|
The origin of the motif is the Tree of Jesse, by tradition a depiction of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of king David. This was based on a passage from the Book of Isaiah: ” … And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots"
From medieval times, this genealogical device was adopted by religious and secular leaders alike to visually represent and legitimize their ancestral claims to power and authority.
|Genealogy of St Dominic (relief). Santo Domingo de Oaxaca|
Mexican pictorial representations usually show a symbolic tree or vine with spreading branches rooted, often literally, in the founding figure. While some portrayals are truly treelike, like the painted relief in Santo Domingo de Oaxaca, and the murals at Copándaro and Zinacantepec, which are complete with birds, flowers, leaves and hanging fruit, others are stylized to the point of resembling a map or chart, which was often an underlying intent, as at Cuilapan or Cuernavaca.
|Spiritual Genealogy of St Francis with St Clare. Zinacantepec, Mexico|
|Tree of Dominican Martyrs. Cuilapan, Oaxaca|
|Genealogy of St Augustine with Crucifixion, Atlatlahucan, Morelos.|
|Genealogy of St Monica, Charo, Michoacán.|
|Genealogy of St Augustine. Copándaro, Michoacán.|
|Genealogy of St Francis, painting. San Francisco de Puebla|
Often even more sweeping are the giant painted panels adorning later colonial churches, vastly more complex and challenging to read or even take in: for example the Franciscan genealogies at San Francisco in Puebla and the church of San Fernando in the capital.
|Genealogy of St Francis, painting. San Fernando, Mexico City|
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry