Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mexican Murals. Ixmiquilpan: Noli me Tangere

San Miguel Ixmiquilpan in the state of Hidalgo is celebrated for its early colonial murals, principally the famous battle frieze along the nave of the church, whose colorful, Aztec inspired imagery has excited much comment.
   Less well known but also of the highest quality are the monochrome murals that line the church sacristy, formerly part of the adjacent convento. Devoted to murals depicting Christ’s Passion they are more conventional in iconography and style, based on Renaissance prints and similar to many other 16th century murals in the region.
   The actors portrayed in the various scenes in this long cycle are exceptionally expressive, with much background incident and landscape detail.  
In this post we focus on one of the most unusual and problematic of the frescoes, that of the Noli Me Tangere scene. This episode, recounted only in St. John’s Gospel, concerns the first appearance of the resurrected Christ, to St. Mary Magdalene:

"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She said to them, 'They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.' 
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?' Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.' Jesus said to her, 'Mary!' She turned and said to him in Hebrew, 'Rabbouni!'  Jesus said to her, 'Do not touch me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord'."

This biblical subject was popular among prominent European painters, from Giotto and Fra Angelico to Titian and Michelangelo, and there were numerous graphic versions, notably from northern European printmakers. 
While clearly based on a graphic model, the precise source of this fresco is so far unidentified. The best known example and closest to the Ixmiquilpan fresco in composition is the 1510 engraving by Albrecht Dürer, part of his Small Passion series. 
   The most intriguing aspects of this mural, apart from its uncommon subject matter, are first of all the central figures, and second, the background details. 
There are significant differences from the Durer version, notably in the figure of Christ, who instead of holding out one hand in warning towards Mary Magdalene—the traditional and almost universal pictorial pose—here holds two garden implements, one in each hand, with no "warning off" gesture. Neither hand shows the stigmata.
   In addition, while kneeling, as was customary, Mary holds her hands in prayer instead of extending them towards Jesus. Both of these elements tend to deemphasize the critical moment of recognition and attempted personal contact, instead of dramatizing it as might be expected
   And Mary is shown without her usual jar of ointment, further depersonalizing her and downplaying the emotional power of the scene. A curiously detached portrayal.
The landscape surrounding the encounter is especially varied and detailed. Carefully drawn native plants dot the foreground and rabbits nibble contentedly on the left below the hill of Golgotha with three crosses and browsing animals. 
   A gridded field occupies the middle ground along with an unusual, structurally detailed tower, mounted on a high, square base and prominently accented in turquoise and rusty hues—probably a specific monument.  A church, a turreted city—presumably Jerusalem—and an aqueduct or bridge rise beyond.  
   As in other sacristy murals at Ixmiquilpan, rocky hills and outcroppings appear in the landscape, some clearly of local significance and possibly referring to Los Frailes, a distinctive topographical feature near neighboring Actopan.
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry. images © 1990 by the author

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mexican Murals: Mamá

In an earlier post we described the altarpieces of Mamá. Here we look at the recently uncovered sacristy murals there—some of the relatively few such colonial survivals in Yucatán.

Mamá: The Sacristy Murals
The principal discovery during the church restoration was the uncovering in the sacristy—part of the original 16th century mission—of several large scale, colorful frescoes, hidden for centuries behind coats of whitewash.
San Bernardino de Sena and decorative archway
Although the murals are undated, some may date back to the 1700s. As in many other polychrome murals of the era, the range of colors is bright but limited—predominantly blue, red/orange, ocher and other earth tones.

Divided image of St Christopher;                 St. Clare with archangel  
The often incomplete images include apparent representations of St. Christopher, and Franciscans St. Bernardino of Siena and St. Clare.
There are also portraits of seated Franciscans reading and writing, including the English schoolman Duns Scotus.
Duns Scotus and draped cross

A Yucatecan style draped cross is portrayed, in addition to painted arches and floral decoration.  

text and pictures © 2015 Richard D Perry

For complete details on the colonial churches of Yucatan consult our guidebook MAYA MISSIONS.

Please see our previous posts on the murals at EpazoyucanTepeapulcoTulaYecapixtla and Zempoala.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mexican Murals: Izucar de Matamoros

We continue with our series on early murals in Mexican monasteries to look at the pivotal Dominican priory of Santo Domingo de Izucar, in Puebla.

Izucar de Matamoros
Located in the sub tropical lowlands of the state of Puebla, the busy town of Izucar may reflect in its name the dominant local industry since early colonial times of sugar production.
   The priory of Santo Domingo here became an important link in the long chain of Dominican missions that stretched from Mexico City as far as Guatemala.  Founded in the 1530s, by the 1550s because of its strategic location the mission was elevated into a priory, then consisting mainly of an ample stone convento and open chapel.  
The imposing church is later, added in the early 1600s and subsequently altered. After a disastrous fire in 1939 all the interior furnishing were lost, including many gilded colonial altarpieces (the handsome present retablos are thus modern, although close to the originals in style)  Only the broad, monolithic baptismal font, a former fountain, survived the holocaust.

The two storey cloister and its adjacent conventual rooms, however, survive little changed from the mid-16th century. Recent conservation of the original cloister walks included restoring some of the original murals, both in the cloister and the adjacent Sala de Profundis.
Architecturally, the cloister is in the classic Dominican mode, its  arcades framed by simple carved pillars and buttressed by exterior apron pilasters.  Complex ribbed vaults studded with plain, round ceiling bosses spring from drum corbels along the corridors and cluster in the corners.
Although the walls of the corridors were no doubt formerly covered with murals, today only the portraits of Dominican saints and martyrs survive, located in the lunettes above:
Blessed Johannes Torta
St Peter of Verona
Blessed Daniela of Orvieto
St Margaret of Hungary
Blessed Helen or Yolanda of Hungary
These include number of Dominican martyrs, some well known and others quite obscure, enclosed in a variety of ornamental painted frames and inscribed with their Latin names.

Sala de Profundis
Although the cloister murals represent only fragments of the original sequences, the extraordinary frescoes in the former Sala de Profundis beside the cloister have survived largely intact.
   Here, bloody scenes of martyrdom cover all four walls. Individual friars are depicted being tortured or dispatched in a variety of horrific ways—a cautionary, but inspirational, display for the Dominican brothers who came here to meditate, pray and prepare to meet the arduous and possibly threatening tasks of evangelization.

Such graphic scenes of torture and martyrdom are uncommon in Mexican churches and monasteries, the two other best known examples being those portraying the Martyrs of Japan at Cuernavaca and the African Augustinian martyrs at Charo (forthcoming features).
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry
mural photography courtesy of Diana Roberts ©2013 & 2014

Please see our previous posts on the murals at EpazoyucanTepeapulcoTulaYecapixtla and Zempoala.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Jalisco: Guadalajara, Jesús María

Closing out our series of posts on the churches around Guadalajara, we come full circle to visit the nun's church of Jesús María in the city center.
The 18th century church of Jesús María, located on a busy cross street in downtown Guadalajara, was built for the Dominican Tertiary nuns between 1760 and 1772.  
   Fortunately, the long, elegant nave exterior of warm, ocher cantera stone, divided by projecting “prow” buttresses, is somewhat protected from the traffic by its narrow forecourt enclosed by tall, ornamental wrought iron railings.
As a nun’s church, it possesses twin portals on its south side, whose handsome classical doorways are each surmounted by triple sculpture niches framed with composite half columns and prominent scalloped arches.  
The left hand gallery centers on a rather battered but delicately sculpted statue of the Virgin of Light—the gaping mouth of Leviathan beside her is still intact—flanked by the smaller figures of Saints Francis and Dominic.
The better preserved triptych on the right is a delightful tableau of the Holy Family, with Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child flanked by Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Virgin Mary. (A folksier version can be seen at outlying Santa Anita Atlixtac)  
   God the Father, in the clouds, links the figures of Mary and Joseph, while the dove of the Holy Spirit hovers between them.
Set into the buttress dividing the two portals is a niche containing a statuette of La Soledad, the Virgin of Sorrows.
 St Christopher statues. Jesus Maria (l)   Santa Monica (r)  
A niche on the southeast corner houses a weary looking statue of St. Christopher, head inclined, bearing the chunky Christ Child on his other shoulder. With his muscular legs and massive staff, he contrasts with his more upright cousin at nearby Santa Mónica.
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry 
color images © by Peter Orlick except where noted
See our other posts in this series:  San Juan de Ocotán, Santa Anita AtlixtacSanta Cruz de las FloresMezquitan, San Sebastianito, Tlajomulco and the churches around Lake Cajititlan.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Jalisco: Santa Cruz El Grande

The somewhat misnamed hamlet of Santa Cruz El Grande, overlooking Lake Chapala near Ocotlán, is one of the least familiar to most Jalisco visitors. However it has a long history that has recently been revived.  
   A former visita of the Franciscan mission at Asunción Poncitlán, Santa Cruz was the site of a classic 16th century mission church with a separate hospital and chapel—a common feature in the region.
refaced church front and cross
Church and chapel face each other at the ends of a long, wide, paved plaza, the former atrium. In past years both the church and, more recently, the chapel have been virtually rebuilt. 
As was customary, the tiny, whitewashed chapel primarily served the indigenous community and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in this case as La Purísima.
La Purísima chapel front
While the church front has an entirely new facing, restoration of the chapel—the only surviving part of the hospital—incorporated some of the original architectural elements, including most of the red tezontle doorway and choir window as well as some old relief carvings including rosettes, an archangel and a pair of rampant beasts.
chapel reliefs
Other colonial artifacts inside the chapel include fragmentary murals, paintings, a headless cristo de caña and a colorful folk painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, complete with the Apparitions.

The Crosses
Carved stone crosses stand in front of church and chapel. Both are plain, squared crosses streamlined with cross-within-a-cross motifs in the regional Jalisco style.
Cross One
Closer to the chapel, this is the more ornamental, and probably the older of the two. A circle incised at the crossing encloses a zigzag style Crown of Thorns motif with an eroded cross at the center. Heraldic beasts with claws and snouts—no doubt representing lions—rear on either side, flanked by stylized scrolls with drilled holes at the extremities
A six pointed flower is cut into the neck above the circle, framed by another Crown emblem. Otherwise the cross is unadorned save for the paneled shaft and a flared INRI plaque on top.

Cross Two
Situated in front of the church, this cross appears to be a later, simplified version of Cross One, cut from the same textured limestone and similar in style. 
   Square, gridded panels extend along the arms and shaft, emphasizing the cross form. The only other ornament is a stylized Crown at the axis framing a Greek cross ringed by a serrated octofoil and an outer cord. 

See our earlier posts on Santa Cruz de las FloresSan SebastianitoSanta Anita Atlixtac, and the churches around Lake Cajititlan.

text © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  images by Diana Roberts, Niccolò Brooker and Jim Cook
gracias a todos

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Jalisco: San Sebastianito

San Sebastianito is a quiet, often overlooked village of cobbled streets on the southern fringe of Guadalajara. Here, two colonial churches face each other across a broad plaza—the main church and the former hospital chapel of La Concepción.
The renovated chapel opposite the main church is the older of the two buildings, inscribed with a date of 1692.  Its striking retablo facade of smooth white limestone is neatly sandwiched between textured walls of dark red tezontle bordered by giant limestone pilasters. 
The severe classical porch is similar to that of nearby Santa Cruz de las Flores: a stone crown with the monograms of Jesus and Mary adorns the keystone of the arched doorway, while the upper facade and crowning pediment are profusely carved with leaves, flowers, vines and other motifs including a two-headed eagle, carved gargoyles and zig zag pilasters. A statue of La Purísima occupies the uppermost shell niche.
   Like Santa Cruz de Las Flores too, the plan reveals an earlier sanctuary fronted by an arcaded transverse nave, whose lateral entries were later blocked and refaced.
Unlike the chapel, the facing main church, originally a Franciscan mission, is raised above the plaza at the head of a wide flight of steps.  As at Ocotán, a rounded gable and belfry top the broad mid-18th century front; primitive reliefs of the sun and moon dot the facade and crude statues occupy the niches. 
A battered, naked figure, perhaps an angel or possibly representing the patron St. Sebastian, is carved above the imposing colonnaded porch.

text and images ©2015 Richard D. Perry

See our earlier posts on Santa Cruz de las Flores, San Juan de Ocotán, Santa Anita Atlixtac, and the churches around Lake Cajititlan.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jalisco: Santa Anita Atliztac

Santa Anita Atliztac
Located just south of Guadalajara, off busy Route 54, the attractive town of Santa Anita Atliztac is dominated by the grand, twin-towered church of Santa Anita. 
   The settlement of Atliztac (White Water) is an ancient one. Long before the arrival of the Spaniards it flourished under the lords of Tlajomulco, and in the 1530s the Franciscans succeeded in converting the local nobility and founding a humble adobe mission here. This was replaced by the present edifice in the 1700s.
The retablo facade dates from 1732 and in its forms and wealth of architectural sculpture is among the most densely decorative of the Jaliscan baroque churches, rivaling nearby Santa Cruz de Las Flores
   Sharply projecting cornices separate its three tiers, each layered with densely carved ornamental friezes—some of twisting foliage, others of byzantine scrollwork. Spiral columns encircled with vines border the openings, also framed by interwoven spiral bands.
Cherubs clamber around the doorway, some holding books and others playing archaic instruments—one of the many instances of musical angels decorating local churches and closely related to the doorway at San Lucás Cajititlan.  
   Pelicans, symbols of blood sacrifice and Christ’s Passion, straddle the elaborately scrolled side niches and upper capitals, and modern statues of Franciscan saints still occupy the upper tier.
But the facade reaches its sculptural climax in the crowning pediment, where a large relief depicts the Holy Family amid a riot of ornamental foliage. 
   In this charming tableau—a popular version of the relief at the city church of Jesús Maria—Joseph and Mary lean in to clasp the upstretched hands of the child Jesus, flanked by Saints Joachim and Anne, the latter the patron saint of the church. 
Jesus Maria relief by Niccolo Brooker
Awkward in their flowing robes, the figures incline their ecstatic faces towards the youthful Christ. The dove of the Holy Spirit hovers overhead, almost lost in the mass of exuberant carved scrolls and vegetation. God the Father beams down benevolently above them all.
El Padre Eterno and dove of the Holy Spirit.                         modern statue of St Francis
From the cloister, ringed by sturdy 17th century arcades, the visitor can enjoy a view of the imposing church towers.
See our earliest posts on Santa Cruz de las FloresMezquitan and the churches around Lake Cajititlan.
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry
b/w images by the author; color pictures courtesy of  Tony Burton except where noted.