Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mexican Murals: Zacualpan de Amilpas

In our continuing series on early Mexican murals, we look at the monastic frescoes of Zacualpan in the state of Morelos.

Zacualpan de Amilpas

High on a rocky promontory on the southern slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl stands the attractive Augustinian monastery of La Concepción.   Although the modest mission has been extensively rebuilt over the years, the entry portería and open chapel that front the convento on the south side of the church date from the 16th century.
The Open Chapel
A geometrical, painted artesonado ceiling covers the chapel, bordered with floral panels and complex lettered friezes in the Augustinian fashion. The Augustinian insignia of a pierced heart appear in the end lunette.
Similar ceiling patterns and related friezes appear throughout the monastery using a variety of forms and colors.
The Cloister
Full length portraits of Augustinian saints, martyrs and other notables, some accented in red and blue and all inscribed with hand written biographies, embellish the piers along the walks of the elegant arcaded cloister.
Sala de Profundis
Two other large murals of special interest are placed opposite each other in the chapter room or Sala de Profundis.
   On the west wall is a dramatic although much retouched Crucifixion. Set against a welter of ominous clouds and fog shrouded hills, the cross, sun, moon and the hair of the usual attendant mourners are accented in rusty red—a common practice in early murals to emphasize the sacred character of the object portrayed for the native audience.
The second, even more dramatic mural, on the opposite wall, is a spectacular Thebaida scene, or Allegory of the Eremitic Lifea common theme at Augustinian monasteries, emphasizing the importance the Order placed in its origins in the desert hermitages of Egypt.  
   A graphic tour de force, in its composition and detail the mural is strikingly similar to the one at Actopan (Hidalgo) with hermits, saints and friars engaged in various practical and devotional activities among the hills and caves of the region. 
Actopan, Eremitic Life mural  (Niccolo Brooker)
As at Actopan, the mural includes the presence of wild animals and red painted demons standing out against the warm monochrome of the mural.
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry. images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
Please see our previous posts on the murals at Epazoyucan; Tepeapulco; Tula; Yecapixtla and Zempoala.

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