Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tlaxcalan Crosses: San Juan Huactzinco

We continue our series on Tlaxcalan carved stone crosses with a look at an atypical atrium cross at San Juan Huactzinco, in the southern cone of the state near Puebla.


San Juan Huactzinco

Arid Sacred Place
This former open chapel, a visita of Tlaxcala and later, of nearby Tepeyanco, is notable for its elegant 17th century stonework—the carved capitals and arches of the arcaded church front, the facade statue of St. John the Evangelist, the old font in the nave, and above all the sculpted atrium cross.
Wreathed in vines and studded with rosettes, the Huactzinco cross is clearly the work of a sure hand, with several imaginative touches, and quite distinct from others in the region—closer in style to the later cross at Tlaxcalancingo and the foliated crosses of the Teotihuacan area.
A modest but expressive Face of Christ, set on a square verónica at the crossing, is the main narrative focus, from which grapevines, ripe with grapes and the occasional bursting pomegranate, spiral around the arms and shaft, interspersed with symmetrical rosettes.
No other explicit Passion symbols appear, aside from a Chalice at the foot of the shaft from which a vine snakes upwards. In contrast to the minimal, scalloped finials on either arm, more curling tendrils frame the large INRI plaque atop the cross.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
See our other posts on the crosses of Tlaxcala: Apetatitlan; Teolocholco; Tlatelulco, XiloxoxtlaAtzitzimititlánSanta Cruz;

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mexican Crosses: San Pablo Huantepec

Aficionada and avid cross hunter Diana Roberts recently drew our attention to an archaic carved stone cross located in the village of San Pablo Huantepec, near Jilotepec in the northern marches of Mexico State.
The Huantepec cross: reverse side and front
Probably dating to the 1600s or even the late 1500s, the unusual "tilted" style cross is densely carved on both sides with a variety of reliefs, some clearly representing classic Passion symbols, others not.
The face of Christ at the crossing, a star like crown of thorns, a rooster and column, a monstrance and a ladder, are identifiable if archaic in style, but other bird like and starburst motifs are outliers. A second face above that at the crossing is also unusual, especially since it appears to wear a prehispanic headdress.
(The ornate INRI plaque capping the cross is a later addition.)
But of special interest is a recurrent, starfish like motif that may signify the ancient, paw like toponym of Huantepec: "Hill of the Feline Monster."
Huantepec place glyph
S. Pedro & Pablo Jilotepec, cloister cross: front and reverse
In addition, this cross and in particular its related motifs bear a close resemblance to those carved on the cloister cross at nearby S. Pedro & S. Pablo Jilotepec, which appears to be a much later, maybe modern, adaptation of the older Huantepec cross.
text & graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Diana Roberts
see some of our other posts on Mexican crosses:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Painting God's House: an exhibit

A new exhibit of seventeen prints under this title by noted Dallas photographer Carolyn Brown is opening in Dallas this weekend. 
As an exploration of colorful reliefs and folkloric church fronts, mostly in the Puebla region, it will be an eye opener for aficionados who can attend.  
The show will run until September 12, and is hoped to travel it to other locations in Texas.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Crosses of Tlaxcala

The churches of Tlaxcala are rich in colonial architecture, arts and artifacts, examples of which we have singled out in earlier posts.
   One of the earliest groups of regional artifacts is that of carved stone atrium crosses, some dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of the Tlaxcala crosses follow those of neighboring Puebla in form, with long, slender arms and shaft, often decorated with rosettes and other foliar motifs, and capped by ornamental INRI plaques. 
La Malinche volcano
In this post we focus on a distinctive group of crosses in the hinterland of the city of Tlaxcala, some in the shadow of the Malinche volcano. They follow the same outline and all are densely carved with small scale Passion symbols in relief, set within raised borders. Especially notable are the hirsute, frontal faces of Christ at the axis.
   This regional cluster suggests, as in the case of the Puebla crosses we saw earlier, the work of a local, itinerant group of skilled stone carvers in the late 1600s.
San Pablo Apetatitlan                                   San Luis Teolocholco * 

Magdalena Tlatelulco                                   Santa Isabel Xiloxoxtla (dated 1670) 
Belén Atzitzimititlán (Place of the Star Goddess)
San Matías Tepetomatitlan embedded wall cross (crosspiece only)
*  Breaking News...
The magnificent atrium cross at Teolocholco was recently broken into several pieces by an unidentified agency.  Hopefully it will be repaired and reassembled soon with only minimal damage.
see some of our other posts on Mexican crosses:
text and graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry.   all rights strictly reserved

Belén Atzitzimititlán cross photograph by Judith Hancock

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hidden Gems: San Juan Bautista, Huasca de Ocampo.

From time to time we take a look at modest rural churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of historic or artistic interest. We call them Hidden Gems.*
   In an earlier post we visited the church at El Puente, in the mountainous mining region of eastern Hidalgo. Here we look at another church in the area with colonial art works and connections with the history of mining.
La Sierra de Pachuca near Huasca
The town of Huasca de Ocampo nestles in a 
picturesque outer valley of the Sierra de Pachuca, through which a river tumbles over basaltic outcroppings surrounded by forested ranges
   Although at one time a 16th century Augustinian ermita, the Huasca parish church, as it stands today, dates mostly from the 18th century. It was founded by Pedro Romero de Terreros, the first Count of Regla, a prominent mining magnate and philanthropist, who owned valuable silver mines and established several haciendas de beneficio in the area during a major mining boom in the 1760s.
The church front remains surprisingly modest, however, and despite the relief of the Archangel Michael above the main portal, is dedicated to John the Baptist. (This handsome relief was reputedly commissioned and donated by Romero de Terreros himself, a devotee of the archangel.) 
The relief of St Michael  ©Niccolò Brooker
Inside the roomy church, numerous side altars line the nave, mostly dating from the 18th century. One baroque example (1) framed by spiral columns, is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua and features a statue of the saint along with a winged portrait of the Dominican preacher St. Vincent Ferrer
  Another retablo (2) centers on a large painting of Las Animas, portraying the Archangel Michael flanked by two Franciscan saints above souls in Purgatory. 
1.                                                                     2.

The festival of John the Baptist takes place on June 24 of each year, an event boisterously celebrated with masses, horse racing, cockfights, sporting events, folk dancing and of course fireworks.
The chapel of Our Lady of Loreto, Santa Maria Regla
Two former mining haciendas in the area, those of Santa Maria Regla and San Miguel Regla, have recently been refurbished as luxury hotels, their former chapels often used for weddings. 
   At Santa Maria Regla, the chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Loreto, and is attractive mix of urban and rustic, with an ornate, colonnaded front, a soaring tower, a cylindrical stairway and one giant flying buttress.
* Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de Indios; San Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  Ocoxochitepec; Mixquiahuala; Cherán;
text ©2017 by Richard D. Perry
images from internet sources and by Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Cristóbal de Villalpando exhibit

Opening July 25th 2017 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, this new exhibition showcases works by the celebrated Mexican artist Cristóbal de Villalpando (ca. 1649–1714) 
   Born in Mexico City, he emerged in the 1680s not only as the leading painter in viceregal Mexico, but also as one of the most innovative and accomplished artists in the entire Hispanic world.  Influenced by the grand manner of Rubens, leavened by the warm, Mannerist inspired Andalusian artistic tradition, and informed by a naive New world earthiness, Villalpando's painting exemplifies the luminous high Mexican baroque, with daring compositions, dynamic movement, brilliant color and expressive elegance.
    The Met exhibit prominently features Villalpando's early masterpiece, the Transfiguration of Jesus, Moses and the Brazen Serpent. This monumental 28-foot-tall canvas was painted in 1683 for a chapel dedicated to a miracle-working image of Christ at the Column, located in Puebla Cathedral and commissioned by the controversial then bishop of Puebla, Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz.    
    Newly restored, the painting had, until now, never been exhibited outside its place of origin. Ten additional works by Villalpando, most of which have never been shown in the United States, will also be exhibited including, among others, a recently discovered Adoration of the Magi, on loan from Fordham University, and The Holy Name of Mary from the Museum of the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The Transfiguration of Jesus, with Moses and the Brazen Serpent
The first in a series of important ecclesiastical commissions, the "Transfiguration" marked a breakthrough in Villalpando’s work, in terms of its grand scale and its audacious conception and execution. He signed it “Villalpando inventor,” an inscription that emphasizes the artist’s intellectual achievement in addition to his artistic skills, thus asserting his professional status as a “learned practitioner of a noble art.”
   In his bold composition, Villalpando juxtaposed the Old Testament story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent with the New Testament account of the Transfiguration—an unprecedented pairing of these subjects. The two biblical events are staged against sacred landscapes that contrast the celestial realm, with misty mounts Calvary and Tabor, and the terrestrial realm of the desert wilderness as described in Exodus. 
   The two separate but linked sections are populated by life-size figures of every age and gender, clothed and nude, and in a striking variety of poses and attitudes.

The Transfiguration
The rounded upper half of the composition represents the transfiguration of Jesus’s corporeal body into light. This strange event takes place while Jesus is still living and among the apostles. In his Gospel, Matthew recounts that in the evening, Jesus led the brothers James and John as well as Peter up to a high mountain, known as Tabor, where they could be alone. 
   As they all looked on, an extraordinary change suddenly came over Jesus: his face shone like the sun, and his clothes turned a dazzling white. The three disciples then saw the prophets Moses (horned with serpent) and Elijah appear to talk with Jesus. 
   Then an incandescent cloud came over them, from which a voice issued saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased – listen to him!’ When the disciples heard the voice, they were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground.
   In his visual treatment Villalpando emphasizes the ethereal aspect of this other worldly scene rather than its drama, by means of shimmering color and fluid brushwork.

The Brazen Serpent
In contrast, the lower register of Villalpando’s composition is by far the more dramatic section of the canvas. It illustrates the bizarre story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent—significantly, a scriptural precedent for the making and use of images in worship, thus affirming the importance of art and artists. 
   This Old Testament narrative tells of the Israelites who, frustrated by refugee life in the desert, speak out against God and their leader Moses. To punish them, God sends a plague in the form of poisonous snakes to ravage the unfaithful. 
   After the Israelites repent, Moses, as intercessor, appeals to God on their behalf. God instructs Moses to make a brazen image of a serpent and place it on a pole. Whoever was bitten is to look up toward the pole and he would immediately be healed. Moses then constructs the serpent, placing it on a pole as God had instructed.
Villalpando depicts the horned Moses dressed as a soldier, or archangel, pointing up at the serpent. 
In his dramatic presentation of the surrounding chaos, Villalpando emphasizes the horror and agony afflicting the Israelites as well as their common and individual humanity. 
His figures, from young to old, writhe in pain, despair and remorse, desperate to find redemption. Next to a horrified old man on the left, a young woman holds her baby up to the serpent in the hopes of saving her child. The near-hysteria of these women with their babies evokes the ‘Massacre of the Innocents, while the harrowing scenes and grotesque attitudes of many figures suggest the Last Judgment. 

Two angels, one in flight and the other grounded, occupy the middle plane of the painting, a traditional device linking the two main sections of the canvas. They bear shields inscribed with biblical quotations relating the two events: 
    The angel on the left announces the scene of Moses and the Brazen Serpent below, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have eternal life,” whereas the standing angel on the right points upward to the Transfiguration. His shield reads, “and behold, there talked with him two men which were Moses and Elias: who appeared in glory, and spoke of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.”

Although this blog is not the forum for detailed 
iconographical analysis, the complexity of this superb painting has provoked a variety of interpretations, both of its underlying meaning and theology as well as its historic place in the colonial art of Mexico, as expounded in these more extended commentaries:

Bargellini, Clara.  Cristóbal de Villalpando at the Cathedral of Puebla. 
Struggle for Synthesis. The Total Work of Art in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Actas del simposio llevado a cabo en Braga, Portugal, 1996.

Gutíerrez Haces, Juana, Pedro Ángeles, Clara Bargellini and Rogelio Ruíz Gomar.  Cristóbal de Villalpando. Exhibition cat. Mexico City: Fomento Cultural Banamex, 1997.

———. The Painter Cristóbal de Villalpando: his Life and Legacy. In Exploring New World Imagery: Spanish Colonial Papers from the 2002 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum. Edited by Donna Pierce, 104-128: Denver Art Museum, 2005.

Leyva-Gutiérrez, Niria E.  Painting Power: Images of Ecclesiastical Authority in Seventeenth-Century New Spain  PhD dissertation. Institute of Fine Arts. New York University, 2012

Maza, Francisco de la.  El pintor Cristóbal de Villalpando. México, 1964.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
illustrations adapted from color images by Patrick Kavanagh and Niria Leyva-Gutiérrez

Monday, July 24, 2017

Hidden Gems: La Capilla del Señor de Los Laureles

From time to time we take a look at modest Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of special historic and artistic interest. We like to call them Hidden Gems.
In the mountain community of El Puente, near the old mining town of Mineral del Chico in eastern Hidalgo state, we find this modest colonial chapel dedicated to El Señor de Los Laureles, a miracle working local santo. 
   Although of uncertain origin, the chapel probably dates back to the 1700s and may be the site of a former hermitage attached to the Augustinian priory at Atotonilco El Grande—as evidence, mural fragments in the nave bearing the arrow pierced heart of the Order.
An inscribed, dedicatory keystone dated 1777 (a later addition?) is set in the coffered arch of its venerable stone doorway, which is carved with a variety of relief rosettes.
The atrium cross, raised on a stone plinth in front of the church is one of a handful of “tilted” crosses in the region, incised with an inner cruciform outline and capped by a bescrolled INRI plaque.
"Las Monjas"  © Daniel Aguilar Bazan
The chapel stands in view of the celebrated regional rock formation known as Las Monjas.

Check out some of our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahuala; Cherán; Tetliztaca;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
Thanks to Niccolò Brooker who brought this church to our attention 
and supplied most of the images

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Hidden Gems: Hill of White Stone: Santo Tomás Tetliztaca

From time to time we take a look at modest rural churches in Mexico with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess special features of artistic and historic interest. We like to call them Hidden Gems.*
Santo Tomás Tetliztaca
Hill of White Stone
Situated on a highway east of Zempoala, in the state of Hidalgo, this ancient community, now known simply as Santo Tomás, is historically noted for its 1581 map, on which the 16th century church prominently appears.

details of the map from the Relación Geográfica de Tetliztaca (1581) Nettie Lee Benson Collection.

Early colonial churches were often linked in the native mind, as in their pictorial records, with local sacred mountains and caves. This is made explicit in the Tetliztaca map, where a red line physically joins the church to the white capped mountain referenced in the original place name.
In the case of Santo Tomás, this identification is even clearer if we look at the sculpted doorway of the church, which could also be viewed as the entrance to a sacred mountain or cave.      
   In fact the entire convento,* originally established by the Franciscans as a visita of the monastery at Zempoala, may be founded on the site of an ancient temple, since at one time a long flight of steps led up to the gateway of the raised atrium. 

While the church front is generally plain, following much later remodeling, passages of the original 16th century architectural decoration remain, most notably the remarkably detailed entry.   
  Reminiscent of similar early entries, the arched door, carved from reddish stone, is supported on broad triple jambs and surmounted by a rectangular alfiz. Each element is densely carved with bands of stylized figures and foliage. 
Both jambs feature a projecting center pilaster, prominently displaying the Franciscan emblem of the Five Wounds, framed by a knotted cord, together with Christic monograms encased in circular wreaths, and capped by a praying, winged angel with pronounced Indian features. 
This is flanked by columns of highly stylized reliefs of supporting angels carved in a dense tequitqui manner, also with indigenous visages. Reliefs of lush foliage and blossoms adorn the inner bands as well as the outer capitals of the jambs

A double band of angels in similar style, blowing horns and holding various Instruments of the Passion, alternate with sheafs of foliage to form the archway above (raised at a later date), which culminates in another angel head relief emblazoned on the keystone. Two more angels blow horns in the corners of the carved alfiz overhead.
  This elaborately carved entry, with its proliferation of musical and floral imagery together with the Christian symbols, served to accentuate the sacred nature of the building to the indigenous and Spanish viewer alike. 
*The remains of the adjacent convento are now largely abandoned, its arcaded porteria blocked by rubble.
Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahuala; Cherán;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Diana Roberts and Niccolò Brooker