Tuesday, November 14, 2017


For the last of our current series on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato, we offer a two part feature on another chapel with ties to the architect Felipe de Ureña and the eminent Sardaneta family of that city.
   In 1776 Don Vicente Manuel de Sardaneta y Legaspi, now sole owner of the Mineral de Rayas silver mine and patron of the Templo de Rayas, an aristocratic hacendado, and one of the richest men in Mexico, added the finishing touches to his colonial mansion in the burgeoning city center of Guanajuato.  La Casa de Rayas, as it was known, was a suitably imposing residence for the Marqués de Rayas—a new title bestowed on Don Vicente by the king of Spain two years earlier. 
La Casa de Rayas: the present front;                                            the sculpture niche;
This venerable townhouse now houses the city museum, El Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, which was opened to the public in 1979. Its only original exterior feature is the ornamental niche that formerly held a statue of the Virgin of Sorrows, the Sardaneta family patron saint.
The Rayas Chapel 
Great care, as well as considerable funds, were lavished on the family chapel, located in the upper level of the hillside house. This chapel, with its elegant facade dated 1776, remains in place. 

   It was reportedly designed by Felipe de Ureña* although to judge by the dedication date this would have been very late in his career and at a time when he may have been in Oaxaca. 
The chapel entry with former sculpture pedestals (ringed)
Nevertheless, the slender portal provides an appropriately impressive entry to the chapel, very much in the felipense style. Elaborately layered, projecting estípite pilasters rise to support the scrolled ends of a broken pediment, and a large octagonal window overhead completes the design.
The archway bears a long, dedicatory inscription in Latin (1). The escutcheon of the Sardaneta family, once prominently emblazoned above the doorway but now obliterated save for the crowning tiara, was the focus of the facade, flanked by the names of Jesus and Joseph.
   Empty sculpture pedestals over the tiara and to each side of the window, once supported three statues. Although these have been lost, it is likely that they would have represented The Virgin Mary and her parents Joachim and Anna. Together with the inscribed names of Jesus and Joseph below, these statues would have signified the Five Lords (Los Cinco Señores), a widespread, late colonial Catholic devotion of the Holy Family (2). 
   The image of the Virgin, like those formerly in the exterior niche and the Cata retablo, was probably that of Dolores—Our Lady of Sorrows—whose cult was especially favored by the Sardaneta family.  
chapel facade details
The ornament and the interplay between its varied forms and shifting levels succeed in animating the doorway despite its limited scale and constricted space. In characteristic felipense fashion, the elongated estípites draw the eye upwards from the plain doorframe to focus on the inscriptions and the statuary above. 
All the intervening spaces are filled with rococo relief ornament, recalling the Templo de Rayas facade. 
In our final post we will look at the chapel altarpiece, also by Ureña.

(1)  “My house is a house of prayer saith the Lord. Within, whoever asks shall receive, whoever seeks shall find, and to whomever knocks it shall be opened. How awesome is this place; truly, is it not the house of God and the Gate of Heaven.”

(2)  Related to the popular cult of The Powerful hand (La Mano Poderosa) in which the five fingers of the right hand - the Hand of God - signify the five members of the Holy Family.

*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style.
See our previous posts on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato: La Valenciana, El Santuario de VillasecaTemplo de San Juan de Rayas;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and Niccolò Brooker

No comments:

Post a Comment