The design of San Agustín represented a startling break with the austere classicism of the 17th century. Traditionally attributed to the great Queretaran designer Ignacio Mariano de las Casas, it was in all probability a collaborative effort, involving other regional architects and sculptors, notably Francisco Martínez Gudiño and also Juan Manuel Villagómez, the architect of Tlalpujahua (Michoacán). who is usually credited with the facade design although Gudiño may have supervised the sculptural program.
The broad facade retains the retablo form, but on a grander and more theatrical scale. Within its playfully geometric framework, the San Agustín facade is un abashed y sculptural. Its principal features—octagonal columns with slashed spirals, the polygonal main door way, the coffered choir window, the faceted projecting cornices and sausage-like friezes encrusted with foliage—all reveal a disciplined but highly mannered architecture that deliberately attracts attention to itself, clearly rejecting the self-effacing restraint of the traditional Querétaro style.
|St Augustine - facade statue|
The eye-catching sculpture seems especially idiosyncratic. Narrow scalloped niches squeezed between the spiral half columns house the statuary—a gallery of elongated figures that includes St. Augustine and St. Francis below, and the Augustinian saints Santa Mónica and Santa Rita de Cascia on the middle level.
Pilasters bearing atlantean figures with smiling, childlike visages and leafy skirts flank the large upper niche, where a large cruciform frame encloses the foreshortened figure of Christ on the cross—a motif seen in other regional Augustinian churches. The niche is a sculptural tour-de-force, profusely decorated with vines and swirling foliage in high relief. Fantastic, siren-like caryatids cling below, and naked cherubs gaze down from above.
The longhaired figure of Christ is configured in the manner of the crucifixes at Salamanca and Irapuato, but in our view sculpted with greater finesse. Mounted in a niche ornamented with swirling vines and foliage, the somewhat foreshortened figure is sensitively portrayed, the drawn features of Christ’s Face sagging beneath the heavy tiara of the Tres Potencias that crowns his brow.
text, drawing and photography © 1995 & 2019 Richard D. Perry