Sunday, July 3, 2022

Oaxaca. Las Nieves

In another of our posts on lesser known churches in the city of Oaxaca, we turn to the exquisite chapel of Las Nieves.
   Originally the chapel attached to the Jesuit seminary of San Juan, this gem of a church is now dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows, the popular patron saint of Rome. Founded in the late 16th century, the church suffered repeated earthquake damage, but was rebuilt in the early 1700s and again in the 1770s, after the Jesuits were expelled from Mexico.
Facing east, its typically Oaxacan greenstone facade is surprisingly sophisticated. Fluted Corinthian columns on high pedestals flank the elegant arched doorway, morphing into plain tritostyle columns on either side of the large octagonal choir window overhead.
A striking stepped gable crowns the facade, accented by discreet volutes and outlined by a multi-layered cornice.
   A monogram of the Virgin with crossed keys is carved in the keystone of the doorway, a reference to the statue of the Virgin of the Nativity housed in the upper shell niche. The monogram of Christ is emblazoned above the choir window. A nice touch is the fluted molding outlining the entire facade.

The Altarpieces
Despite its modest scale, Las Nieves is distinguished by the high quality and variety of its altarpieces. Although the main retablo is designed in the later neoclassical style, the gilded retablos in the transepts and side chapels are refined baroque works, reflecting both the traditional Oaxacan and more cosmopolitan Churrigueresque styles. 
The graceful retablo of St. Anthony of Padua—possibly the former main retablo—is now installed in a side chapel. Its projecting center pavilion features intricate spiral columns of interwoven ornament and sharply projecting capitals hung with spindles. The altarpiece is a showcase for 18th century paintings of archangels and episodes from the life of this popular Franciscan saint.
Equally impressive is the almost semicircular altarpiece of the Virgin of Perpetual Help in the north transept, dated 1793. Elegant estípite pilasters project against a gilded tapestry of richly worked foliage and strapwork. The paintings glow with gilded accents, with especially luminous effect in the portraits of the Evangelists and the elaborately costumed Virgin at the top of the retablo.
The figure of Christ occupies the retablo opposite, surrounded by muscular paintings of Passion scenes. A simple but affecting statue of St. Anne with the young Virgin also stands in the south transept.

In colonial times, the venerable circular fountain outside the church was the focus of the eastern barrios of the city. Weary water carriers rested their jars in the saucer-like indentations around the rim as they exchanged local news and gossip.

text 2005/2022 Richard D. Perry
pictures by the author and from online sources

Monday, June 20, 2022

Oaxaca city. Carmen Bajo

While the church of Carmen Alto was restricted to the Spanish residents of Oaxaca, its little known sister church of Carmen Bajo downtown was founded to serve the city’s mestizo and mulatto populations. 

Carmen Bajo, the bell tower

facade reliefs: The Lamentation;    St Peter.

Aside from a pair of reliefs on the facade and its decorative bell tower, today the church offers little of interest apart from an intriguing colonial painting of the Holy Trinity, portrayed Mexican style as three bearded young men seated in gold trimmed robes with their feet resting on angels’ heads. 
Below, Adam and Eve are pictured in Eden with the serpent entwined tree, and surrounded by a host of birds and beasts.

text © 2005/2022 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Oaxaca City. Carmen Alto

We continue our series on the lesser known churches in the city of Oaxaca with posts on the two Carmelite foundations, Carmen Alto and Carmen Bajo, starting with the former.
   The convento of Carmen Alto was founded on the site of an Aztec temple, dedicated to their maize deity Centeotl, and probably the location of even more ancient devotions. The temple primarily served the Aztec garrison quartered on the nearby Cerro Fortín and became a focus of pilgrimage, ceremonies and human sacrifice.       
   Anxious to stamp out the old religion, the Spanish erected a cross and chapel here in the 1500s, transforming the pagan festival into the feast day of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. 
   This modest chapel was replaced in the late 1600s by the Carmelite monastery, intended for the exclusive use of the Spanish population.
Although much of the large, fortress-like convento has been converted to other uses, including a former prison, the church endures, skirted by an L-shaped, walled atrium with two pedimented gateways bristling with merlons.
In front of the main west entrance to the church stands the best preserved original section: a broad, arcaded portico or narthex—a common feature of Carmelite churches in Mexico. 
Above the arcade, a large relief in a fretted frame shows Our Lady of Mt. Carmel sheltering friars and nuns of the Carmelite order beneath her ample cape. Oval medallions of the Carmelite insignia—a cross and three stars beneath a coronet—are prominently emblazoned on either side.
Recessed between deep exterior buttresses, the south entry takes the form of a triumphal arch with double tritostyle columns. A statue of St. Joseph stands in the niche above, flanked by large merlons. A carved cross—known as La Cruz Acordonada because of its cordlike striations—occupies the upper facade, enclosed within a cruciform frame.

text 2005/2022 Richard D. Perry
pictures by the author and from online sources

Friday, May 27, 2022

Oaxaca. Santo Domingo; the underchoir

The earliest surviving work of art in the church of Santo Domingo in the city of Oaxaca is the spectacular painted relief of the Genealogy of St. Dominic adorning the under choir (sotocoro). 

Based on the medieval motif of the Tree of Jesse, it spreads out across the vault in the form of a multi-branched vine. Springing from the inconspicuous reclining figure of Don Felix de Guzmán, the patriarch of the family, it traces the earthly lineage of the founder of the Dominican Order. Members of his noble family, real and imaginary, emerge like blossoms from buds set among the tendrils and bunches of grapes. 

Santo Domingo, the relief of the Virgin

These diminutive, fresh-faced figures exude a charm and directness that establish this ceiling as one of the earliest masterpieces of Mexican popular art. The Virgin Mary relief is a later addition, placed like a Christmas ornament at the top of the tree.

text © 2005/2020 Richard D. Perry

color photography by Felipe Falcón.

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Texcoco. The Third Order chapel

The chapel of the Third Order is one of several buildings in the precincts of the cathedral of Texcoco, formerly a major Franciscan monastery and evangelical center. 
    Also known as the "Expiatory Temple", it was founded in the late 1500s to serve the lay Third Order of Franciscans, but essentially rebuilt in the early 1700s.
The West Facade.
The lobed main doorway is the only remaining element of the 16th century front, framed by spiral wreathed Corinthian columns. Foliated fleur de lis reliefs adorn the archway, whose keystone bears the relief of a bishop, possibly representing San Luis Obispo.
Paired tritostyle columns with wavy fluting — barroco de estrías móviles— flank the upper level, where relief archangels with Indian plumed headdresses stand on corbels to either side of a stone statue of an unidentified figure, thought to portray St. Philip of Jesus, a Franciscan and the first Mexican saint.
   The Franciscan crossed arms are emblazoned above the octagonal choir window.
The Cathedral entry
The entry is related to the nearby side entry of the cathedral which is more complex, with a lobed, moorish inspired doorway adorned with rosette reliefs and octagonal window. Paired spiral columns and plain pilasters on the upper level flank three sculpture niches occupied by statuary.
The Chapel Interior
The main event here is the sumptuous gilded main altarpiece, fashioned in late baroque estípite style and now dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe whose image stands in the center. 
main altarpiece
Statues of Saints Joachim and Anne occupy the lateral niches.
   This retablo is very much in the style of the main retablo in the cathedral, and may well be from the same workshop.
side retablo
There are also retablos in the transepts, one of which on the south side appears somewhat earlier and is notable for relief portraits of rugged apostles on the predella level.

text © 2022 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and ELTB

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Puebla. La Concordia 2

In the adjacent priests’ residence, la Casa de Ejercicios is the arcaded 3 storey Patio de los Azulejos, a  classic in the barroco poblano style—a virtuoso tapestry of colorful tilework, set in a variety of patterns and framing varied door and window openings.

text © 2022 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and from online sources.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Puebla. La Concordia 1

Continuing our review of colonial buildings of distinction in the city of Puebla, we turn to the architectural complex of La Concordia. The review is divided into two posts.
   “La Concordia” as it is known, is made up of the church, the priestly house: the Casa de Ejercicios, and an annex known as the “Patio de los Azulejos” — which we cover in our second post. 
   The complex began life in the mid 1500s with the founding of a charity hospital run by the Brotherhood of the Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) to serve the indigenous residents of the area.
   A century later the old hospital, its temple and precincts were transferred to the Oratorian Order, founded by San Felipe Neri.
A new church was built to a design by local architect Carlos Garcia Durango, (also responsible for the city church of San Cristóbal.) Erected during the 1670s, the church is built from dark gray basalt, fashioned in soberly classical poblano style.  
   The facade of the church is topped by a cross that recalls its original dedication to Santa Cruz. 
   In front of the choir window is the image of Saint Philip Neri on which a dove was placed, symbol of the Holy Spirit. Under the window you can read the words “PARADISE, PARADISE, I WANT”, words allegedly uttered by the founder shortly before his death.
Above rests the alabaster statue of Our Lady of Vallicela, the rarely portrayed patron of the first church in Rome belonging to the Congregation of the Oratory, founded in 1575 by Saint Philip Neri. 
Another statue of the saint stands in a niche of the neoclassical side entry.
   The interior of the church houses neoclassical altars and a set of viceregal paintings by noted poblano artist Miguel Jerónimo Zendejas, illustrating passages from the life of San Felipe Neri.
text © 2022 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and from online sources.