Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Rojas Retablos. Querétaro: Santa Clara 2

Santa Clara de Querétaro

In an earlier post we looked at the retablo dedicated to St. Rose of Lima, We now review the altarpiece dedicated to St John Nepomuc, attributed in part to Pedro de Rojas.

St. John Nepomuc

Although not an original Rojas design and less adventurous than the Santa Rosa altarpiece, this retablo was initially worked on by a local woodcarver, Luis Ramos. Following his death it is thought to have been completed in the 1740s by Pedro de Rojas, who may have carved some of the statuary—generally considered to be among the finest in the church despite some inappropriate repainting.

The early date is indicated by the relative clarity of the retablo structure. A conventional vocabulary of baroque ornament—predominantly scrolls and angels, here accented with mirrors—enriches the surface, although less densely ornamented than the Santa Rosa retablo.

The central vitrine contains the inconspicuous figure of St. John Nepomuc—the 14th century Bohemian aristocrat and Franciscan saint to whom the retablo is dedicated. Oval panels illustrate his life and death—martyred by drowning in the Moldau River. These scenes are rendered in uneven chiaroscuro, and signed by the little known Queretaran painter Agustín Ledesma.

Complex, encrusted estípite columns enclose statues of the Doctors of the Church, notably Franciscans St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas. Another imposing estofado figure is that of St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse, standing above the center vitrine.

As noted, much of the statuary and incidental figure carving is thought to have originated in the Rojas workshop.

Text & drawing ©2012 Richard D. Perry. Photography by Richard Anderson

Information based in part on Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Rojas Retablos—Querétaro: Santa Clara

Santa Clara de Querétaro

 Santa Clara de Queretaro

Like Santa Rosa de Viterbo, the narrow nave of this nuns' church is lined with an extraordinary variety of opulent, late baroque altarpieces by the Queretaran masters, including Francisco Gudiño, Mariano de Las Casas and Pedro de Rojas.

The two that interest us here are dedicated to St. Rose of Lima and St John Nepomuc. We look first at the altarpiece dedicated to St. Rose, the first American saint.

Santa Rosa de Lima

This opulent gilded retablo is believed to be another work by Pedro de Rojas, an attribution supported by its filigree style ornament and graceful sculptures of angels—a signature of Rojas’ altarpieces and perhaps from his own chisel.

The center pavilion, divided by broken pediments and rich with swagged and foliated reliefs, showcases a modern figure of St Rose with the Christ Child in a glassed niche.

Above a pair of elaborately framed, painted doors surmounted by reclining angels with enormous cornucopia, ornate pilasters with curtained niches house polychrome figures of Saints Dominic and Anthony of Padua.

Overhead, a decorative cartouche of the Virgin of Guadalupe is encircled by Marian symbols accompanied by animated figures of Archangels. 
These, with other cherubic figures, appear to be the only surviving original statuary, and may be from Rojas workshop—possibly the hand of the master himself.


Text & drawing ©2012 Richard D. Perry.  Photography by Richard Anderson & Niccolo Brooker

Information based in part on Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Rojas Retablos - Querétaro: Santa Rosa de Viterbo 2

Querétaro, the nuns' church of Santa Rosa de Viterbo
This is the second in two posts on altarpieces attributed to Pedro de Rojas in the church of Santa Rosa de Viterbo in the city of Querétaro.
Previously we looked at the altarpiece of Guadalupe. Here we describe its sister retablo of San José, more correctly called the Death of St Joseph.

  St. Joseph (San José)

Almost identical in its structure, framing and luxuriant detail to the Guadalupe altarpiece opposite, this retablo is also considered to be another masterwork by Pedro de Rojas, possibly in collaboration with Gudiño.

 The center pavilion is capped, like the Guadalupe retablo by a vast projecting crown, atop which stands a dynamic statue of the Archangel Michael.

 Below, angels draw aside drapes and look down fondly at the statue of a youthful St. Joseph in the center vitrine, a saint venerated in the Americas from early colonial times, who holds the naked infant Christ .


Below the vitrine, statues of St Joachim, holding the infant Virgin Mary, and St Anne flank the figure of Christ at the Column.

As with the Guadalupe retablo, garlanded ovals frame four paintings that relate key episodes from the life of the saint—again reputedly the work of Miguel Cabrera.
    The scene at lower right depicting Christ at the deathbed of St. Joseph, which gives its name to the official title of the altarpiece, recalls the similar tableau in the Salamanca retablo, also by Rojas —among the surprisingly few portrayals of this event in Mexican religious art.

Text & line art © Richard D. PerryColor images by Richard Anderson, Niccolo Brooker & Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca

Information based in part on Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)

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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Rojas Retablos - Querétaro: Santa Rosa de Viterbo

The city of Querétaro is distinguished by several nun's churches. The most prominent and luxuriously appointed are those of Santa Clara and Santa Rosas de Viterbo—both founded by the Franciscans.
   Between them, the several sumptuous retablos in these two churches virtually define the opulent Queretaran style of altarpiece design—the work of a small group of talented designers, sculptors and retablistas: Francisco Gudiño, Mariano de Las Casas and, the subject of this feature, Pedro José de Rojas.
We begin with the the church of Santa Rosa de Viterbo.
Querétaro, Santa Rosa de Viterbo
Santa Rosa de Viterbo
Two distinctive and closely related altarpieces, stand opposite each other in the first bay adjacent to the apse. They have been attributed to either Francisco Gudiño or Pedro de Rojas—possibly in collaboration—and are both classic examples of the highly ornate but less structured anástilo manner of late baroque altarpiece design, sometimes called "barococo" which typifies the Queretaran style.  In this post we first consider the retablo of Guadalupe.
Restored in 1993, this colorful gilded altarpiece is one of the most refined of the Santa Rosa retablos.  
Ornate estípite pilasters incorporating garlands and polychrome caryatid figures subtly divide the retablo, their forms almost disappearing into the dense filigree background. 
The fine carving of the retablo is especially evident in its ornate tabernacle, flanked by a pair of exquisite scalloped doorways that gleam with green and gold foliage.
The central panel with a 19th century painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe is theatrically displayed beneath an extravagantly swagged canopy, capped by an enormous projecting crown and ringed by four oval paintings illustrating the Apparitions of the Virgin. These are enclosed by green, garlanded frames and are now thought to be from the hand of the Mexican baroque master Miguel Cabrera.
Angels and Archangels
As with the related San José retablo and others, the sculpted figures of angels are believed to be the work of Rojas and his studio.  Restored archangels with enormous wings and laced buskins draw aside the curtains above the center niche framing the Guadalupe image, and hold up the dove of the Holy Spirit at the crest of the retablo.

Silhouetted against the nave window in the pediment above the crown, the commanding winged figure of the Archangel Raphael, robes aflutter, is flanked by graceful paintings of the archangels Gabriel and Raphael.
The Archangel Michael
The Archangel Gabriel

Text & line art ©1997 &  2012 by Richard D. Perry
color images by Richard Anderson; Esteban Galván Rivera; Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca
Information based in part on  Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro  by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)
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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Rojas Retablos - Salamanca: San José

As we saw in our earlier post on Cadereyta, Pedro de Rojas' work as a sculptor and retablista was not confined to the city of Querétaro. He contracted for and completed several other commissions in neighboring Guanajuato. 
Some of his finest altarpieces survive in the magnificent Augustinian priory church of San Agustín in Salamanca, Guanajuato.

San Agustín Salamanca

The gilded retablos lining the nave and transepts of this church establish this as one of the most spectacular late baroque interiors in Mexico.
   Among a group of extraordinary altarpieces, two especially push the envelope of the so-called Mexican Churrigueresque style to its extreme.
   The transept retablos of St. Joseph and St. Anne, facing each other across the church are remarkable for their lifelike tableaux illustrating episodes in the lives of the titular saints, and widely considered among the finest ensembles of 18th century figure sculpture in Mexico.
   Attributed to the master sculptor Pedro José de Rojas, in cooperation with the noted regional architect and designer Mariano de Las Casas, their intricate structure, based on highly ornate estípite pilasters and sculpture niches, are almost lost in a profusion of opulent rococo and mudéjar inspired detail.
   It appears from the contract documents that both altarpieces were fabricated in Rojas' main taller in Querétaro, and shipped by cart in sections to be assembled in place.

In this post we look first at the altarpiece of St. Joseph:

The San José retablo

The gilded altarpiece of St Joseph is virtually identical in form to the Santa Ana retablo, although some feel that the sculptural quality of the figure sculpture is superior in this later retablo—thought to be Rojas’ last major work. The tableaux depict scenes from the life of St Joseph, set in ornate, elongated niches.

The Death of Joseph

A moving and rarely depicted study of Christ at the deathbed of a gaunt St. Joseph occupies the center niche. This is flanked by Christ among the Doctors with St Joseph on the right, and a solemn Dream of Joseph, below on the left, in which the Archangel Gabriel gestures gracefully to the sleeping saint.

Christ among the Doctors

Marriage of Mary and Joseph

Although less sumptuously framed and difficult to see clearly due to their elevation and back lighting from the nave window, the gable reliefs are no less masterly.

The Marriage of Joseph and Mary on the upper right is matched on the left side by a delightfully anecdotal Flight into Egypt, complete with donkey—

All the reliefs are in good condition although in need of cleaning.

Text & drawing © 2012 Richard D. Perry;  Photography ©Niccolo Brooker

Information based in part on Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro
by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)

For more on the arts and architecture of Salamanca:

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Rojas Retablos - Cadereyta.

We start our June posts with a series on a group of late baroque altarpieces by the 18th century Mexican sculptor and designer Pedro de Rojas.

Pedro José de Rojas

The altarpieces of Querétaro represent the culmination of the ornate baroque style in 18th century Mexican art. Among the leading designers and fabricators of these master works was the Mexico City native Pedro José (or Joseph) de Rojas.  Born in Mexico City around 1700, he moved to Querétaro in his mid twenties and remained there for the rest of his working life.
   Together with fellow queretano architects and designers Mariano de Las Casas and Francisco Martinez Gudiño, he designed and worked on numerous retablos, notably for the nun's churches of Santa Clara and Santa Rosa de Viterbo, often personally creating many of their constituent sculptures and statuary. 
   Rojas' work, however, was not confined to the city of Querétaro. He contacted for and completed several other commissions both in other Queretaran communities and further afield in Guanajuato.  
   Although many of these altarpieces have not survived—victims of neglect, destruction by fire or vandalism, or simple changes of fashion— several can still be seen and admired, in most cases the beneficiaries of recent restoration.
   In a series of posts on this blog we will describe each of these magnificent survivors in turn.
For our first page we look at what is considered the finest, the best documented and the most complete among the Rojas altarpieces, as well as most wholly the work of the designer: that in the principal church of Cadereyta.


The handsome neoclassical facade of the church of St Peter and St Paul faces a sunny, paved plaza in this crossroads town to the southeast of the city of Querétaro.  Although much altered over the years the church retains an archaic 16th century stone cross densely carved with the face of Christ and other Passion symbols. 

But the chief attraction at Cadereyta is its sensational gilded altarpiece which entirely fills the apse at the east end of the church. As commissioned in the original contract dated 1752, this has been documented as the masterwork of the celebrated sculptor and designer Pedro José de Rojas.
   It is a classic statement of the elegant Queretaran baroque, an ornate, regional variant of the Mexican Churrigueresque or barroco estípite style in architectural and altarpiece design that flourished in the mid-1700s. 

 Narrow estípite pilasters, built up of varied design elements including herms, cartouches and bands of foliage, divide and separate each of the three tiers of paintings and statuary.
   The latter are contained, respectively, within ornamental but restrained, Moorish inspired frames and niches, whose modest profile, together with the discreet pilasters and intervening gilded filigree ornament, combine to create an overall, tapestry like effect—the distinctive feature of the Queretaran style.
San Nicolas de Tolentino
Virgin of Guadalupe
Of the five statues of saints, those of the principals, Saints Peter and Paul, housed on the middle tier, are believed to have been carved by Rojas himself. 
   The sculpture of St. Paul is especially powerful, a commanding, bearded figure in the Mannerist mold, with a strong, expressive face, assertive stance and boldly chiseled robes. The staid figures of St. Francis and Nicholas of Tolentino—the patron saint of Cadereyta—on the lower stage, may also be from Rojas’ workshop, but seem to lack the vitality of the master’s touch.
   A modern painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe occupies the curtained center niche, surrounded by a group of superior 18th century paintings, recently restored and attributed to the Queretaran artist Pedro José Noriega, that illustrate scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary in a lively style using a palette of warm, luminous colors. 

St Peter
The baptistry cross

text, photographs & drawing © 2012 Richard D. Perry;  Additional images ©Niccolo Brooker

Information based in part on Pedro de Rojas y su taller de escultura en Querétaro
by Mina Ramírez Montes (1988)

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