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:


  1. I wonder if Rojas's sculptural depiction of Jesus attending the death of St. Joseph was inspired by a painting of this equally rarely painted scene in Templo Santa Rosa Viterbo, Querétaro. Que le parece?

    1. The San Agustin retablo is almost contemporary but slightly later than the San José retablo in the church of Santa Rosa de Viterbo in Queretaro.
      There is also evidence that Rojas was the co author of the latter altarpiece, although it is thought that its paintings, including that of the Death of St Joseph, were the work of the noted baroque artist Miguel Cabrera.
      Whether the one influenced the other is not known, although the compositions are distinct. Look for future post on all these retablos