Thursday, July 26, 2012

Folk Baroque: Santa Maria Tlancualpican

Santa Maria Tlancualpicán
The fourth in this series of colorful "folk baroque" churches in southern Morelos and Puebla is Santa Maria Tlancualpicán, a sunbaked village that lies just inside the Puebla state line.
The gaudy church front, framed in popular "retablo" style, is currently painted in blues, greens and reds. Spiral half columns draped with leafy stucco tendrils divide the facade while the sculpture niches are framed by colorful foliated reliefs, some with drawn stucco curtains. Intricate relief ornament above the niches and along the friezes is picked out in bright colors.
Colorful statues of bearded saints fill the niches, and reliefs of archangels flank the Virgin on the upper level. 
As at Tzicatlan, the most striking image is the stucco relief of Jesus the Nazarene floating above the doorway, the rope around his neck held like a tether by a soldier in the spandrel. 
Figures of angels and archangels in a variety of postures appear throughout the church, notably on the colorful tower.As with all the churches in this group, the colors often change with each repainting of the church front.

The renovated church interior is almost as spectacular. Its vaults and domes are patterned with colorful new blue and red glazed tile in the Pueblan manner, some including panels portraying folkloric angels dressed in "jaguar skins," carrying objects associated with Christ's Passion.
text ©2012 Richard D. Perry
Color photography © Niccolo Brooker; interior shots: © Carolyn Brown

Monday, July 23, 2012

Folk Baroque: San Lucás Tzicatlan

We continue our survey of the painted churches of Puebla with a look at San Lucás Tzicatlán.
Tzicatlán is a rural village in the tierra caliente of extreme southwestern Puebla state, whose parish church of San Lucás, together with those of Jolalpan and Tlancualpican, has to be one of the most striking examples of the popular Pueblan baroque style.
Its extraordinary retablo facade is a study in horror vacui—every inch encrusted with stucco ornament. The church front has been repainted in a palette of eye-popping colors, its numerous relief sculptures highlighted in bright hues against a backdrop of lacy white stucco.
   Columns, capitals, cornices and friezes are all densely embroidered—the only appropriate word—with vines, scrollwork and floral decoration. 
   Saints, musical angels, cherubs and archangels proliferate across all three tiers of the facade, some ensconced in elaborately draped niches, others clinging to the columns, arrayed around the door and window openings, or emerging unexpectedly from the capitals and friezes.
Notable among the abundant figure sculptures are Jesus the Nazarene, in flight above the entry and church patron St. Luke sitting in triumph in the uppermost niche, his ox at his feet, and flanked by martyrs on either side.  

closeups of musicians © Carolyn Brown
One happy feature of the facade is the variety of folksy musicians playing instruments including flutes, guitars and, unusually, large harps.
text & pictures © 2002, 2012 and 2016  Richard D. Perry

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Folk Baroque: Santa Ana Jolalpan

In an earlier post we looked at the folk baroque church front of Santa Maria Jolalpan.  Here we show its less well known sister church of Santa Ana Jolalpan.

Santa Ana Jolalpan in 2007

Santa Ana Jolalpan in 1960

Santa Ana Jolalpan
Recently under repair and restoration after many years of neglect and deterioration, the ornate, polychrome front of this barrio church, although obviously much influenced by nearby Santa Maria Jolalpan, offers several original aspects.

Spiral and baluster columns frame the triple stage "retablo" facade, some woven with grapevines and others encrusted with painted foliage and angels' heads.
Atlantean figure with cornucopia
St Paul
Most of the sculpture niches are empty, except for the draped statues of Saints Peter and Paul on either side of the doorway. But several other less common figures appear on the church front; these include the life size reliefs of David and Solomon flanking the choir window, and atlantean statues of Adam and Eve holding cornucopias on the upper level.
   Reliefs depicting angels bearing a crown surround a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the top niche, while the Holy Trinity is portrayed in the serpentine surmounting gable, flanked by two squat statues of bearded saints.
The sculptural artistry evident in the stucco work of the facade also extend to the stone baptismal font inside the church.

text ©2012 Richard D. Perry
Color photography © Niccolo Brooker.  1960 b/w picture ©Constantino Reyes-Valerio

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Folk Baroque: Santa Maria Jolalpan

In the extreme western part of the state of Puebla and extending north into present day Morelos we find an extraordinary cluster of ornate "folk baroque" churches, whose dazzling facades are exuberantly ornamented with a riot of sculpted and painted stucco relief.
   The most southerly of the group is Santa Maria Jolalpan and its lesser known sister church of Santa Ana—both in Puebla. Their "retablo" facades display an inspired variety of richly decorated pilasters and columns: neo-Plateresque with basketweave decoration; bulbous estípites with caryatids; entwined Solomonic shafts—even neo-Egyptian!.   In this first post I look at the better known of the two: the principal church of Santa María Jolalpan.
Santa Maria Jolalpan
The Santa Maria church front is brilliantly colored, its stucco reliefs sparkling in eye-catching shades of blue, burgundy and yellow ocher, although the hues often change with periodic repainting. Divided "retablo" style into horizontal and vertical tiers, the facade is capped by an overarching, semicircular pediment. 

One striking element is the use of twisted pilasters on the middle tier, adorned with cherubs and sinuous relief foliage.
   Abundant statuary and carved stucco figures relate biblical events to the history and hierarchy of the Catholic Church, its founding fathers and saints: Adam and Eve are found here, together with the Doctors of the Church, the Four Evangelists, and other leading Apostles as well as the founders of the religious Orders.
©Felipe Falcón
The wheel like, crowning pediment is busily carved with a complex iconography. The blue-robed image of the Virgin Mary is displayed in the center niche, framed by rays of the sun and drapes held aside by a kneeling St. Francis and St. Dominic, the founders of the missionary orders.

The two saints are flanked by  busts of Adam, with the sun, and Eve, with the moon/star, accompanied by prominent speech or song scrolls.  A joyous orchestra of musical angels processes along the cornice below the pediment, playing trumpets, guitars and viols.

Radiating around the gable are four outsize archangels with windblown skirts, bearing their traditional attributes. At the apex is an unusual tableau of the Trinity that features a relief of Christ Crucified with serpent and snowman like skull. 
   The colors of the facade change from time to time during repainting—adding an element of local creative imagination.
Santa Maria Jolalpan, pediment tableau of the Trinity 
text © 2012 Richard D. Perry; 
photographic images ©Niccolo Brooker, Carolyn Brown and Felipe Falcón

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Murals of Tepetlaoxtoc: The Convento

As we noted in our earlier post, Tepetlaoxtoc was founded in 1527 as a mission, hermitage and retreat center by Fray Domingo de Betanzos, the father of the Dominican Order in Mexico. 
Tepetlaoxtoc: the convento cloister
In this second post we look at a partial sequence of extraordinary murals in what remains of the lower cloister of the old convento.
   The patio is lined along the two surviving sides by early frescoes of a highly distinctive character: painted in largely monochromatic grisaille with blue and red accents.
   One special feature of the corridor murals, which illustrate the Passion of Christ, is that they are linked in sequence, within circular painted frames of serpentine foliage—an unusual format recalling the cloister at Malinalco.
Although the cycle is incomplete, the surviving frescoes have recently been restored and depict key scenes from the Via Crucis: including the Crucifixion, the Deposition, the Lamentation or Calvary, the Ascension, and Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and St Thomas.

Noli me tangere

Mary Magdalene appears prominently in several of the scenes.  She was a favorite of Fray Domingo and was adopted as the patron saint of the mission to commemorate its founding on her feast day, July 22nd.
Other scenes include a graphic Harrowing of Hell

St Elmo

Portraits of saints once decorated the cloister pillars, of which only those of Thomas Aquinas and, in a rare appearance, St. Elmo—of the nautical phenomenon St Elmo's Fire and the patron of seamen—here holding a caravel, now survive. 

  Text ©2012 Richard Perry.  
Photographic images ©Niccolo Brooker & Richard Perry

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Murals of Tepetlaoxtoc: The Hermitage


Tepetlaoxtoc was the first Dominican mission of importance in Mexico, founded in 1527.
It was also used as a hermitage and retreat as well as an evangelical center, and ultimately became a shrine to Fray Domingo de Betanzos, the mission founder and father of the Dominican Order in Mexico, who resided here.

The Murals
Among the special attractions at Tepetlaoxtoc are its recently restored early murals. These are found in two intimate cloisters within the complex: of the hermitage and in the convento.  We look first at the extraordinary mural in the little cloister of the Hermitage.

The Hermitage
The hermitage murals are fragmentary but the surviving passages are very unusual. They depict a  woodland hunting scene with two hunters transfixed by arrows and separated by a rampant stag.
   Both hunters are in fact specific saints as confirmed by their iconography: the saint on the left is St. Eustace, a Roman general who saw a vision of Christ when hunting a stag. He was converted to Christianity and later met a martyr's death (roasted live inside an ox according to legend!)
   His companion is St. Hubert, another early Christian saint and avid hunter, who shares some of Eustace's iconography and is often associated or even conflated with him as a patron of hunters.
An image of Christ on the cross usually appears between the deer's antlers, but is not shown in this version. 
   The connection of this rare scene with Fray Betanzos is unclear, but to our knowledge this is a unique portrayal of these saints in early Mexican mural painting.

Text ©2012 Richard Perry.  
Photographic images ©Niccolo Brooker & Richard Perry

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Rojas Retablos - Salamanca: Santa Ana

San Agustín Salamanca
In our first post on San Agustín Salamanca we looked at the retablo of San José, designed and sculpted by Pedro de Rojas.
Here we look at its sister altarpiece, dedicated to St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary.

The Santa Ana Retablo

The St. Anne altarpiece employs the same opulent forms and ornament as the San José retablo, as well as featuring several virtuoso tableaux of statuary.

The theme is “the Five Mysteries of Saint Anne with the Seven Princes (Archangels)” as documented in Rojas' contract of 1768. 

Swagged canopies, surmounted by giant openwork crowns frame the statuary in the projecting center pavilion, flanking estípites and exuberant niche-pilasters.

All these are set against an intricate, gilded basketweave backdrop and the entire retablo is aswirl with angels, foliage, scrolls and strapwork.

Although the masterfully executed figure sculptures are arrayed in sumptuous estofado garments, they are almost overwhelmed by the dynamic theatrical setting.

Beneath a grandiose crown, the richly robed St. Anne gestures joyfully in the swagged center niche, while also cradling the infant Mary on her left arm. A triumphant Archangel Michael poses above the crown, silhouetted against the nave window behind. 

The elongated lateral niches show St. Anne again (left) in a frontal pose holding up the swaddled infant Mary on a cradle board, in the presence of a benevolent God the Father above.
 In the Annunciation scene on the right, the restrained, demure figure of Anne is dwarfed by the animated Archangel Gabriel above her head.

A charming scene of the saint with the young Virgin Mary is set in the rather confined upper right niche, balanced by a dynamic, projecting tableau of the Presentation at the Temple on the left, which is dominated by the imposing figure of a rabbi. His bearded visage, like that of God the Father, is  reminiscent of the forceful statue of St Paul in the Cadereyta altarpiece. 

The original centerpiece, reportedly a tableau illustrating the Nativity of the Virgin, is unfortunately missing.

In addition to the sumptuous, overall design of the altarpiece, the consensus seems to be that most of the estofado figures are Rojas' own work, especially the dynamic Seven Princes (archangels,) for which Rojas is believed to have a special fondness and which allowed him greater creative scope than more conventional religious figures.

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

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

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