Friday, November 30, 2012

New Exhibits for 2013: Texas

Several exciting new exhibits relating to the colonial arts and architecture of Mexico are scheduled for early Twenty Thirteen (2013) in Texas.

Two shows of stunning photographs by the celebrated Dallas photographer Carolyn Brown (in which your editor has been involved) will open this month and run together through the New Year:

Painting God's House

The first exhibit will feature Carolyn's brilliant photographs of "folk baroque" painted and tiled churches in Puebla and the Sierra Gorda regions of Mexico. This will be shown at the Bath House Cultural Center, a prestigious venue in Dallas, from December 1st through January 26 2013.

A Joyful Noise

The second show, to be mounted in the refurbished gallery at St. Matthews episcopal cathedral, also in Dallas, will reprise this charming, well received exhibit, which features large scale images of angels and other musicians playing various colonial instruments taken from the colorful painted church ceilings of western Michoacán.

A selection of these photographs, together with additional images from Carolyn's extensive archive documenting colonial Mexican art, will also be shown in spring exhibits planned for the Museum of Biblical Art, also in Dallas.  Details to follow.
It is hoped that a selection from these shows will also travel to the Nettie Lee Benson Library in Austin, Texas, to be exhibited later in 2013.  An exhibit in Mexico is also on the cards.

text © Richard Perry.  Images © Carolyn Brown.  All rights reserved

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tepeyanco de las Flores: the interior

For our final post on Tepeyanco we look at the church interior.
Like the church front, much of the interior is also lavishly decorated, especially at the crossing whose octagonal drum with gilded, oval windows supports a painted, ribbed dome. Classic, folk baroque reliefs of the Four Evangelists adorn the pendentives.
But the principal feature of the interior at Tepeyanco is its magnificent gilded main altarpiece that soars into the apse at the far end. Lavishly designed in highly ornate baroque style, this exuberant late 18th century retablo is dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption, whose statue occupies the upper central niche.
   Triple, freestanding estípite columns dramatically project on either side, jutting at a sharp angle on pointed, broken cornices. The columns frame tiers of sculpture niches filled by statues of Franciscan and other saints and martyrs, most notably a magisterial St. Francis, clad in a black habit in the center. 
   Gesturing archangels float above the niches and all the intervening areas are filled with gilded filigree ornament. An extraordinary work of art.

Text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  photography by Catedrales y Iglesias
see some other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; Zacatelco; San Jose de Tlaxcala; Santa Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tepeyanco de las Flores: the stonework

In addition to its brilliant tiled surfaces, San Francisco de Tepeyanco features several examples of imaginative stone sculpture, crisply carved in a vigorous popular vein.

Sculptural passages around the main doorway include an inscription and swirling foliage.
A diminutive, tequitqui style relief of St. Joseph and the Christ Child adorns the keystone. 

 And imaginative imposts portray cherubs’ heads emerging from the fleshy tendrils and foliage. 
The emblem of the Franciscan crossed arms is neatly carved on one corner of the church front.

Finally, a handsome sculpted fountain, supported by freestanding angels, adds a touch of elegance to the atrium.
Text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  photography courtesy of Niccol o Brooker
tiled background © Felipe Falcón

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tepeyanco de las Flores: the church front

In addition to the venerable Franciscan monastery that faces it across a broad, landscaped plaza, Tepeyanco also boasts the exceptional parish church of San Francisco. 
   Within a single building, San Francisco houses an extraordinary variety of distinguished colonial art and architecture, notably its colorful, Pueblan style tiled front and contrasting mudéjar brick tower, and an exceptional, late baroque main altarpiece.
   In addition to these, San Francisco also features examples of imaginative stone sculpture, carved in a vigorous popular vein. In this and subsequent posts we will explore all these different facets of Tepeyanco. We start with the tiled church front.
Although lavishly tiled church fronts are most visible in the city of Puebla and its environs, this Pueblan tradition extended well beyond the city and even the state limits. Tepeyanco de Las Flores, some 50 kms distant in the neighboring state of Tlaxcala, boasts an especially handsome and lavish example. 

   The façade rises through two principal tiers to a curved gable, each tier divided retablo style by projecting cornices. Whitewashed Doric and Ionic pilasters separate its three vertical calles.
   Several narrative tiled panels, framed by blue and white floral borders, are placed against a dazzling pattern of glazed, mostly blue and white azulejos, set on point against contrasting, matte red ladrillo brick.
The lobed archway of the entry is flanked by panels portraying, on the left, La Purísima (The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception) and on the right, St. Joseph, identically posed holding the young Christ and his flowery staff.
The simple choir window and relief of the papal escutcheon occupy the upper tier, flanked in turn by panels of the Franciscan saints San Diego de Alcalá (left) and San Pascual Bailón (right) each with his identifying attributes—San Diego with his basket of bread and San Pascual, patron saint of cooks, in the kitchen.
On the gable, geometric starbursts of blue and white azulejos identical to the background tiles are set around the center niche to rather distracting effect. Green and yellow tiles in the center also frame the statue of St. Francis.
Text © 2012 Richard D. Perry.  photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
Puebla tiled background © Felipe Falcón

Monday, November 12, 2012

Aculco: The Crosses

As followers of this blog know, we have a special interest in Mexican crosses—especially the carved stone church crosses.
For our final post on Aculco we look at several local examples, some dating back to early colonial times:
Aculco: gable cross
The cross perched atop the church gable is plainly carved, with button finials and an INRI plaque. 

Aculco: wall cross

This coffee colored cross, cut from textured tufa, is embedded at the foot of the church tower. 
Dated 1708,  it is sparely carved with a recessed, cross-within-a-cross motif, flared finials and capped by an unusual, star shaped INRI plaque.
Aculco: posa cross

This simple little cross is housed in a niche cut into an outlying posa, or processional chapel. Although otherwise without other motifs, it is still headed by an ornamental INRI scroll.
Aculco: keystone cross
Supported by angels on clouds, this plain cross is carved into the keystone of the arched west doorway of the church. What may be a tiny, mask like Face of Christ is carved at the crossing.
Aculco: Nenthé atrium cross

Now located in the churchyard of El Santuario del Señor de Nenthé, a barrio of Aculco, this classic atrial cross is the oldest and most elaborately carved of the local crosses and probably dates to the 16th century.  
Numerous Passion symbols include the Cockerel and Column, stylized Wounds, and a Skull and Bones at the foot. What may be an eroded Face of Christ occupies the axis.
text © 2012 Richard D Perry. photography by Richard Perry and Niccolo Brooker

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Aculco: The Paintings

The Church Paintings

For our second post on San Gerónimo Aculco, we consider two altarpieces inside the church. The major attraction here is the large, recently conserved painting of Purgatory, or Las Animas.

The notion of Purgatory, by which sinners could expiate their sins by prayer, including the prayers of others and the intercession of saints and holy figures, was a firmly held Catholic tenet adopted by the Council of Trent  in the face of Protestant disbelief.  
In the 17th century it enjoyed a great vogue in the New World and several popular saints, including the Virgin Mary in various guises, were portrayed as divine intercessors on behalf of the suffering souls.

In this particular version the intercessor is Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, flanked by Teresa of Avila, the reformer and founder of the Discalced Order, and St Joseph, to whom the Carmelites were especially devoted.

The crowned Virgin displays the Carmelite insignia and holds a brown scapular—a form of devotional apparel special to the Order. Together with the rosary, the scapular was popularly associated with indulgences and salvation which accounted for much of its appeal in colonial Mexico.

In the lower register, the naked souls of kings, popes and bishops are arrayed in the flames of Purgatory, all wearing scapulars, while an angel above displays a copy of the Sabbatine Privilege—a controversial dispensation allegedly granted to observant Carmelites by the 14th century Pope John 22.

According to legend the Pope had a vision of Our Lady granting that through her special intercession She would personally deliver the souls of Carmelites from Purgatory on the first Saturday after their death ("Sabbatine" means Saturday), providing they fulfill certain conditions including the wearing of the brown scapular.

The dedicatory inscription on the painting mentions a judge of the Inquisition, so it may commemorate some special event:

 "Being Priest and Ecclesiastical Judge, Don Luis José Carrillo, Commissioner of the Holy Office of the Inquisition of this Kingdom and Majordomo, Don Antonio de Cortizo.? made this Retablo A..(name ?)  February 16th of  1789?"

The Virgin of Light

This post colonial painting in the nave is another contrasting but classic Marian representation, that of The Virgin of Light (Nuestra Madre Santisima de la Luz) 

In this portrait she is shown as prescribed in the history of the devotion:

In the first quarter of the 18th century, a Jesuit priest in Palermo, Sicily, wished to have a special representation of the Virgin Mary painted to take with him and display as he preached throughout the island. He consulted a devout lady who had the reputation of experiencing frequent visitations from the Virgin Mary, and asked her for guidance.

This was granted, and in her dream, the Virgin described exactly how she wished to be represented: to appear in a glorious light, surrounded by a troop of seraphims. She would wear an imperial crown and a girdle adorned with jewels that "surpassed the beauty of the stars" —her girdle is very modest in this portrait! 
On her shoulders was to be a blue mantle, and on her left arm she carried the child Jesus. 
With her right hand she lifted a sinful youth from the fearsome throat of Hell, and on the other side a kneeling angel held up a basket filled with hearts which he presented to the Divine Child.  She then said she wished to be called by the name of "Most Holy Mother of Light" and repeated it three times for emphasis.

The prescribed portrait, painted in 1722, was brought to Mexico ten years later and found a permanent home in the Jesuit church of León (Guanajuato) now the cathedral. The devotion soon became extremely popular, being promoted first by the Jesuits but then  spreading well beyond their circle. Confraternities in her honor was organized throughout Mexico.

The cult reached its peak in the 1750s and early 1760s. However, with the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the cult lost its impetus among the elite, although popular devotion remained strong.

text © 2012 Richard D Perry. photography by Niccolo Brooker

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Aculco: The Church Front

San Jerónimo Aculco

Despite its idiosyncratic Baroque/Neoclassic front, the parish church of San Jerónimo, located on the Hidalgo/Mexico State boundary, was originally part of a Franciscan mission founded in the 1540s.

This is the first of three posts on this intriguing church and its precincts.

Aculco church front with Niccolo Brooker (photograph by Richard Perry)
The Facade
Although significantly rebuilt in the early 1700s with even later changes following earthquakes, some of the original tezontle stone work in the facade remains,
   Multiple tiers of paired columns and pilasters, fashioned in a variety of ornamental textures, rise towards the central gable, flanked by sculpture niches—some still containing battered statuary.

The facade also portrays a curious assortment of religious sculptures and reliefs.

Aculco facade niche: partially hidden statue of patron St. Jerome with his lion
As a plaque in the niche above the doorway indicates, there was a major earthquake here a century ago, probably when most of the statuary was damaged.  In fact the whole front gives the impression of having been rebuilt or rearranged. A primitive relief of the Patron, a penitent Saint Jerome, stands behind the plaque.
damaged facade statue of the St Rose of Lima with feathered halo and beehive!
Often believed to represent the Virgin Mary, this statue in the upper facade is now thought to be that of St. Rose of Lima, a Dominican and the first American saint. However, she is rarely if ever portrayed in facade sculpture outside of Dominican churches—especially puzzling for a Franciscan church like San Jerónimo Aculco.


The Gable Sculpture
Nevertheless, the gable seems intact and is notable for its large, unusual relief in which a cowled nun receives the Rosary from the Virgin Mary, while the child Jesus touches her outstretched hand—another portrayal more usual in Dominican churches.

A ribbon like banderole issues from the nun's mouth, upheld by angels. 
Above the hovering dove of the Holy Spirit, God the Father gestures with arms outspread at the top of the relief, his customary globe surrounded by cherubs.

The identity of the nun receiving the rosary from the Virgin Mary on the facade is unclear. It may portray St. Rose of Lima, who appears elsewhere on the facade, or, in light of the altarpiece inside the church, it may represent the celebrated Carmelite reformer and Discalced founder Santa Teresa of Avila. An inscribed ribbon is occasionally shown in portraits of the saint.

Although not entirely clear or even correct, the inscription may signify " My Lord, I am thy new handmaiden," — a variant on the traditional words of Mary to the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation.

Distinctive figures on the left include an angel holding a halo or rosary, and below, a native character with a feather headdress who might represent a local lord. Alternatively the M on his armorial shield may indicate San Miguel, who is customarily shown with a plumed helmet, Roman skirt and buskins.

December 2015 update.
Restoration of the church front and adjacent porteria has recently been completed. Restoration of the tower and posas is next.

text © 2012 & 2015 by Richard D Perry. photography by Niccolò Brooker except where noted

Friday, November 2, 2012

Days of the Dead: Skulls & Bones

Actopan wall cross *
Days of the Dead
As we saw in our Xoxoteco posts, death and the afterlife have been a central concern in the life and lore of Mexico since ancient and colonial times and into the present, as the annual Day of the Dead observances across the country testify.

As in many cultures world wide, the human skull and bones have been a constant motif in Mexican iconography related to death. The skull especially was a dominant motif in Aztec and Maya imagery, signifying conquest, blood sacrifice and the underworld, while bones also played a key role in Aztec mythology.

This emblem is also common in colonial art and imagery, above all in the churchyard stone crosses carved in the years following the Spanish conquest under the Catholic evangelization program. 

Usually placed at the foot or base of the cross, this motif has complex meanings but chiefly refers to Calvary or Golgotha, "The Place of the Skull," a traditional site of execution and crucifixion just outside Jerusalem.
In Jewish lore, Golgotha also signified the grave of Adam. The placing of the cross above the tomb of Adam signified the triumph of Christ over death and redemption from original sin.

Here we show a broad selection of these carved cross reliefs. In some, the bones are conventionally crossed but others are aligned in a usually horizontal position.  
In some cases Aztec stone skulls were re purposed.

Nativitas-Zacapa, re-used Aztec skull in cross base

Oxtoticpac, Skull and Bones *

San Matías El Grande
Ciudad Hidalgo
Chapantongo *
Cuernavaca: composite of Aztec skull and bones relief 

Huaniqueo *
San Pablo de las Salinas *
Tlaltenango *
Riotenco *

*  images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker