Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Jalisco Retablos: Amacueca


Retablo of El Dulce Nombre de Jesus

Another Jalisco gilded altarpiece in the 18th century style of those at El Cabezón and the Aranzazú chapel, survives in the Franciscan church of Amacueca, south of Guadalajara.

photograph courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
Although similar to the other two—it has been attributed to the same designers and workshop— it is earlier in date.  In fact, it is documented as having suffered serious damage in the earthquake of 1749, at which time the center section of the retablo and its surmounting gable were damaged and subsequently lost (the present center being a fairly recent replacement.

The lateral parts of the retablo—its richly carved tiers of estipite columns and exuberantly scrolled niche-pilasters—are original and remarkably advanced for its presumed early date, predating the El Cabezón retablo for which it may have been the model.

In 2008, work began on conservation of the altarpiece which has been restored to its pristine luster of red and gold. (see details)

While much of the statuary awaits full restoration and final placement, figures of Franciscan saints traditionally occupied the lower tiers of the interestipites while figures of archangels looked inward from the upper niches.

Original blue robed busts of the Evangelists and other saints peer out from the estípites themselves.

St Francis and St Clare (courtesy Jim Cook)

Update: the restored figures of Franciscan saints have been reinstalled in the altarpiece, notably those of St Francis and St Clare.

text & drawing © Richard D Perry
photography by Niccolò Brooker, Jim Cook & Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Jalisco Retablos: Aranzazú, San José

The Aranzazú Chapel

The Retablo of San José

In our second post on the Aranzazú chapel altarpieces we look at the side retablo of San José—the most profusely ornamented of the two major lateral altarpieces which takes the late Mexican Churrigueresque to the limit.

Although following the same overall format as the main retablo, here all the elements project aggressively, in contrast to the more laid back, anástilo framing of the former.

Exaggerated foliage, scrollwork, broken cornices and swirling mixtlinear ornament of the estípites and niche pilasters alike thrust themselves forward, all the more forcefully for the viewer given the narrow nave of the chapel.

The iconography is ecumenical. Jesuit and Franciscan saints share the spotlight with others like St Augustine and the Carmelite Teresa of Avila. The Basque origin of the Virgin of Aranzazu may explain the Jesuit presence.

St Joseph with the Christ Child take place of honor in the center vitrine flanked by St Francis Xavier and Santa Teresa.

Above, Ignatius Loyola occupies the center niche with St Augustine and St John Nepomuc on either side.
Numerous other, mostly Franciscan, saints appear in the smaller oval and cameo reliefs on the pilasters, along with a profusion of cherubs and angel heads across the entire retablo.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  
based in part on articles by Verónica Hernández Díaz 
Photography: Catedrales e iglesias and others

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Jalisco Retablos: Aranzazú, the main retablo

In this series we look at several magnificent Jaliscan altarpieces, related not only by their distinctive late baroque style but also by their links to 18th century designers and artisans in Guadalajara.

In our first post we described the main retablo at the ex-hacienda chapel of El Cabezón.  We follow this up with reviews of the retablos of the Aranzazú chapel, in Guadalajara, and the church of Amacueca to the south.

The Aranzazú Chapel

Formerly part of the vast Franciscan monastic complex in Guadalajara, the 17th century Aranzazú chapel honored Our Lady of Aranzazú, the patron saint of the Basque nation and the Oñate family, founders of the city.

Three sumptuous altarpieces crowd this narrow chapel and present a study in contrasts. 

The main retablo at the east end is a supreme example of the late baroque style generally known as anástilo—in which the sculpted estípite columns dividing the frame lose their former emphasis melting into an ornamental, filigree like background.

The side altarpiece of The Passion of Christ, composed in a more prismatic estípite style, is relatively sober, certainly in comparison with the in-your-face sumptuousness of the retablo of San José opposite.

We start with the retablo mayor, the main altarpiece dedicated to the eponymous Virgin.

Main retablo of the Virgin of Aranzazú

A more restrained but no less sophisticated version of the El Cabezón retablo, 

Pairs of giant estípite pilasters extend from the predella (base) to the curved gable, although in a more flattened style than the exuberant, projecting pilasters at El Cabezón.
The enclosed center section too, although possibly altered in the mid 1800s, is surprisingly modest both in scale and ornament compared to the extravagantly bescrolled calle at El Cabezon—features that approximate the Queretaran retablo style of the later 1700s.

The iconography is especially complex, especially since the statues have been often moved.

The titular Virgin occupies the illuminated center niche with St Francis in the niche above her. She is flanked by her parents Sts Joachim and Anne. St Joseph and St Isabel, the mother of John the Baptist, stand on either side of Francis.

The oval medallions above the statues portray the Franciscan saints Anthony of Padua and Bernardino of Siena.  Four full size figures of archangels are mounted on the estipites of the lower tier.

In the gable, below El Padre Eterno, stands Jesus of the Sacred Heart—a recent addition—flanked by two other bearded saints clad in rich estofado robes..

Although many of these statues may date from the 19th century, the smaller, oval reliefs along the base of the altarpiece depicting other saints and church notables may be original, contemporary with its fabrication.   These include portraits of the Fathers of the Latin Church—Augustine, Gregory, Ambrose and Jerome— with scholars Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure added for good measure.

The smaller figures at the side of the upper gable may represent Duns Scotus and Maria de Agreda, noted supporters of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception—a dogma much favored by the Franciscans in the 18th century. (more details by Paco Juarez)

text & drawing © Richard D. Perry. 
Photography by Niccolo Brooker & Catedrales e iglesias
Based in part on an article by Verónica Hernández Díaz

background detail from the Amacueca retablo  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Water, Water. Drowned Churches: La Presa Taxhimay

We conclude our posts on "drowned" churches of Mexico with a visit to La Presa Taxhimay, a shallow, artificial lake in northern Mexico State, close to the Hidalgo state line.

In the lake stand the melancholy ruins of two churches that once belonged to the submerged village of San Juan de las Peras, now relocated to San Luis Taxhimay.  

After decades of regular inundation, little remains of either structure, which are more or less exposed depending on the fluctuating water level.


Of the parish church of San Luis Rey de Francia, closer to the lake shore, all that now stands is the late 16th century belltower. 

The second structure, closer to the middle of the lake, is the 18th century church of El Señor del Quejido, of which only a little more survives. 

This was the shrine of a miraculous local crucifix, El Señor del Quejido, whose image is carried to the lakeside every Christmas day.

El Señor del Quejido
In recent times the lack of rain in Central Mexico has resulted in the seasonal drying up of the lake so that the cristo may visit his former shrine on land instead of by water.

text © Richard D. Perry
photographic images by Niccolo Brooker and Alex López