Following the depredations
of the Reform and its aftermath, renewal of the interior of San Felipe Neri finally began under Archbishop Gillow
in the early 1900s, at which time the church walls were given a new look in
the then fashionable but now rather incongruous Art Nouveau style.
from the brilliant facade, the principal attraction of the church is its
collection of late baroque altarpieces, considered to be the finest in the
city. Unlike many other city retablos, these were never dismantled and retain their
San Felipe Neri, the main altarpiece (Felipe Falcón)
Currently under restoration, the
screenlike "Churrigueresque" main retablo, closely fitted into the apse beneath a
giant shell arch, is a virtuoso work of art. Its center section and lateral
“wings” reach out to embrace the viewer, while exuberant estípite columns rise through
three tiers, their ornate shafts carved with sculpted figures.
Evangelists lean forward from sumptuous, curtained niches. Every line in the
altarpiece seems multi-layered and every surface encrusted with rich ornament,
adding to its depth and substance.
retablo of Guadalupe
contrast, the retablo of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the
left transept has relatively little relief, although displaying a filigree like surface of gilded rococo
Guadalupe retablo, detail
Luminous paintings of the Apparitions of the Virgin of
Guadalupe, recently restored and mounted in eared oval frames, are signed by the noted baroque artist José
de Páez, with dates in the 1750s and 1760s.
Its almost semicircular sister retablo of La Virgén del Pópolo, opposite, displays a majestic statue of the Virgin in the canopied principal niche. The lateral portraits of John the Baptist and the Holy Family—also reputedly by
Páez—suggest a homely domesticity.
Four extraordinary paintings of archangels also line the transepts, mounted in ornate, gilded rococo frames. Their graceful figures seem in motion, clad in swirling, diaphanous robes trimmed with gold leaf.
transept painting of the Archangel Gabriel by Paez
These are also attributed to Páez, an
accomplished painter of archangels, whose closely related examples can be seen
in the priory church of Santo Domingo de Oaxaca.
retablo of La Purísima
A second pair of retablos in the nave are dedicated to St. Joseph and the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima). Dating from the 1740s, they feature paintings by the Oaxacan artist Marcial de Santaella, whose work is also in the cathedral*
Here he favors sentimental scenes of conventionally posed figures
with sweet expressions; the naive scene of the Birth of the Virgin is
*look for our forthcoming post on Marcial de Santaella in Oaxaca