Thursday, August 22, 2013

Aguascalientes: El Templo de Encino

We conclude our brief review of colonial buildings in Aguascalientes with a look at a second striking church attributed to a member of the Ureña family of designers and architects.

The Temple of Encino (1773-76)

Located in the ancient city barrio of Encino, construction of the present church started on January 12, 1773.  Originally dedicated to St. Michael, in 1796 this church became a shrine to the miracle working Black Christ of Encino, still in place in the apse.

Its extraordinary design has been attributed to Francisco Bruno de Ureña, son of the eminent baroque designer 
Felipe de Ureña, and some of its features are related to other Francisco Bruno designs such as those for San Diego de Alcalá in the city of Guanajuato and the church of The Assumption in Lagos de Moreno.

The facade, while still framed in late baroque style, points to later developments, with elements of the neostyle phase of the terminal baroque. Plain, outlying colonettes flank the prominent inner estípite columns, decorated with medallions and lacy rocaille work, while the interestípites are reduced to ornamental corbels supporting the statuary, and vestigial curtain niches overhead.
Sculpted jambs and a scrolled arch frame the rounded doorway, whose projecting keystone supports the overhead medallion with relief of the Virgin of Guadalupe. 
In classic felipense style, the columns and pilasters are relegated to the sides of the design, leaving the center façade open for the elaborate openings—the large, decorative doorway with its elaborate relief medallion and the Moorish choir window above.

The upper facade is capped by a simple, rounded pediment, enclosing a sculpted crucifix framed by ornamental rocaille work

The lateral doorway is even more idiosyncratic. Here, an essentially simple format of arched doorway and square pilasters is subverted by irrational, undulating cornices and more rocaille ornament. 

In an odd, popular touch, reliefs of a church and a rooster are emblazoned on the pilasters. 

The compartmented  interior is more conventional, vaulted in white and gold with ornamental ribs and painted oval bosses. 
Huge paintings of the Via Crucis (1798) by Andrés López hang along the nave, and a painting of the Baptism of Christ by the noted Mexican artist Juan Correa rests in the baptistry.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry. 
Photography by Niccolò Brooker and Enrique Lopez-Tamayo Biosca

look for our forthcoming guide to the work of the Ureña family

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Aguascalientes: The Red, the White and the Green

One of the most distinctive features of Mexican architecture is the brilliant use of contrasting surface colors and textures—a trait traceable back to pre-hispanic structures that was further developed early in colonial times and has continued to the present day.
An especially striking technique employed by colonial architects and designers to achieve such effects, in metropolitan and provincial buildings alike, was the juxtaposing of native black or dark red basalt, known as tezontle, with smooth, light-colored limestone, called chiluca or simply cantera
The rough volcanic tezontle was generally used for plain wall surfaces, while the finer textured limestone, more amenable to the stonecarver's chisel, was reserved for sculpted doorways, windows and other architectural decoration which contrasted with the darker background.

We continue the review of our favorite colonial buildings in Aguascalientes with the venerable Palacio del Gobierno:

El Palacio del Gobierno

A beautifully realized example of the techniques outlined above can be admired in the Palacio del Gobierno, a late 17th century building facing the main plaza, La Plaza Patria, of the city of Aguascalientes in north central Mexico. 
Founded in the 1660s as a bishop's mansion, the building was acquired and elaborated by a prominent local family, Los Rincón Gallardo, whose coat-of-arms is emblazoned over the upper windows facing the plaza. Later used as an inn, in 1856 the palace was converted into the town hall and now serves as the State office building.

Whether by design or no, the exterior and especially the interior hues of the Palacio echo the colors of the Mexican flag. Limestone entries, windows, cornices, cartouches and balconies, cut from off-white cantera rosada and ornately framed in an elaborate, late baroque style, stand out dramatically against the dark red tezontle walls—an effect enhanced by the sharp sunlight and shadow of highland Mexico.

The refurbished interior is, if anything, more theatrical. A baroque central stairway links two courtyards, arrayed with multiple arcaded walkways on two levels. Over 100 sinuously carved and scrolled arches, supported on ornate composite columns and outlined in dazzling white against a background of alternating burgundy and mottled gray-green stone (unfortunately just repainted orange!) created a petrified forest of light and shade. 


Beneath its canopy, colorful satirical murals by the late Chilean artist Oswaldo Barra, a student of Diego Rivera, feature local personalities who cavort along the walls like exotic denizens of the urban jungle.
Text © 2004 & 2013 Richard D. Perry
Photography by the author, Tony Burton and others

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Aguascalientes: El Santuario de Guadalupe

In a new series we look at some of our favorite architectural works in the city of Aguascalientes. We start our city tour with a signature building by the eminent Mexican architect and designer Felipe de Ureña.

El Santuario de Guadalupe

Among the most beautiful and the most fully realized of the city churches is the Temple or Santuario of Guadalupe, located on Guadalupe St, in the eponymous barrio located just northwest of the city center.
   Construction of the Santuario began in 1767 and was not completed until after Felipe's death in 1777.  Nevertheless, Felipe de Ureña drew up the plans, designed the facade and probably most other ornamental details inside and out, as well as personally supervising much of the early construction.  
   Although the building has undergone some minor changes, the church of Guadalupe is perhaps the most complete statement of the felipense style by the maestro himself. 
It amply illustrates his lifelong attention to total design.  Every element, from the facade and the interior detailing, down to the retablos and church furnishings, played its part in the creation of an integrated and harmonious whole.
The Facade 
Completed c.1780, this elegant retablo-facade features tall, attenuated estípites and richly encrusted niche-pilasters that rise through the elevated first tier, stressing the verticality of the facade. 

Likewise, the choir window and upper niche in the center facade diminish in scale, to be surmounted by a multi-faceted, pinnacle-like, crowning pediment, all enhancing the soaring effect.  

The facade is also one of Ureña's most ornate. Scrolled and foliated rococo inspired ornament predominates, creating a dense sculptural effect further intensified by much fine statuary and a number of unusual grotesque-like reliefs. 
The scalloped entry & choir window arch too, are classic felipense motifs, as is the freestanding statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe mounted dramatically in front of choir window.
The Interior
The interior of the church is even ornate.  Heavily ornamented ribbed vaults cover each of the nave compartments, springing from elaborate running cornices which rest in turn on zigzag Composite columns with drum corbels, leading the eye to the great domed crossing and the apse beyond.  Moorish style lobed doorways, whose serrated arches are encrusted with exuberant ornament, open to side chapels along the nave.


In collaboration with his son-in-law Juan Garcia de Castañeda, Ureña also designed and fabricated the main altarpiece, which was unfortunately destroyed in the early 1900s and later replaced by a neoclassical main altar. 
This in turn was replaced in the 1970s by a replica in stone and stucco of the original wooden retablo, approximating Ureña's original design and based on an old surviving sketch, by Refugio Reyes Rivas, the designer of the later towers.
There is also an elegantly carved and framed stone pulpit with reliefs of the Four Evangelists.

Notable colonial paintings inside the church include a 1777 portrait of the Virgin of Guadalupe by José de Alcíbar, and another portraying scenes from the Life of the Virgin by José Berrueco.  These may have belonged to the original Ureña altarpieces.

text © Richard D. Perry
photography by Richard Perry and Niccolò Brooker

look for our forthcoming complete guide to the work of the Ureña family

Saturday, August 3, 2013

San Antonio Abad in Mexico

Many saints have their familiar animal companions, often shown in their portrayals: St. Dominic and San Roque with their dogs, St. Mark and St. Jerome with their lions, St Luke's bull of course, St Francis with the wolf of Gubbio, John the Baptist and his lamb, even the Archangel Raphael holding his fish.  
But St Anthony is the only one with a pig.
St Anthony the Abbot, one of the Augustinian Desert Fathers (San Antonio Abad, or San Antonio Grande as he is often known in Mexico) unlike St Anthony of Padua, the ubiquitous Franciscan, is rarely portrayed in Mexican art, although more so in recent times.
    Legend holds that a wild boar (jabalí) was blinded by hunters and came to St Anthony in his cave, who promptly cured him and kept him as his devoted companion—maybe helping the saint to alleviate the suffering from his Temptations—torments by a variety of demons.
St Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch
Be that as it may, in medieval times, the Augustinian hospitalers (aka Antoninos) developed a treatment that helped ease the devastating effects of ergotism, a then widespread fungal infection of wheat—an affliction also known as St Anthony's Fire because its physical symptoms were thought to mirror the saint's reported afflictions (note a diseased victim cowering in the lower left hand corner of the Matthias Grunewald Isenheim panel)
The Isenheim altarpiece (detail)
This treatment was based on the application of lard, or pig grease.  For this purpose the Antoninos kept swine, which often roamed the streets. By tradition the pigs wore bells, although the bell, which is also associated with St Anthony and the Antoninos, may have been used to summon the swine at feeding time. (in some portrayals the saint is also depicted holding a bell) 
As noted, the saint is seldom portrayed in Mexican art. The few examples feature a black pig rather than a white or cream colored one, reflecting its jabalí origins.
Santa Cruz Acatlan 
The much eroded statue at Santa Cruz Acatlan, in Mexico City, is an early example, although his pig is battered almost beyond recognition.
A newer, much better preserved figure of San Antonio Abad can be seen in the facade of the parish church at Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas, near Salamanca in the state of Guanajuato.
   The hooded saint wears his customary long gray beard and rests upon his traditional Tau shaped staff.
And beside him stands his faithful pig.

Another image can be seen in the grand church of San Andrés at Apaseo El Alto, also in Guanajuato.
   On the lively annual Feast of San Antonio Abad, on 17 January, animals, pets and other livestock, including chickens although rarely pigs, are taken to church to be blessed by the priest.
   And in Spain, the culinary highlight of the fiesta is the Olla de San Anton, a stew containing a variety of porcine ingredients such as bacon, pigs feet, pigs ears and ribs, and morcilla pork sausage—a concoction that may find renewed popularity in the current foodie trend to use every part of the pig (except, of course, for the squeal!)

We welcome details on other Mexican images of San Antonio.

visit our earlier posts on other Mexican images of uncommon saints of interest: 

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry.  
Based in part on information and images from Benjamín Arredondo. 
Gracias Benja! 
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