Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Missions of Michoacán: Huiramángaro


Located off the main highway between Uruapan and Pátzcuaro, the remodeled parish church of Santa Maria de la Asunción Huiramángaro dates back to the 16th century.
The unassuming, square facade features a plain, cut stone doorway with wide jambs and voussoirs framed by an alfiz—a mudéjar detail typical of many early Franciscan houses. 
A divided ajimez choir window in the distinctive Michoacan style opens overhead, also with an alfiz.  
And like San Nicolás del Obispo, Huiramangaro has a separate, multi tiered bell tower, although of recent construction. 

An octagonal stone cross, irregularly reassembled of contrasting stone sections, still stands in front of the church. 
Its upper part is cut from soft brownstone and is emblazoned with Passion symbols, most notably a boldly detailed Face of Christ at the axis, prominently ringed by a pretzel like Crown of Thorns.
Bleeding Wound reliefs with deep center cavities protrude from the arms and the foot of the main shaft, and a Cockerel atop a swagged Column appears on the mid shaft of lighter colored limestone. The reverse side is plain, but the square pedestal of the cross is dated 1655, and an eroded INRI plaque slants across the head of the cross.

The remodeled interior retains its original coffered, moorish arrocabe, carved and painted with sunbursts and angels, which surrounds the nave below the paneled ceiling.

An elegant neo Plateresque retablo stands behind the main altar inside the church. Slender baluster columns support its two main tiers, framing figures of the Virgin and a selection of dim tenebrista paintings. A fine relief of El Padre Eterno is mounted at the top.

An exquisite statue of The Queen of Heaven, fashioned of maguey and pasta de caña, occupies the center niche. This expressive, dusky image, known locally as La Huanancha—The Virgin of the Sun—may have belonged to the old hospital chapel.

An ornamental center medallion, or Gloria, is adorned with foliated reliefs and pineapple pendants.
The original painted ceiling may date from an earlier remodeling undertaken between 1733 and 1745. Simple floral bands of a late date now adorn it, but fragments of earlier painted figures have recently been found beneath layers of whitewash.

No narrative murals have survived apart from a painted panel of The Assumption of the Virgin, now mounted above the sanctuary arcade.

There is evidence that the original ceiling was higher than at present, as colorful friezes have been found on the hidden beams above. 
Vestiges of figural murals have also emerged beneath the choir and behind the main retablo. Known locally as the Dance of the Apaches, these appear to represent winged angels, some playing musical instruments—a feature of many churches and chapels in the region.

text © 2010 & 2013 by Richard D. Perry
images by the author, Niccolo Brooker, Danny Fredy Rodriguez Chavez
 and Gloria Alvarez

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Missions of Michoacán: Tarímbaro

Tarimbaro in 1585
Long before the Spaniards came to Michoacán, the ladies of the Tarascan court favored Tarímbaro as a place to rest and relax.
Situated amid fertile farmland north of Morelia, this 500 year old former royal resort is the site of a 16th century Franciscan monastery—now a popular shrine to the Virgin of the Stairway whose cult image is housed in a sumptuous new chapel.

An enclosed atrium planted to large shade trees fronts the monastery buildings across from the busy village plaza. A churchyard cross, mostly plain except for its bulbous arms and shaft, stands in front of the doorway.

The plain church facade, completed in the years before 1600, is surprisingly wide and well proportioned, its spartan Renaissance doorway flanked by coffered panels inset with wheel-like rosettes.

The adjoining convento, dating from the 1570s, is even older than the church. Its portería arcade is missing, exposing the monumental open chapel, whose great coffered archway is anchored by massive, fluted jambs.
A ribbed half dome vaults the chapel interior, fitted with a continuous stone bench all around. Although it appears similar to the Augustinian chapel at Cuitzeo, the form of the chapel is more likely derived from the Franciscan chapels at Tzintzuntzan and Erongarícuaro.

The cloister, originally in two stories, is now confined to a single level, whose Tuscan arcades confer a simple elegance. Fragments of the narrative murals that lined the walks have been partially restored, notably a Crucifixion.

The murals in the baptistry are better preserved, including the Baptism of Christ with the Virgin Mary, Christ in Glory, Sun and Moon.
The figures are simply delineated in flowing lines of gray/blue grisaille accented with passages of red and brown.

Steps on the south side of the cloister lead up through the sacristy, whose walls are covered with devotional ex-votos, to the modern chapel of the Virgin of the Stairway, now provided with its own separate entrance and alameda.
text © 1997 & 2013 Richard D. Perry  All rights reserved
drawings by the author.  color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Missions of Michoacán: San Juan Capacuaro

We resume our posts showcasing the colonial religious monuments and art of Michoacán with a look at the distinctive features of the mission church at San Juan Bautista Capacuaro. 

San Juan Capacuaro

This indigenous purépecha settlement in the heart of the volcanic highlands, or meseta tarasca, of western Michoacán is dominated by its 16th century Franciscan church of San Juan Bautista. The elongated plaza—the former mission atrium—has been recently re-landscaped and still retains its carved stone cross. 

The much reconstructed church front of irregular, honey colored stonework is typical of the regional style, featuring a divided choir window and separate tower—in this case adjacent to the church rather than apart as at San Nicolás del Obispo.

Rosettes and shell reliefs—another regional motif—crowd the facade, some set on pinnacles and others crowning the busts of angels, who bear distinct Indian features. The broad arch of the doorway encloses a thorn-and-ribbon molding and winged angels' heads.

A primitive, dated relief of El Padre Eterno (God the Father)—possibly a later addition—complete with orb and cross, gestures in benediction from the keystone of the archway, which is surmounted by a crown of thorns.

The stone atrium cross is simply carved with stylized bleeding wounds on the arms and shaft, with a ring like crown of thorns motif at the crossing.

The original church had three naves, basilican style, roofed with cedar beams resting on carved zapatas.  The retablo mayor is in Churrigueresque style, carved in cedar with granite altar steps. There are two other baroque altarpieces (images to follow). 


The church can also boast a fine pair of cristos de caña, lightweight crucifixes dating from colonial times, set on elaborately decorated crosses.  There are also two old carved baptismal fonts (images to follow) .
 text & photography © 2008 & 2012 Richard D. Perry. Additional photography by Niccolò Brooker

For more information on the churches of Michoacán consult our guidebook Blue Lakes & Silver Cities

Sunday, September 1, 2013

St. Ursula in Mexico

This is another in our occasional series on the portrayal of distinctive or unusual saints in Mexican art.

St Ursula

From medieval times and into the modern era, a fascinating subject for artists has been the gruesome martyrdom of the early Christian virgin and martyr St. Ursula.
   According to legend, this reputed British princess sailed for northern France, with a large retinue of young women—traditionally 11,000 virgins—to be married. Her ship was blown off course but miraculously landed safely and by way of thanks, she decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome.  However, she and her retinue were waylaid by the Huns en route at Cologne. Ursula was transfixed by an arrow shot by the Hun king, whose overtures she had rejected, and was martyred along with all her companions, who were beheaded.
   The cult of St Ursula enjoyed great popularity in the Age of Discovery—Columbus named the Virgin Islands after Ursula and her virgins. Portrayals of the saint enjoyed a great vogue in colonial Mexico, like those of St Teresa and St. Sebastian in part due to their connection to the prehispanic practice of arrow sacrifice.
(Her popularity continues even today. The enormous Aztec sports stadium in Mexico City has been given the nickname of "Coloso de Santa Ursula" due to its vast size—Santa Ursula being the city barrio where the stadium is located.)
   In this post we show Mexican portraits of the saint in varying styles from the different colonial centuries.
This 16th century portrait forms part of a mural sequence (santoral) in the early Dominican cloister of Tetela del Volcán.
   Although simply limited to the serene, Flemish style figure of the saint, it shows the arrow in her breast, and she bears the royal crown and martyr's palm. Apart from the crown she is modestly if amply robed showing no outward evidence of her aristocratic status or details of her gruesome fate.
Juan Tinoco (1641 - 1703)

This late 17th century version, entitled The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins is the work of the eminent Pueblan painter Juan Tinoco. 
   Small in scale and painted on copper, it hangs in the Capilla del Ochavo of Puebla Cathedral  (A smaller, less polished but otherwise identical version, also by Tinoco, can be seen in the adjacent Capilla de Reliquias
   Rendered in the more dramatic mode of the early Mexican baroque, the portrayal is clearly influenced by the figural compositions of Caravaggio and Zurbarán, and enhanced by the brilliant palette typical of this artist.
   Here the saint prays just before the arrow of the Hun strikes her, while her companions are being beheaded or transfixed with arrows. Angels hover overhead with the martyr's palms and floral tiaras.
Apart from her crown and spangled robe, the saint here too is modestly dressed.

Juan Correa the Elder (c.1645 - 1716)
Although unsigned, this spectacular painting has been attributed to the Mexican baroque artist Juan Correa the Elder by the late art historian Norman Neuerburg. 
   The Mexican-born artist rose to prominence and prosperity in the late 1600s as one of the most productive and accomplished painters of his generation. He and his workshop undertook many of the largest religious commissions of the time, including important works for the metropolitan cathedral in Mexico City. His numerous paintings are widely represented in churches and collections across Spain and north America.
   Although his style evolved during his long career, he is considered one of the foremost exponents of the "luminous" Baroque manner—an eclectic, uniquely American style that combined traditional European Mannerist and High Baroque elements with a native, often naive naturalism to create a dynamic and richly colored style that was very much in tune with the nascent Mexican nationalism of his time.
   (In a personal note, the artist's wife was named Ursula, which may have attracted him to the subject, which he painted several times. Another painting by him of St. Ursula, sans ship and virgins, survives in the church of San Francisco in Antigua, Guatemala.)
   Now resting in the museum of Mission San Gabriel in southern California, the painting displays most of the traditional attributes of the martyrdom, including the ship and the walls of the city of Cologne. An arrow pierces her breast and the bodies of several dead virgins litter the ground. 
   Although the virgins were, by tradition, beheaded, here they are shown whole with discreet wounds on their necks—perhaps to save the sensibilities of the female viewers who were the main devotees.
   In this version Ursula again wears the royal crown and now holds a Victory banner. An angel overhead presents the martyr's palm and floral tiara. While the faces and gestures are surprisingly restrained, almost without emotion, the flowing robes, swirling triumphal banner and the saint's richly embroidered, silver accented costume and jewelry clearly convey her royal lineage, anticipating the more sumptuous Mexican baroque style of the 1700s.

This later version of The Martyrdom of St Ursula was painted by the artist's putative son, Juan Correa the Younger (active 1731 - 1760), and hangs in the altarpiece of Our Lady of the Fountain, a magnificent 18th century work by master designer and retablista Felipe de Ureña located in the convent church of Regina Coeli in Mexico City.
   The composition is in the full blown heroic style of the late Mexican baroque, crowded
with numerous figures both terrestrial and celestial. An angel holds up the crown and palm and Ursula appears unscathed, with no arrow, and again grasps the victory banner—although she seems to have put on a little weight.

text © 2013 Richard D. Perry
images by Robert Guess, Niccolò Brooker, 
Gustavo Adolfo Vives Mejía and the author
gracias a todos
check out our earlier posts in this series: San Antonio Abad, Duns Scotus, San Charbel Maklouf, Rose of Lima Peter Martyr, San Dionisio.