Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Oaxaca. Treasures of Tlacolula: The Silver Chapel

Asunción Tlacolula, the west front
In an earlier post we looked at the inauguration of the newly restored colonial pipe organ at Tlacolula.
We follow up with fuller descriptions of the church and the adjacent chapel of El Señor de Tlacolula.

Sunday is market day in Tlacolula. Vendors of colorful local handcrafts overflow from the surrounding streets into the churchyard. Zapotec Indians from the surrounding villages crowd into the church of La Asunción to pay their respects to El Señor de Tlacolula.

Tlacolula, the dome over the crossing
Originally a Dominican mission, the narrow 17th century church looks much like a hundred others in Oaxaca, with its stuccoed facade, squat, tiled towers and crenellated dome.  But it is the interior that holds the main interest for the visitor, in particular the ornate side chapel on the south side.

La Capilla de Plata, facing the altar

La Capilla del Señor

Known variously as La Capilla del Señor, or La Capilla de Plata (Silver Chapel), this ornate side chapel houses the venerated processional crucifix of El Señor de Tlacolula which is kept on the main altar.  Designed in the form of a Greek cross capped by a grand, octagonal dome, the interior is richly ornamented with strapwork and painted stucco reliefs.

La Capilla de Plata: the entry
La Capilla de Plata: the dome.  © Felipe Falcón
This triumph of popular art has been compared to the Rosary Chapel at Santo Domingo de Oaxaca, a related masterpiece in the folk baroque style, and was possibly created by some of the same artisans. Saints, angels and biblical figures throng the walls, ceilings, dome and even the door frames, showing a wide range of gestures and expressions.

dome images © Felipe Falcón

Stucco reliefs, of varying themes and quality, are exuberantly carved and painted in red, white and gold. Statues of saints include the decapitated figures of John the Baptist (left) and San Dionisio (right), both stoically holding their severed heads.

The sculpture on the chapel altars is generally more refined. A tender Deposition tableau beside the main altar and the melancholy figure of El Cristo de La Paciencia in the east transept may be the work of Andrés de Zárate, the noted sculptor from nearby Huayapam, who is known to have worked here.
El Cristo de la Paciencia

One of the minor gems in the chapel is a sequence of folkloric statues of musical angels along the nave. Although many have lost their instruments, all retain their charm.
One other item of interest is the painted table organ, now stored in a room off the cloister, which was designed specifically for this chapel.
text © 2005 and 2014 Richard D. Perry 
Color images by the author and courtesy of IOHIO, Richard Stracke and Felipe Falcón.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Oaxaca: Don Manuel Fernández Fiallo

Portrait of Don Manuel Fiallo in the Santo Domingo Cultural Center and Museum, Oaxaca.

Don Manuel Fernández Fiallo Boralla was a native of the town of Serpa located in the Kingdom of Portugal.  His parents, Francisco Fernández Fiallo and Mary Boralla, were wealthy landowners who acquired titles of nobility in Portugal as well as from the King of Spain which passed on to their son.      
   Manuel attained the rank of Captain in the Army of the Crown, in whose service he was captured by Saracens and spent time imprisoned in north Africa, where he provided guidance and moral support to other prisoners.  
   In 1665, Fiallo arrive in Oaxaca where he invested in the booming cochineal trade and greatly increased his fortune.  No stranger to suffering, he was struck by the poverty in the Valley of Oaxaca and undertook to provide support and sustenance for the destitute orphans of the region.
In the city of Oaxaca, Antequera as it was then known, he supported the construction of public markets and granaries, communal workshops and even improved prison facilities as well as rebuilding the palacio municipal.
   A profoundly religious man, he also participated in a numerous charitable activities through the Catholic church, most notably in funding the construction of several important city churches including San Agustín, La Merced, the first Temple of San Francisco, the convent of El Carmen and the Belem Hospital as well as the church of San Juan de Dios.
   In addition he founded and reputedly aided in the design and construction of the chapel of El Marquesado where his statue now rests.

Statue of Don Manuel Fiallo on the facade of El Marquesado church
Despite his great wealth and property, Fiallo lived modestly, eschewing luxuries and unnecessary expenses. He dressed without ostentation and it is said that for over thirty years he slept on a bed of rough cowhide with a log for a pillow. He lived in a modest house on Eighth Street and Hidalgo and passed away on May 28, 1708.  His biographers claimed he had a gentle and even naive character, but his first interest in helping others was to look to their most basic needs.
   With the death of Don Manuel, the poor and indigenous people of the city and Valley of Oaxaca lost a great benefactor, many of whom participated in his funeral at the Jesuit church of La Compañía where his body was buried. 

176 years after his death, on August 31, 1884 , the Municipal Council of the city of Oaxaca agreed to name one of the main city streets in honor of this distinguished citizen.
   A marble plaque has been placed on the wall of his house, number 49 Hidalgo St, inscribed with the following, "Between 1665 and 1708, here dwelt Don Manuel Fernández Fiallo, Portuguese philanthropist, whose sacred memory is preserved in the homeland of Juarez."

text and images © 2014 Richard D. Perry. All rights reserved

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Oaxaca. San Agustín: the altarpieces

For the second of our two posts on San Agustín de Oaxaca we describe the altarpieces in the church.

If the church front is impressive, the interior is even more so.  The church is exceptionally well endowed with colonial art and furnishings. It contains several gilded baroque altarpieces of outstanding quality in classic Oaxacan baroque style, together with paintings and figure sculptures.

Side chapels and shallow transepts open off the nave towards the east end. 

The Main Altarpiece
The apse can barely contain the towering retablo mayor, which rises in five stages, each filled with colonial statuary and paintings—possibly a composite made up of more than one retablo.
   Sumptuously framed and gilded, its central pavilion juts forward, flanked by rectangular compartments bordered by slender spiral columns. Layered cornices with hanging spindles, decorative shell niches, and delicate passages of golden arabesque ornament complete the extraordinarily rich effect.
A striking, painted panel of the Holy Trinity crowning the Virgin dominates the second tier, all the figures clothed in flowing robes trimmed with gold. The panel is flanked by statues of St. Joachim and St. Anne, the Virgin’s parents.
   Augustinian saints (San Alipio, Santo Tomás de Villanueva, San Juan de Sahagún & San Fulgencio Obispo) accompany the figure of St. Augustine above, while paintings in the upper levels portray scenes from his life.

Elegant baroque statues of Augustinian and other saints rest in niches to either side of the altarpiece, some of which may be from another altarpiece.

altarpiece of St. Nicholas of Tolentino
Two gilded retablos in similar style face each other in the transepts. The altarpiece of St. Nicholas of Tolentino in the north transept—also attributed to the multi-talented Tomás de Sigüenza—features paintings of the saint's life signed by the 18th century Oaxacan artist Isidro de Castro.
Although a kneeling, penitential statue of the saint occupies the upper niche, in the painted panel above he appears to be entranced by a serenade from a group of musical angels!

altarpiece of St. Monica
The retablo opposite is dedicated to St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, and frames scenes from the life of the young Christ and John the Baptist. At the top are portraits of the founders of the religious orders, St Augustine, St Francis and Ignatius Loyola.

A pair of interesting colonial paintings hangs in a side chapel along the nave: a portrayal of La Purísima clad in a windblown, gilt-trimmed, star spangled, blue robe (left), and a patriarchal portrait of the other St. Nicholas (San Nicolás de Obispo) in his Y shaped robe and pallium embroidered with crosses, and bearing the three golden balls (right). 

A finely finished wooden pulpit inlaid with ivory also stands in the nave, possibly the work of Filipino craftsmen.
                                       text & photography ©2014 Richard D. Perry

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Oaxaca. San Agustín: the church

We now return to Oaxaca to look in more detail at some of the colonial missions we visited on our February historic organ tour.  
   First, we had the opportunity to spend time in the newly restored city church of San Agustín which, in addition to its handsome sculpted facade, houses the finest assemblage of Oaxacan baroque altarpieces in the city. (more details on the history of the church and the recent restorations)

San Agustín de Oaxaca

As the last of the three religious orders commissioned by the Spanish Crown to evangelize the New World, the Augustinians were latecomers to Oaxaca, arriving in 1580. However they soon got to work building their first church, which was consecrated in 1589.

The present church and attached convento, however, are of later construction, completed over 100 years later. As throughout the city, earthquakes took their toll, and the church was reconsecrated in 1732—a date that appears on the facade. Along with many other city churches, it deteriorated again following closure in the mid-1800s, but at the end of the century it became another beneficiary of Archbishop Gillow’s restorations.
©Felipe Falcón
The Facade
This seminal Oaxacan church front is an early work—dating from 1696—by the architect and designer Tomás de Sigüenza, who also worked at the Cathedral and La Soledad, and was commissioned by Don Manuel Fiallo, the pre-eminent 18th century patron of religious buildings in the city, for whom a street is named.

Facing a spacious forecourt, the ornate retablo facade rises in three broad tiers. These are framed by classical orders of fluted Ionic, Corinthian and Doric columns, whose lower sections are richly decorated with interwoven, foliar relief—ornament that spreads along the friezes and into the spandrels around the doorway and sculpture niches.
©Felipe Falcón
The magnificent central relief—also the work of Sigüenza—is displayed in an ornamental eared frame, marking the first appearance of this motif on a Oaxacan facade. Based on a widely known engraving, the sculpture portrays the bearded St. Augustine as Protector of his Order, sheltering Augustinian friars beneath his spreading cape and trampling heretics beneath his feet. 
The facade: San Nicolás de Tolentino

The lateral niches are especially ornate, housing statues of Augustinian saints famous and obscure, each with an identifying inscription.  John of Sahagún and Nicholas of Tolentino occupy the lower tier; bishops Thomas of Valencia and St. Elipius are in the middle, and the female saints Clare of Montefalco and Rita of Cassia stand on either side of the octagonal choir window.
In our next post we look at the church interior.

text © 2007/2014 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón, whose color photographs feature in our guide book:

Friday, April 11, 2014

More Hidalgo Missions: Tlahuelilpa, the Cross

In our earlier posts on the chapels of Metztitlan, we featured several stone crosses.  The state of Hidalgo is especially rich in these sculpted monuments, many of which are richly and inventively carved in great detail. 
For our final post on Tlahuelilpa we look at its carved cross, a prime example of the genre.

 The Atrium Cross
Now mounted atop the church facade and not easy to examine, this former atrium cross is yet another example of the fine stone carving to be found at this exquisite little Franciscan mission. 
Surprisingly little eroded, the cross is tightly composed and confidently carved in the style of the cross at nearby Huichapan (see below) although on a much smaller scale.

  • The cross is covered with numerous Passion symbols, sculpted in bold relief. At center, the mask like visage of Christ is ringed by a twisted Crown of Thorns above the brow. A second, larger, softer Crown below the Face is draped necklace style around the neck of the cross. 
  •      Slender bands, perhaps representing a liturgical Stole, emerge from beneath the spines and wind around either arm, next to narrow, stylized Wounds with angled nails and rivulets of blood.
  •      Other Passion reliefs encircle the bulbous lower shaft, notably an eroded Rooster and floral spray atop a festooned Column, which is flanked by a Ladder and a Sun face on the left. A splashy third Wound spreads out below. 
  •      At the foot of the cross, a multilobed floral Host with a pierced center emerges from a decorative Chalice.
  • Ring moldings and petalled finials cap the short arms and the head of the cross, the latter surmounted by an complex INRI plaque bearing an angel’s head with spread wings —possibly a later addition, as at nearby Huichapan.

Huichapan: the atrium cross
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. 
photography by the author, Niccolò Brooker and Patrice Schmitz

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

More Hidalgo Missions: Tlahuelilpa, the Cloister

The Cloister

Now confined to a single story, the little rectangular cloister at Tlahuelilpa is a garden of sculptural delights.
Arcades of columns and arches, some with slanted fluting like the half columns of the open chapel, are further ornamented with floral bands and feature folk Ionic capitals that combine cherubs' heads and slotted "song" scrolls.

Doorways along the cloister walks are variously framed in Isabelline style and carved with winged angels and foliated grutesco motifs like the baptistry jambs.  Fragments of early polychrome murals still cling to the corridor walls.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. photography by Patrice Schmitz

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Friday, April 4, 2014

More Hidalgo Missions: Tlahuelilpa, the Church

In our second post on Tlahuelilpa, we take a closer look at the church interior:

The narrow, single nave is covered by a fine beamed ceiling, supported by elaborate wooden brackets carved with reliefs of foliage and mythical birds—part eagle and part pelican.

The archway dividing the nave from the sanctuary displays the figures of Saints Peter and Paul, one on either side, carved in low relief.
St Peter
A painted frieze, predominantly red and blue and restored to excellent condition, runs around the church at the roofline, inset with medallions illustrating the Stations of the Cross.

Winged angels' heads entwined in foliage enliven the jambs, alfiz and low arch of the baptistry, located  beside the entry and beneath the raised open chapel. 
Lions' heads adorn the capitals and an old stone baptismal font stands inside, where fragmentary murals decorate the walls.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry. photography by Patrice Schmitz

We accept no ads. If you enjoy our posts you may support our efforts 
by acquiring our guidebooks on colonial Mexico