Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oaxaca: San Miguel Tlalixtac

San Miguel Tlalixtac, located south of the city of Oaxaca, is best known as the birthplace of Miguel Cabrera, the prolific mixed race painter who rose to national prominence in the mid-1700s, and whose name is now officially attached to the village.
The church is faced with a retablo facade in classic Oaxacan style with paired, fluted pilasters and a rose window. Overhead, fat half columns point to a crowning gable whose ornamental reliefs, including a floating, folkloric figure of the patron saint, St. Michael, are picked out in red, yellow and blue.
   The lower sculpture niches are vacant, but a few statues remain in the gable, notably an elegantly sculpted but now somewhat battered figure of the archangel, accoutered as a Roman soldier with the sun and moon emblazoned on his breast plate.

images by Felipe Falcón
The overdecorated interior houses several colonial art works of high quality.
A large gilded altarpiece in sumptuous late Churrigueresque style occupies the north transept, its projecting center section prominently outlined by bold estípite pilasters.
Large, rectangular paintings portray episodes from the Life of Christ in a vivid Mannerist style.

Another gilded retablo is dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, who occupies the center niche framed by pairs of fluted Corinthian half columns. The retablo is bordered by oval medallions that also portray scenes from Life of Christ, although in a more popular vein.

An unusual painting atop the altarpiece shows the Virgin presenting a portrait of St. Dominic to a Dominican supplicant, a theme we also saw at Tejupan.
image by Felipe Falcón
On the south side of the nave the altar of St. Nicholas of Tolentino showcases a grand painting of the popular Augustinian saint. Clad in his starry robe and holding up a partridge on a plate, he reaches down to the souls in Purgatory below.
The other item of interest at Tlalixtac is the shell of the venerable pipe organ, which we viewed on our recent historic organ trip. Some of the lead pipes at the front are missing, revealing the earlier wooden pipes behind.
your author talking about the Tlalixtac altarpiece (courtesy IOHIO)
text © 2007, 2014 Richard D. Perry 
photography by the author, Rosalind Perry and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Oaxaca: Santiago Teotongo

We continue our Oaxaca series with a look at some of the lesser known churches we visited last February.
    One of the more remote places we visited was the small town of Santiago Teotongo, just to the northeast of Tamazulapan in the Mixteca Alta region of northern Oaxaca.
   The imposing church front is sparely configured, with paired Ionic columns to either side of the lobed doorframe and non supporting colonettes on the upper level beneath a grand scrolled archway. The modest shell niches contain statuary of recent manufacture.
image © IOHIO
Inside the church, several richly gilded altarpieces in a variety of baroque styles line the nave.
Beside the choir loft, set on its separate pedestal rests the ornate, painted and gilded baroque shell of a mid 18th century pipe organ.
image © IOHIO
In addition, there are some figure sculptures of interest in the church including a fine old colonial Christ Entering Jerusalem, and a dramatic Santiago Matamoros in a flowing red cloak with his sword raised against a recumbent Moor, whose arms and legs push up against the horse's belly.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and IOHIO

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Oaxaca: Asunción Tlaxiaco

From prehistoric times Tlaxiaco, located in the Mixteca region of northern Oaxaca, has straddled the main trade route from the Valley of Mexico to the Pacific coast (now Rte 125).  Recognizing its strategic location, the Aztecs established a garrison here in the 15th century to control commerce as well as access to the surrounding highlands. 
Following the collapse of the Aztec empire and the founding of the Spanish settlement, a substantial Dominican mission was established here in the 1540s—the first in Oaxaca.

The church at Asunción Tlaxiaco is a classic statement of the Dominican high style, with some of its elements, including fluted columns and the broad coffered archways, derived from antiquity via the work of the Renaissance designer Sebastiano Serlio.

The mighty church front looms above the terraced, tree-shaded square in front, originally the monastery atrium. Braced between projecting tower bases, the cliff-like facade shows off the west porch to advantage—an assertive, pedimented classical entry with fluted half-columns, whose broad basket handle arch and jambs are boldly carved with diamond faceted coffering. 

images © Felipe Falcón
Above the doorway, only a simple bull's eye window and the Dominican cross pierce the plain surrounding stonework. 
In the upper facade, this classical severity is softened by later additions, notably the towers and a prominent projecting cornice that wraps around the buttresses, interrupted at intervals by “cut and curl” rococo flourishes—a decorative device repeated in the gable above. 

image © Felipe Falcón
A scalloped niche in the broad gable houses a graceful statue of La Purísima—the patron saint of Tlaxiaco—swathed in folding robes and crushing the serpent’s head beneath her feet.

image © Felipe Falcón
Although a neoclassical makeover has stripped the church interior of many of its colonial furnishings—notably a wealth of fine altarpieces, including a 16th century main retablo reputedly the work of the renowned designer and painter Andrés de Concha—the triumphal arch of the apse, densely coffered like the west doorway and other openings along the nave, remains in place, probably the first of its kind in Oaxaca and a possible precursor of the majestic coffered apses at Cuilapan and Yanhuitlan to the south.
Four lofty ribbed vaults, also from the 16th century, cover the bays along the nave, each springing from drum corbels set in a running cornice that encircles the nave in classic Dominican style.  
The newly renovated, ribbed under choir, decorated in white, beige and gold with prominent carved bosses, is especially stylish. 

Despite the later makeover, few colonial furnishings have survived inside the church, notably an inlaid pulpit and a partial, gilded retablo in classic Oaxacan baroque style.

There is also a grand, early 19th century pipe organ, set on its own elevated balcony beside the choir loft. Now restored to playing condition, it is one of the most sonorous in Oaxaca—whose musical timbre we enjoyed during a concert there on our recent Historic Organ tour.

text © 2007, 2014 Richard D. Perry. graphic by the author. All rights reserved
photographic images by the author and Felipe Falcón

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Oaxaca. Santiago Tejupan: the altarpieces

Tejupan: The Altarpieces

Like Yanhuitlan, the church is remarkable for its rich variety of colonial altarpieces and works of art.
The main altarpiece fills the deep apse, which, as at Tlaxiaco, is outlined by a multifaceted, coffered triumphal archway, similar to the exterior doorway. Fashioned in florid, late Churrigueresque style—one of three such examples in the church—this retablo ripples with swelling estípite columns against a backdrop of undulating gilded foliage.
images © Felipe Falcón
Ornamental bescrolled niches house a variety of statues; notably the patron saint of Tejupan, St James Major or Santiago, in the center niche, here posed as the peaceable Santiago Peregrino rather than the more usual militant persona of Santiago Matamoros.
   Two prominent female saints, Catherine of Alexandria and Rose of Lima, gracefully posed and clad in flowing estofado gowns, occupy the lateral niches.
image © Felipe Falcón
Two other opulent retablos in similar style face each other across the nave. Both are surmounted by undulating shell canopies and framed by projecting estípite columns embellished with gesticulating angels.
The retablo on the north side showcases an affecting statue of the Virgin and Child, while St Nicholas of Tolentino kneels in penitence above.

images © Felipe Falcón
Large paintings depicting the Passion of Christ fill the retablo of the Rosary opposite. Along the base are unusual paired portrayals of St. Mary Magdalene and Mary of Egypt—both penitents and former sinners.

images © Felipe Falcón
St. Nicholas appears again, here clothed in his starry robe, on one side of the large, ornate baroque organ case that rests on a pillar beside the choir loft.  The saint holds up his plate of partridges and is flanked by a pious couple who doubtless commissioned the organ.
image © Charlotte Ekland
An earlier retablo with painted Plateresque columns, recently restored and now thought to date from the late 1500s, stands opposite. The altarpiece is dedicated to St Joseph and showcases a finely wrought, richly robed statue of the saint. 
image © Charlotte Ekland
The surrounding paintings are of archangels, except that in the surmounting pediment the Virgin Mary, flanked by female martyrs, holds up a portrait of St Dominic.
image © Charlotte Ekland

image © Felipe Falcón
Several colonial canvases hang in the church including a pair of identical portraits of the Virgin of the Rosary, clothed in a flowing, green star-spangled robe trimmed with gold and flanked by disporting angels with roses and rosaries.
text ©2007, 2014 Richard D. Perry.
Photography by the author and courtesy of Charlotte Ekland and Felipe Falcón

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Oaxaca. Santiago Tejupan: the church

Another of the churches we visited during the Historic Organ Festival was that of the early Dominican mission of Santiago Tejupan in the Mixteca region of northern Oaxaca.

Land of Turquoise
Formerly the ancient Mixtec kingdom of Texupa, Tejupan was a wealthy, populous community at the time of the Spanish conquest.
It was transformed into a significant Dominican mission town, renowned for the skill of its tlacuilos, or native artists, who in 1579 drew up a beautiful picture map, or lienzo, of the colonial settlement, together with rivers, roads and mountains as well as the mission—one of the finest early examples of this genre in Mexico.

Today the monastery of Santiago faces north, away from the arcaded town plaza, overlooking its vast, empty atrium and the picturesque cemetery beyond. Remodeled with a huge bell tower and a baroque dome, the church nevertheless retains much of its original Dominican character.

The elegant classically inspired facade is dominated by the multifaceted west doorway, which is elaborately coffered in Dominican style following the model of nearby Tlaxiaco (more on Tlaxiaco later)
The geometrical, layered panels extend along the base of the facade.
Slender floating fluted pilasters—another Dominican architectural feature—enclose the now vacant shell niches on either side.  A fluted alfiz caps the divided choir window and a steep triangular pediment surmounts the lofty facade.

The adjacent monastery entry or portería, overgrown but intact, features a handsome double archway discreetly emblazoned with the Dominican cross.

Outside, a stroll through the ornamental atrium gateway leads to the graveyard beyond—a fantasy landscape of broken colonial headstones and modern tombs crafted of whitewashed concrete and wrought ironwork.
text ©2007, 2014 Richard D. Perry. Photography courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Oaxaca. Treasures of Tlacolula: The Church

Tlacolula, the church nave
Tlacolula: the church
Compared to the Silver Chapel, the ornamentation of the main church seems rather dull. Nevertheless there are several colonial art works of interest along the nave.  

Statuary includes a complete and typically Oaxacan Holy Trinity and several sumptuously costumed 18th century figures including the Virgin of the Assumption and St. Joseph as well as a charming folkloric statue of the Entry into Jerusalem.
Details on these and other carved figures can be found on the updated Stracke web site.
Among the more unusual items is a pair of smaller "medallion" style retablos along nave, whose central images are encased in curvacious rococo frames inset with painted or relief medallions.

Several late colonial paintings in popular baroque style line the walls of the church and its annex. Just inside the west doorway hangs an unusual painting of great charm depicting an ethereal St. Joseph as Protector of the Faithful surrounded by dignitaries and winsome Dominican nuns.
© Felipe Falcón
Side rooms off the former cloister also contain colonial art works of interest notably a charming painting of the Virgin and Holy Trinity with gold trimmed robes in Oaxacan "barococo" style, and an enigmatic portrait of a female martyr with an animated bull—possibly St. Lucy?.
text © 2005 and 2014 Richard D. Perry 
Color images by the author, and courtesy of IOHIO, Richard Stracke and Felipe Falcón.