Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Temple of Carmen, San Luis Potosí. The Architecture

Last year we posted a series on Neostyle architecture in Mexico, including one church in San Luis Potosí. 
 Another interesting potosino building in a similar vein is that of The Temple of Carmen. Together with the nearby Basilica of Guadalupe, El Carmen is a monument to Mexican eclecticism in late colonial architecture, but with an added fantastical flavor, whose salient aspects we explore in three posts: 

"One of the most daringly original facades of the eighteenth century..."
Joseph Baird,  The Churches of Mexico

El Carmen SLP
The Temple of Carmen, a major city landmark in San Luis Potosí, was founded, with its adjacent convent, in the 1740sWith funding from a wealthy Sevillian resident, construction proceeded rapidly during the 1750s under the direction of local alarifes or master masons Eligio de Santiago and José Lorenzo, 
   The west front was completed in the early 1760s and takes the form of a conventional retablo facade—an effect, however,  subverted by the ornamental and structural detailing.  
   The facade falls into two contrasting design phases: an unorthodox bottom tier and the more conventional upper levels:
On the lower level, pairs of spiral "tritostyle" columns, faced with chain like carved panels of fruits and flowers, enclose narrow niches with bands of complex strapwork and foliated ornament. 
The neo-mudéjar west doorway acquires a scalloped, gothic appearance with the addition of pendants around the arch in the curious form of floral reliefs.
Although this pattern is repeated in the next level, the supports are more ordered, relatively conventional, estípite columns—the part of the design possibly attributable to the eminent visiting architect Miguel Espinosa de Los Monteros, who was also associated with the new Sagrario of the Metropolitan cathedral (Mexico City) as Master of Works.  
Be that as it may, estípite pilasters continue to be deployed in the top tier of the facade but on a reduced scale. These are capped by a draped stucco curtain or canopy upheld by cherubs that extends up to a scrolled surmounting pediment that uneasily combines baroque and neoclassical outlines.  Complex, outsized floral urns or pilasters protrude from the pediment.

Aside from its architectural elements, the iconography of the church front reflects its Carmelite heritage, primarily through its juxtaposition of associated figures, obscure and familiar, from biblical sources as well as the history of the Order.
In the niches to either side of the west doorway appear statues of the biblical prophets Elijah and Elisha, both of whom, through their Old Testament connection to Mount Carmel, had special meaning for the Carmelites.
Our Lady of Mt Carmel (Niccolò Brooker)
On the second level the well known Carmelite mystics St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross occupy the lateral niches. And on the top tier, Our Lady of Mt Carmel is flanked by statues of the early Carmelites, the martyr St. Angelo and the ecstatic, Magdalena de Pazzi.
The Carmelite insignia of the cross of Mt Carmel and three stars are prominently emblazoned in oval medallions on either side. And the angel atop the crowning pediment, popularly thought to be the Archangel Michael, may instead be San Angelo. 
The Side Entry
If anything, the north doorway is even more fantastical than the facade and may well be solely the work of the local alarifes
   The scalloped moorish doorframe is here flanked by broadly spiraling columns set on high pedestals while overhead, estípite pilasters frame the wavy shell niche with its statue of St. Joseph.
St. Joseph (Niccolò Brooker)
The niche is surmounted by a classical entablature with an overarching broken pediment.  A bewildering variety of relief ornament crowds all the intervening spaces.

text © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  images by Martha Rodríguez Licea and others
For more on El Carmen see Jim Cook's excellent blog post

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Monday, July 28, 2014

NEOSTYLE: The Basilica of Guadalupe, San Luis Potosí

San Luis Potosi is home to several late colonial buildings that relate to the neostyle movement, but with an exotic regional flavor some have termed the potosino style.
   Chief among these is the imposing Basilica of Guadalupe. The present church replaced a more humble early shrine to the Virgin in the city, and was built to a new design attributed to the Spanish architect and treasury official Felipe Cleere.  (Cleere had previously designed the Caja Real here—the Royal Treasury building, now El Palacio del Gobierno)   
Although the foundation stone was laid in 1772, the church was not dedicated until 1800.
   Aside from its esoteric iconography and its possible political import, the design of the facade embraces many of the tenets of the neostyle movement, primarily through the eclectic use of columns and pilasters of varying styles and ornament—moorish, Plateresque, neoclassical, rococo, etc—and its mixing of Baroque and classical framing patterns.
Flanked by polygonal outer pilasters and rusticated, Doric half columns, the facade bulges out to embrace the elaborate center pavilion, whose three tiers are emphatically framed by stepped columns of different classical orders: Ionic ringed with carved foliage below, and Corinthian festooned with decorative swags in the upper tiers.
Descending from a relief of God the Father at the top, currently obscured by a projecting crown, the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe is elaborately staged in a layered, eared frame atop multiple scrolls.
On the tier below, a statue of the Archangel Michael is mounted in front of the choir window, whose pedimented classical frame rests on an ornamental relief, again dripping with shells, lambrequins and scrolls.  
The Moorish inspired west doorway is capped by an arch of rococo shells and scrollwork.

An even more fanciful arch covers the side entry, also replete with curving shell forms, and contained by shell studded Ionic pilasters.  Sinuous rococo scrolls capped by waves of partial baroque cornices form the triangular pediment overhead.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry
images by Niccolo Brooker and others

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

NEOSTYLE: Santiago Tianguistenco

© Niccolo Brooker
Santiago Tianguistenco

Funded, like Santa Prisca de Taxco, by the mining mogul José de Borda, the rebuilt church front of Santiago Tianguistenco near Toluca, west of Mexico City, fits well into the neóstilo tradition. 
   The designer is thought to have been the aristocratic Ildefonso de Iniesta Bejarano y Durán, a close associate of the Taxco architect Cayetano José de Sigúenza, although it is distinct from his exquisite but more conventional barroco estípite facades at San Felipe Neri (DF) and Tepotzotlan.

Recessed between stolid towers of later date, the central section of the facade follows the late baroque pattern, opening up above a broad, arched doorway to showcase an elaborate relief of the papal arms and the layered, moorish style choir window above.
© Niccolo Brooker
But it is the lateral columns that display the signature neóstilo variety of forms.

Freestanding like those of the Querétaro cathedral, pairs of tritostyle baluster columns with rococo ornament and full Corinthian capitals frame the center facade on both tiers.
   Between them wildly spiraling columns sprout from the lower level, pushing half way through to the next level and headed by capitals with exaggerated entablatures that, like the bases, project obliquely and are crowned by cascading lambrequin reliefs.
   All these unorthodox supports are set against a background of geometrical, neo Mannerist reliefs and oval cartouches to quite exotic effect.
images © Niccolo Brooker

Another feature of interest at Tianguistenco is the relief of St. Christopher on the face of the north tower (the relief on the south tower is modern, as is the tower itself) probably late colonial, although much restored

text ©2014 Richard D. Perry.  photography by Niccolò Brooker & Norberto Real

Friday, July 18, 2014

NEOSTYLE: Santa Prisca de Taxco

Santa Prisca de Taxco 

In 1751 the wealthy and pious silver baron José de Borda decided to build a splendid new 
parish church for the town of Taxco, near his richest mine. 

Although several prominent designers and architects have been associated with the project, the supervising architect was Cayetano José de Sigüenza.  Constructed in only 8 years, this seminal church shows a remarkable stylistic consistency, both in the architecture and the interior design and furnishings (about which more in later posts).

Like the other Borda church of Santiago Tianguistenco, Santa Prisca de Taxco, although highly individual in many respects, may still be considered an exemplar of neostyle design. 
In this post we focus on the facades.
The imposing church front is framed by projecting towers that are crowned by outsized, Moorish inspired twin belfries that bristle with a variety of ornamental pilasters including estípites set obliquely on the corners.
© Carolyn Brown
The recessed center façade enclosed by an arched, egg-and-dart molding, is framed by tall, plain and spiral columns with Corinthian capitals. These are interposed with late baroque niche-pilasters incorporating statuary of saints (Peter and Paul below; St Sebastian and the patron, the early Christian martyr Santa Prisca above). 
   Passages of Rococo scrollwork and ornamental reliefs frame the arched entry and the grand oval relief of the Baptism of Christ above. The multifaceted profusion of curved and broken lines and edges establish the Santa Prisca facade as one of the most dynamic in late baroque design. 
© Carolyn Brown
The highly ornamental gable atop the facade terminates in a wildly bescrolled pedestal, precariously supporting the statues of the Evangelists John and Matthew and La Purísima at center.   The high cupola of the tiled dome, seen behind the gable, incorporates shell niches and is covered with colorful azulejo tiles in a zig zag design.
Santa Prisca: north doorway © Michal Kuban
The south porch, on the more open side of the hillside church, follows the pattern of the main facade. Two tiers of unadorned, also Corinthian, columns, flank the polygonal doorway below and the relief above, capped again on the lower level by projecting broken pediments that support freestanding statuary. 
   The voluptuous central relief of the Assumption/Coronation of the Virgin is framed by classical pilasters and panels of foliated rococo relief ornament. Shells, diamonds and lambrequins add to the decorative mix.   

text © Richard D. Perry.  color images by Carolyn Brown and others

For more on Santa Prisca:  

  • Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch:  La Iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco   UNAM-IIE  1974

  • Link to a superb, detailed photographic study of the church front and its iconography   

Saturday, July 12, 2014

NEOSTYLE: San Felipe Neri Queretaro

San Felipe Neri, Querétaro

This distinctive church, built between 1786 and 1804, was the last major colonial religious building to be constructed in Querétaro. Originally belonging to the Oratorian Order, today it is officially the cathedral of the city of Querétaro.
   Although reportedly built to a design by the seminal Mexico City architect, Francisco Guerrero y Torres, whose influential buildings include the famous Pocito Chapel and the church of La Enseñanza that we described earlier, the church bears little resemblance to either. 
   In fact the elevated  church front is a classic if somewhat extreme statement of neóstilo architecture. The varied columns and intervening vertical pilasters are set against a background of dark red volcanic tezontle, representing a sharp break from traditionally sober Queretaran architecture, although reminiscent of the architect's El Pocito chapel.

In baroque fashion the center facade opens to embrace the large central relief, which depicts St. Philip Neri as Protector of the Oratorian order, elaborately framed with clouds and cherubs.
    Projecting on either side of the polygonal doorway, slender, freestanding columns of pinkish white marble are variously animated with  fluting, festoons, wavelike and spiral motifs. Behind them, wavy decorative pilasters, intricately carved with foliage and the Instruments of the Passion, reach up to layered looping cornices that spring from the frame of the Neri relief.  
   Above, paired Corinthian columns with bulbous bases support the overarching segmented pediment—the only hint of neoclassical influence. 
    While the Neri facade still revels in the sinuous movement and rich surface decoration of the late baroque; its prominent use of a dazzling variety of columnar patterns and its crowning classical pediment establish it as a signature example of neóstilo architectural design. 
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and John Barreiro  

Monday, July 7, 2014

NEOSTYLE: La Enseñanza

La Enseñanza

Another Mexico City church that may be classified as a Neostyle monument is that of La Enseñanza, also designed by Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres, the architect of El Pocito.
   Its official name is La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Church of Our Lady of the Pillar) originally part of a nun's convent called El Convento de la Enseñanza La Antigua (The Old Convent of the Teaching), from which the church’s popular name is derived.
   Although the present facade was damaged and essentially rebuilt circa 1912, it was originally built between 1772 and 1778, before the completion of El Pocito.

While the open center facade retains late Baroque elements like the neo Moorish door frame and choir window, together with passages of foliated ornament and outsize scrolls, the overall format of the church front is more soberly classical in format, with the suggestion of a triumphal arch.
   Narrow, lateral sculpture niches are framed by orders of sturdy paired columns that are tritostyle in form—fluted in the upper two thirds but carved with relief ornament in the lower third. The columns correctly terminate in Doric capitals below and Ionic above.
statues of St Joseph and El Pilar
Layered classical colonettes also flank the statue of St Joseph with the Christ Child in the center niche; a diminutive statue of the Virgin of Pilar is posed against the enormous choir window. 
The lower side niches house statues of St John Nepomuk—a joint patron of the church with the Virgin of El Pilar—and St Michael, while Saints Benedict and Ignatius Loyola stand above.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Thursday, July 3, 2014


Estípite columns
Starting in the early 1700s an ornate baroque style, variously known as Churrigueresque or barroco estípite—so called after the complex, sculptural column or pilaster that was its signature feature—swept into Mexico from Spain, revolutionizing altarpiece and church front design and ushering in a heady period of innovation among Mexican architects and designers.
   This creative wave evolved and crested later in the century across Mexico, eventually morphing into a phase known as anástilo, or "supportless" in which structural elements had almost dissolved into swirling fields of dense Rococo ornament, primarily in altarpieces but also in late baroque facade design. 
   Such an extreme development led in turn to a reaction. Under the influence of the Real Academia del Arte, inaugurated in Mexico in 1785, a return to classical architectural tenets became virtually mandated, signaling a return to the leading role of the column in architecture and altarpiece design alike.
   Nevertheless, given the traditional Mexican penchant for decorative surface treatment, an intermediate style emerged in a loosely related group of buildings that, while returning to the primacy of the column, retained a traditional vocabulary of baroque elements. 

As long ago as 1971*, the scholar Jorge Alberto Manrique coined the term neóstilo, translatable as "new support,” for this movement, grouping together several distinctive but previously inadequately classified Mexican buildings. 
   Although some of these structures, primarily churches, reflect regional variants, their unifying feature is the re-introduction of the column or pilaster as a central feature of the facade, albeit in a wide and often highly eclectic variety of forms. 
   In fact far from adhering to any strictly classical ordering of columns, neóstilo buildings made free, often playful use of an array of earlier styles of support like Salomonic (spiral) or Plateresque columns, some even retaining the estípite in its more structural forms. 
These were often interspersed with plain and fluted columns or colonnettes, along with such hybrid supports as the tritostile column common to Oaxaca, mixing and matching different elements in the facade or even within a single column.
   Although sometimes viewed as a transitional phase between Baroque and Neoclassical, this unorthodox melding of architectural elements in several key buildings is better seen as constituting a distinct and unique phase in Mexican architecture and design—a brief moment in which an imaginative variety of forms emerged and blossomed, before succumbing to the often dead hand of the neoclassical imperative. 

In this new series we illustrate a handful of the best known and most distinctive examples associated with this architectural phase, starting with the extraordinary hillside chapel of El Pocito.
© Carolyn Brown
El Pocito (The Chapel of the Well)
In 1777 construction began on an elaborate new church over the sacred spring on the hill of Tepeyac, overlooking the basilica of Guadalupe just outside Mexico City. 

Designed by the eminent Mexican architect Francisco Antonio Guerrero y Torres, its oval plan with radiating domed chapels was loosely based on the Pantheon of ancient Rome.  Despite this homage to the designs of antiquity, the exterior and interior appearance of El Pocito is anything but classically correct.

© Niccolo Brooker
Curved exterior walls and convex facades of dark red volcanic tezontle contrast with ornate entries cut from white chiluca limestone—a traditional Mexican technique—to create its dynamic spatial and visual appearance. 
   This effect is further animated by the use of lobed and polygonal Moorish doorways, scrolled baroque pediments and spiky, star shaped windows, which combine with tiled parapets, Gothic like pinnacles and sinuous ribbed domes to create a dazzling experience for the viewer.
© Carolyn Brown
These effects are carried into the Pantheon like interior where the dizzying rise of its painted dome, accentuated by expanding wavy ribs, angel filled murals and obliquely lit from the bristling neo Moorish windows, contrasts with the staid arcades of paired Corinthian columns below.

Although many consider El Pocito as the last major baroque church completed in Mexico, it may be more usefully viewed as a prelude to the innovative neóstilo phase in Mexican architecture.
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
color images courtesy of Carolyn Brown and Niccolo Brooker.   all rights reserved

* MANRIQUE, JORGE ALBERTO, "El neóstilo: La última carta del barroco 
mexicano"  Historia Mexicana, 79, vol. XX, enero-marzo, México, 1971.