Sunday, August 31, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Nurio: The Chapel

Nurio:  The Guatápera Chapel
From the church of Santiago we turn to the little adobe chapel of La Inmaculada—Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception—found inside the gated guatápera compound behind the main church. 
   Its humble facade retains the original stone doorframe and is ornamented with rustic reliefs of the sun and moon—traditional symbols of the Virgin Mary. A stone cross with a pointed head like the church atrium cross stands on a large, square base opposite the chapel door.

In dramatic contrast to its plain exterior, the chapel interior is a carnival of color. Like Tupataro, it retains its sectional wooden floor dating from colonial times.

view towards choir
An almost semicircular artesonado ceiling of pinewood beam and board spans the entire chapel, divided into eleven bays and closed at either end by a fan like tympanum—a monumental structure attributed to master carpenter José Chanaqua
   Dated by an inscription to 1803, this ceiling is painted in its entirety with dozens of polychrome panels attributed to the local artist José Gregorio Cervantes. 
   Painted predominantly in reds and blues with some complementary earth colors, the panels are ornamented in a popular rococo style, replete with floral festoons.

The Iconography
Despite its modest scale, the subject matter of the ceiling is among the most complex and varied in Michoacán.  
   In accordance with the dedication of the chapel to the Virgin Mary, the motifs at the apex of each bay along the nave link selected images from the Litany of the Rosary, framed by garlanded medallions.
These extend across the tympanum above the main altar (east end) which depicts the Assumption of the Virgin with many of her associated symbols—Tower of David, Lily, Mirror, and the Morning Star—in adjacent panels. 
The Assumption is flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael and, on the outer panels, the figures of Mary’s parents Sts Joachim and Anne. 
© Carolyn Brown
The sun and moon are also given prominence, together with a circular, vented Gloria medallion—all colorfully detailed against a celestial aquamarine background.
The opposing tympanum at the choir (west) end is also devoted to portraits of archangels, which include Michael, Gabriel, Raphael as well as a Guardian Angel, encased in florid frames surrounded by cherubim.
By contrast, the sloping side panels along both sides of the nave portray a hierarchy of Church and biblical saints in several sequences, painted in a more rustic style and also framed by cartouches festooned with floral decoration. 
Towards the east end, two panels on either side depict the Four Evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, while the six bays at the choir end are devoted to portraits of the Twelve Apostles, some now unfortunately damaged beyond recognition. The Patriarchs of the Latin Church—Saints Gregory, Ambrose, Jerome and Augustine—occupy the intervening panels. 
   The chapel also houses several late colonial furnishings of quality, including retablos, statuary and andas, or processional altars.  Outstanding among these are the gilded altarpieces, all recently restored, many with images of the Virgin.
Nurio, the main retablo   © Niccolò Brooker
main retablo - detail with crown and Padre Eterno
The red and gold baroque main retablo, for instance, contains an imposing statue of La Purísima—the chapel patron—finished in fine estofado detail and wearing a silver crown. 
Again, she is accompanied by the figures of Sts Joachim and Anne and flanked by popular portraits of Santiago Matamoros and St. Catherine of Alexandria on the lateral wings of the altarpiece.

© Niccolò Brooker
One unusual item in the nave is the tiny choir loft or gallery by the entry in the northwest corner—a curious counterpart to the baptistery structure under the choir in the main church. 
   Supported by a decorative carved column and girded by a wooden balustrade, it is attractively painted in folkloric style with yellow and green floral ornament.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author, Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker.
all rights reserved.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Nurio: The Church

Nurio Tepaqua
Nurio, located in the hills west of Pomacuarán and Capácuaro, is among the better known mission complexes of this highland region of western Michoacán.
   At Nurio both the church of Santiago and its adjacent guatápera chapel of La Inmaculada boast splendid painted ceilings. Although different in date and style, together they represent a combination unique in Mexico. 
In this first of two posts we look at the main church.
The Church
The grand façade of the Augustinian church of Santiago Apostol, currently a streaky orange, features a classical, cut stone porch with Corinthian columns. An imposing scalloped gable caps the facade and a battered stone atrium cross stands on its imposing base out front. 
© Niccolò Brooker
In Augustinian style, a Latin frieze above the doorway proclaims the church to be the House of God and the Gate of Heaven, and bears the date 1639.  A relief of the patron saint, St. James the Apostle, is emblazoned on the keystone of the doorway. 
© Niccolò Brooker
Inside, the nave is now roofed by a plain, beamed ceiling. This was repaired following a disastrous fire in the 1980s, and any former painted panels there have been lost.  
However, the highly decorative arched under choir has survived.
© Carolyn Brown
The Under Choir   
This exquisitely painted and recently restored ceiling is the now principal artistic feature of the church. Completed some time between the mid 1800s and the end of the century, it is L-shaped in plan and is formed like a three sided trough or basin. 
choir end
Banded wooden columns with carved and painted capitals support the extension into the nave.  
© Niccolò Brooker
Its dazzling polychrome murals are among the most ornamental in the region, possibly providing a model for other churches in the area including nearby Cocucho.
© Niccolò Brooker
The figural portraits exhibit a high order of draftsmanship, with nuanced coloration in the style of the metropolis, rather than from the hand of a country painter.

© Carolyn Brown
Thematically, however, the ceiling follows the regional pattern, focusing mainly on musical angels and archangels—especially appropriate for its location beneath the choir. 
   Framed by oval cartouches laced with intricate strapwork, acanthus leaves and flowers, sweet faced angels play period instruments including a harp, mandolin, viol and guitar, along with a bassoon and organ. These are interspersed with singing angels holding up choral music books of the period. 

musical angels © Carolyn Brown

The Archangel Michael  © Carolyn Brown
Archangels accompany the musicians, notably the stern, helmeted figure of the St Michael, together with the Archangel Gabriel and a Guardian angel. The figures of a bishop, thought to be Saint Augustine, and St Mary Magdalene represent celebrated sinners redeemed by faith. 
Guardian angel © Carolyn Brown
Gloria © Niccolò Brooker
Another exceptional aspect of the ceiling is the grandly ornate star or Gloria, set in a diamond frame at its center and bespangled with scrolls, strapwork and winged cherubs. 
   Complementing the ceiling, other furnishings of interest in the church include a pair of baroque side retablos, framing fine paintings of the Virgin that may be by the same artist as the ceiling panels.

The Baptistery
But perhaps the most unusual additional feature at Nurio is the self contained wooden baptistery beneath the choir. 
   Enclosed by a carved balustrade and lined with portraits of the Apostles along its base, the structure carries its own little roof, recently discovered to also bear polychrome painting.    

Nurio baptistry: entry and Padre Eterno
Highly decorative and painted in a similar style to the under choir, these panels portray God the Father amid a cloud of angels—an intriguing hint of how the original nave ceiling might have appeared before the fire.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author, Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker
all rights reserved.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: San Miguel Pomacuarán

image © Carolyn Brown
San Miguel Pomacuarán
Pomacuarán is noted for its numerous, colorful festivals, notably on September 29, the feast day of its patron saint, the Archangel Michael, when residents decorate the church with elaborate floral displays and villagers from distant parts as far as the US enjoy the celebrations, with music, masquerades and fireworks.

In the mid-1800s a fire devastated the old mission church here. Although the church was abandoned, demolished and later rebuilt, its broad 16th century carved stone doorway was saved and re-assembled to create a new entry for the adjacent hospital chapel.
Boldly carved in a style similar to nearby Capácuaro, rosettes, angel’s heads and oak like foliage ornament the doorframe, together with prominent inverted scallop shells—a popular motif found on numerous church and chapel fronts in the region.

Inside the chapel—one of the few in the region, including Tupataro, to retain its original, sectional wooden floor—the principal work art of art is its suspended, polychrome ceiling, one of the most complete and best preserved in Michoacán.  
the ceiling: apsidal (east) end
Probably executed following the fire, after the re-roofing of the chapel, the arched wooden ceiling runs the entire length of the chapel, from the polygonal apse to the choir at the west end. It is divided into 13 slender bays separated by ribs adorned with floral fringes.
the ceiling: choir (west) end
The ornate painted panels are still largely intact and are thematically divided into two groups:  the four easterly bays (nearest the altar) portray angels in blue and red swirling robes, eight in all and identically posed, holding up scrolls inscribed with the eight Beatitudes in Spanish, taken from the Sermon on the Mount—the only example of this theme found in the Michoacán ceilings:
Beatitude panels - north side
Beatitude panels - south side
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted;  Blessed are those that hunger for they shall be filled
Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
floral urn
The more numerous western panels portray assorted saints, archangels and a variety of biblical episodes, familiar and obscure, on either side and in no discernible sequence (see plan below).  
   These are interposed with decorative sunbursts, floral urns and ornamental cartouches. 
As might be expected, there are several scenes from the life of the Virgin, notably the Annunciation and the Nativity.  Other dramatis personae include a bemused St. Raphael with minimal wings and a fearsome fish, and a militant Archangel Michael, the titular saint of the chapel, vigorously spearing a winged demon.
In common with the other Michoacán ceilings, the paintings are predominantly colored in brilliant reds and blues, and executed in a vivid popular style with many anecdotal details.
Two tableaux at the choir end show period musical instruments: first, King David plucks his harp, accompanied by figures with cymbals and a horn; and there is a detailed portrayal of a baroque pipe organ being played by two angels—one with sheet music.

Another unusual panel portrays Saint Helena, empress mother of Constantine, and her Dream of the True Cross. It shows her asleep on the cross with what appears to be a man below excavating the cross that was buried in Jerusalem, as in her vision.  
   The church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was built on the site, is in the background.

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