Monday, September 29, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: San Miguel Tanaquillo

San Miguel Tanaquillo
Two contrasting wooden ceilings span the nave at Tanaquillo. A flat, beamed ceiling covers the western end, while a traditional, “inverted trough” style ceiling stands over the eastern part, ending in a fanlike avenerado.
   This latter plank ceiling has been recently restored and largely repainted. According to an inscription, the murals date from the 1880s. 
Tanaquillo, the avenerado at the east end
Set against plain, light blue panels framed with ocher borders, portraits of ten of the Twelve Apostles appear in rows of rococo style medallions. 
    Boldly, even crudely painted in red, cream and sky blue, as at Corupo the saints are shown in a variety of attitudes—frontally and in profile—each accompanied by his principal attribute and name. 
However, only two of the Apostles—heavily retouched—are apparently original: San Andrés and Santiago, in the rectangular panels closest to the east end.  All the others are recent representations based on what is thought to be the original Apostolado sequence.
Archangel Raphael;   Santiago
The only other images are those of the Archangels Michael and Raphael, squeezed awkwardly into the narrow, triangular corner frames at the east end. 
   St Michael, the patron saint of Tanaquillo, is the more interesting figure of the two, dressed as a Roman soldier subduing the fearsome Devil beneath his feet.
St Andrew;    St Michael
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.   images by Carolyn Brown and Niccolò Brooker

Friday, September 26, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: San Sebastián Corupo

San Sebastián Corupo
The humble barrio chapel of San Sebastián, possibly the original hospital chapel of the main mission of San Francisco Corupo, is scarcely recognizable as a religious structure, 
   Set on the platform of a former pre Hispanic temple structure, whose steps and foundation elements bear the marks of ancient stone working, this recently repaired and expanded building is roofed in part by a simple, three sided wooden artesonado ceiling. 
The painted panels of the ceiling, partially restored although many remain in poor condition due to water and metal stains, are clearly outlined and brightly colored in hues of red, blue and earth tones.   
Dated 1868 by a prominent inscription at the apsidal end, the ceiling portrays the Twelve Apostles along its sloping sides in various attitudes, many holding the instruments of their martyrdom and accompanied, as at Santiago Charapan, with phrases from the Apostles Creed.  

St John the Evangelist;                                          St James Minor
Most are shown frontally, others in profile and a few in three quarter view, indicating a practiced eye and competent draftsmanship on the part of the native artist—a beardless John the Evangelist has a pronounced indigenous cast.

St Bartholomew;                                    St Peter
As at the chapel of Santiago Charapan, the saints are individually identified in flowing cursive lettering, accompanied by appropriate articles from the Spanish Apostles Creed in the same style—intended as a visual aid to the catechism.
St Matthew
The depiction of the Apostles also bears a resemblance to those at Charapan. Here they are framed by colorful canopies painted in a folksy baroque style, with rows of feathery stars and stylized butterflies adorning the flat upper level of the ceiling.
feathery star motif
signed and dated wall plaque

 text & images © 2014 Richard D. Perry.   
photographs of the saints © Carolyn Brown.   all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Santiago Charapan

Santiago Charapan
Dedicated like Tupataro, Angahuan and Nurio to Santiago (St. James Major,) this most imposing of the barrio chapels of Charapan, in the volcanic western highlands of Michoacán, stands on a hill atop what may have been a pre Hispanic structure.
The ancient barrio of Santiago was reputed to have offered the stiffest resistance to the Spanish conquest of Charapan. 
   As elsewhere in this region, the prominent presence here of Santiago Matamoros, the warrior saint so beloved of the Spanish conquistadors, is believed, paradoxically, to reflect his adoption in colonial times by the purépecha natives of the region as a spiritual counter force to often oppressive Spanish rule. 
Santiago facade relief
Images of the saint are ubiquitous. The old stone cross out front of the chapel bears a relief of the warrior saint, as does the 17th century façade.
The Atrium Cross
Charapán is home to a family of carved stone crosses, distributed among the town's several churches and chapels. But the chapel of Santiago boasts the most lavishly carved of them all. 
   We have described it in a previous post, but the details are worth repeating here. Raised on a large square base, the cross faces the 17th century chapel doorway and is inscribed with the date 1676. Its most distinctive feature is a relief of the full body of Christ Crucified twisted in agony at the crossing—a rare portrayal, seen on few atrium crosses. 
   Deeply undercut within the raised outline of the cross, this crude but dramatic figure is especially striking. So too are the accompanying reliefs of Passion symbols that project boldly along the shaft—a Ladder, a Rooster with Column, a stylized Chalice and a mask like Skull with crossbones. A second Skull grins at the foot of the cross. Flared slab finials with relief rosettes cap the head and arms. 
An eroded relief of St. James Major, the patron saint, again on horseback with sword and banner, is embedded in the base pedestal, flanked by outlined reliefs of the Archangel Michael and a female saint, probably St. Anne. 

The Ceiling
The rounded chapel ceiling is painted in a colorful folkloric style closely related to that of nearby Corupo, as well as Tanaquillo in the Once Pueblos region to the north.

The Twelve Apostles are all portrayed, each one clearly named with his traditional attributes and accompanied by articles from the Apostles Creed. Decorative oval rings frame each saint, some blue and others in yellow. 
   Ornamental floral festoons and ribbons run along the apex of the ceiling. The newly retouched ocher background was formerly a star spangled, light blue, symbolizing the heavens. 
Again we see portraits of Santiago (el mayor) and his brother James (el menor), although, in contrast to the exterior reliefs, the former is depicted here as the peaceable Santiago Apostol, clad in full pilgrim’s garb with his shell, staff and broad brimmed hat
Not one but two colorfully costumed equestrian statues of the saint grace the main and side altars.  

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  photography by the author.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: The Apostolados

Nurio: baptistery apostolado
Chief among the themes in the murals and painted ceilings of the churches and chapels in western Michoacán is the apostolado, or depiction of the Apostles.  
   These usually take the form of individual portraits of the saints, presented in a sequence and customarily accompanied by their attributes or the instruments of their martyrdom. 
   Often they are further identified by their inscribed names as well as, in at least one case, by articles of the Apostles Creed, for the recital of which these portraits were undoubtedly intended as visual aids for the generally illiterate native worshippers. 
   Perhaps because of this last consideration, these apostolados appear almost exclusively in smaller churches, often barrio chapels within the larger purépecha communities of the region
Also they are usually of a later date than the other painted ceilings, in most cases from the 19th century.  
   Although colorful and usually framed in a decorative, folkloric manner, the portraits themselves are simple and direct in style.
   We already saw examples at Nurio and Magdalena Quinceo.  
   In our next series of posts we focus on the apostolados to be found at Santiago Charapan, San Sebastián Corupo, San Miguel Tanaquillo, and adorning the recently repainted barrio chapels of Guadalupe in Santa Clara del Cobre and El Señor de los Zapateros, located in Tlalpujahua in eastern Michoacán.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry

Friday, September 19, 2014

Missions of Michoacán: Ajuno

Asunción Ajuno, church front
Santa Maria de la Asunción Ajuno
The modest parish church at Ajuno, between Uruapan and Patzcuaro, is picturesquely situated. With its multi-tiered tower and colonial stone cross in front, it faces the old hospital chapel, now disused but still standing on a rise above an expansive greensward.
Ajuno, the hospital chapel
In front of the church stands a plain, octagonal stone cross with one broken arm. The supporting pedestal bears inscriptions with the date 1631 and a relief of a prancing deer (Ajuno means Place of the Deer in the native purépecha language)

Inside the church a long, curving, wooden artesonado ceiling with fan or shell like ends runs the length of the otherwise unadorned single nave. Although it may have borne earlier painted images, much of the present ceiling was repainted in a neoclassical style some time in the 1790s.
   It was later whitewashed, and now few of the narrative scenes remain, most conspicuously the unusual figures of the three theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, at the east end above the main altar.  
   Reds, blues and greens stand out in these portrayals, skillfully rendered in a correct neoclassical manner by a clearly non indigenous hand.   

Faith, blindfolded and partly obscured by the sunburst above the main altar, bears her traditional cross and a chalice with an emerging Host; Hope holds the anchor on a cloud at left and Charity, with a child on her lap, sits on the right. 
Ornamental floral motifs border the panels between the ribs along the nave, and colorfully repainted gloria patterns are emblazoned at each apex.
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry   Photography courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Monday, September 15, 2014

Missions of Michoacán. Naranja de Tapia

Situated northwest of Lake Pátzcuaro, the spacious, gabled church at Naranja is mainly notable for its painted ceiling—one of the largest, the earliest and among the better preserved in Michoacán. 
image courtesy of Robert Jackson
Pitched in the form of an inverted trough and tied by carved crossbeams, the high, paneled artesonado ceiling spans the eastern part of the nave, including the sanctuary and former choir—a large space corresponding to the 18th century church before the addition of its western end.   
Apsidal end  © Niccolò Brooker
Choir end  © Niccolò Brooker
Thirteen bays span the area capped by fan of several panels at either end. The ceiling is crowded with myriad religious figures in two and three tiers along each bay—more than seventy figures in all.   
Naranja, tentative ceiling key
Although not easy to distinguish or even conclusively identify in the darkened church and in their present state of conservation, this assembly of archangels, saints, martyrs, together with the founders of the various religious orders and other prominent church leaders, along with biblical events and personalities, represents a broad if uneven history of the Church.
© Niccolò Brooker
Painted in popular style and arranged in no apparent order, the elongated, elegantly costumed figures are deftly outlined in fluid strokes and vividly accented in shades of red, blue, green and yellow amid swirls of rococo ornament. 
St Joseph and St Francis   © Niccolò Brooker
The iconographic sources for the ceiling are currently unknown. Although inscribed plaques on the cross beams bear the date of 1783, with many names including the purported signature of an unknown indigenous artist, one Pedro Ximénez, it is evident that several hands, with varying degrees of skill, worked on the numerous panels:
The Holy Family: Flight into Egypt
                                     La Púrísima                                    Santiago Matamoros          

Music, music, music...
As elsewhere in the Michoacán ceilings, notably at Cocucho and Nurio, angels are portrayed at Naranja playing period musical instruments, reflecting the importance of church music in colonial times.
At Naranja, concentrated at the choir end, we see wind and string instruments on opposing sides, shown as they would have been placed during the liturgy: the horn and chirimia, or native flute, on one side, with the mandolin, guitar, bass viol and viol da gamba on the other.

images of musicians © Carolyn Brown

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  All rights reserved
images by the author and courtesy of Carolyn Brown, Robert Jackson and Niccolò Brooker