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

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