Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: La Capilla de Los Naturales

So called because it provided a place of worship for the native population apart from the more exclusive main church, the adjacent Capilla de Los Naturales on its north side remains the locus of popular devotion to this day. 
   The chapel contains three additional altarpieces in a variety of late baroque styles. They are dedicated to Las Animas, La Purísima and Jesus Nazareno.
retablo of Las Animas
The imposing retablo of Las Animas, facing the entry from the church, is structurally the simplest of the three. 
   While certainly not short on gilded ornament and richly framed by intricately carved estípites, the other reliefs, paintings and especially statuary are kept to a minimum, focusing attention on the grand central painting of the Archangel Michael, a work attributed to the eminent Baroque painter Miguel Cabrera* and rendered in vibrant reds and blues that contrast with the gilded background.
   The Holy Trinity overhead are portrayed Mexican style as three bearded young men in flowing robes, seated on thrones around a globe—while the Souls in Purgatory huddle below the archangel.
  A sensitive portrait of the Virgin of Carmen occupies the center oval in the upper tier. 
The Archangel Michael
The two other altarpieces, which face each other across the Capilla, are virtually identical in design and structure, similar to the retablos under the church choir but more elongated and even more decorative. 
   Full attention again is focused on the central image, here enclosed by elaborately curtained and be-scrolled niches. An encrusted Rococo gloria frames the second, related image above, rising to the layered broken pediment overhead.
   Giant, heavily ornamented and bescrolled niche-pilasters on either side extend to almost the full height of the altarpiece, carrying a heavy load of statuary, cherubs and painted medallions.

retablo of La Purísima
The altarpiece, on the east side of the chapel, is devoted to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima) 
   The center panel portrays her with the conventional attributes of the Woman of the Apocalypse—clothed by the sun and with the crescent moon beneath her feet. 
   Below her on either side, prominently surrounded by putti, are elegantly posed and robed statues of her parents Saints Anne and Joachim.  Above them are medallions of the Annunciation and Nativity‚ especially significant episodes in the life of the Virgin Mary.
   Again, the Holy Trinity is portrayed in the sumptuous upper niche, flanked here by statues of two rarely portrayed figures: Simeon and Ana the Prophet—both witnesses to the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

retablo of Jesus the Nazarene
Dedicated to the Passion of Christ—an alternative name for the entire chapel—this sister retablo of La Purísima features scenes and biblical figures closely associated with the subject. 
   In the main panel, Christ is portrayed as The Nazarene, bowed under the weight of the cross. Richly costumed statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist stand on either side, again supported by groups of gesturing cherubs.  Scenes of the Flagellation and the Mocking of Christ appear in the flanking painted medallions.
   A portrayal of Christ on the cross in the upper niche is accompanied by outsize statues of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, again richly robed, who tended to Christ after the Crucifixion.
retablo of Jesus the Nazarene: The Man of Sorrows

Santa Prisca. church plan with retablos (Taxcolandia).
* Other paintings in the church by Miguel Cabrera include large, semicircular canvases of the martyrdoms of the patron saints Santa Prisca and San Sebastián, mounted over the side doorways in the nave. And a large suite in the sacristy illustrates scenes from the life of the Virgin Mary.

This concludes our series of posts on the altarpieces of Santa Prisca de Taxco. We accept no ads. If you enjoy our posts you may support our efforts by buying our guidebooks on colonial Mexico.

text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  all images from Taxcolandia except where noted.
Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch,  La iglesia de Santa Prisca de Taxco 

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