Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Santa Prisca de Taxco: The Main Altarpiece (retablo mayor)

Santa Prisca, the nave facing east.  © Claudio Giovenzana.
In an earlier post we described the exterior architecture of Santa Prisca. Now we turn to the church interior of Santa Prisca—one of the few to survive essentially unchanged from the 18th century.      
   Richly layered, rusticated pilasters line the nave, contrasting with the plain vaults above. Santa Prisca is also rare in that it retains all of its original altarpieces in place and essentially unaltered. 
Most if not all of the retablos are now attributed to Isidoro Vicente de Balbás, the noted retablista and adopted son of Jerónimo Balbás, designer of the metropolitan cathedral altar of Los Reyes in Mexico City.  
   Completed during the 1750s, the altarpieces vary in complexity and richness. Designed in highly ornate late baroque style, with sumptuous estípites and niche pilasters, they soar into the vaults along the nave, apse and transepts of the church (see plan below)
In the following posts we will look at the altarpieces either individually or in related groups, starting with the main altarpiece, or retablo mayor.
Santa Prisca de Taxco, the Main Altarpiece
Documented as the work of Isidro Vicente de Balbás, the exuberant retablo mayor reveals the designer's debt to his father's seminal design for the Altar de Los Reyes in the Mexico City cathedral—a variant of the late baroque style referred to as balbasiano
   Beneath an undulating gable, giant estípites, inset with statuary and encrusted with gilded filigree ornament, almost meld into the even more sumptuous interestípites, or niche-pilasters between them.
Retablo de Los Reyes (metropolitan cathedral) © Niccolò Brooker
An image of The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima) occupied the glassed in center niche. And almost lost amid the profusion of saintly reliefs, canopies, mixtilinear pediments and the swirl of surrounding relief ornament, are statues of the co-patrons of the church: the contorted, nearly naked figure of St. Sebastian, and the serene, richly robed image of Santa Prisca—both martyrs of the early Church.
   For a fuller description, in Spanish, of the iconography, see the Taxcolandia web site and the classic monograph by Elisa Vargas Lugo de Bosch.

Santa Prisca. church plan with retablos (Taxcolandia).

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

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