Monday, December 28, 2015

The Otomí chapels of Toliman: Los Luna

In an earlier series we explored the capillas familiares of San Miguel Ixtla in Guanajuato. Other groups of family chapels are found elsewhere among the Otomí speaking communities of Hidalgo and Querétaro. 
   In this and following posts we look at several related capillas in the area of Toliman, in the state of Querétaro, starting with the painted chapel of Los Luna.
La Capilla de Los Luna
Nzuño (Otomí) 
Formerly a shop, this modest but carefully restored family chapel is now called jo, or cross in Otomí.  A carved stone cross sits atop the gabled front.
But the principal interest, as with most chapels of this kind, is the painted interior, displaying a variety of colorful murals of exceptional quality, now also nicely restored.
Nativity with Three Kings
Drawn in a lively folkloric style and rendered in vivid red, blue, black and earth colors, they illustrate episodes in the life of Christ and the Virgin, notably the Annunciation, with the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the Nativity, the Baptism of Christ, the Flight into Egypt, and the Assumption.
Flight into Egypt

Other figures include Spanish and native dancers.

The colorful main altar has a painted cross with angels and archangels, as well as several wooden crosses and a crucifix.  
Among the chief delights of the Los Luna murals are the musical angels. Surrounding the sun and moon images at the apex of the curved ceiling and cavorting atop flower bedecked friezes, the angels play a wide variety of string, wind, brass and percussion instruments and include a rare St. Cecilia at the pipe organ.

text © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  images by Ana Medina Manrique and from internet sources.

link to a recent, more detailed analysis of the murals

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Mexican Murals: Zacualpan de Amilpas

In our continuing series on early Mexican murals, we look at the monastic frescoes of Zacualpan in the state of Morelos.

Zacualpan de Amilpas

High on a rocky promontory on the southern slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl stands the attractive Augustinian monastery of La Concepción.   Although the modest mission has been extensively rebuilt over the years, the entry portería and open chapel that front the convento on the south side of the church date from the 16th century.
The Open Chapel
A geometrical, painted artesonado ceiling covers the chapel, bordered with floral panels and complex lettered friezes in the Augustinian fashion. The Augustinian insignia of a pierced heart appear in the end lunette.
Similar ceiling patterns and related friezes appear throughout the monastery using a variety of forms and colors.
The Cloister
Full length portraits of Augustinian saints, martyrs and other notables, some accented in red and blue and all inscribed with hand written biographies, embellish the piers along the walks of the elegant arcaded cloister.
Sala de Profundis
Two other large murals of special interest are placed opposite each other in the chapter room or Sala de Profundis.
   On the west wall is a dramatic although much retouched Crucifixion. Set against a welter of ominous clouds and fog shrouded hills, the cross, sun, moon and the hair of the usual attendant mourners are accented in rusty red—a common practice in early murals to emphasize the sacred character of the object portrayed for the native audience.
The second, even more dramatic mural, on the opposite wall, is a spectacular Thebaida scene, or Allegory of the Eremitic Lifea common theme at Augustinian monasteries, emphasizing the importance the Order placed in its origins in the desert hermitages of Egypt.  
   A graphic tour de force, in its composition and detail the mural is strikingly similar to the one at Actopan (Hidalgo) with hermits, saints and friars engaged in various practical and devotional activities among the hills and caves of the region. 
Actopan, Eremitic Life mural  (Niccolo Brooker)
As at Actopan, the mural includes the presence of wild animals and red painted demons standing out against the warm monochrome of the mural.
text © 2015 Richard D. Perry. images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
Please see our previous posts on the murals at Epazoyucan; Tepeapulco; Tula; Yecapixtla and Zempoala.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Treasures of Mexico City: Santa Isabel Tola

We continue our series* on some of the more interesting churches of Mexico City with a look at the little church of Santa Isabel Tola.
Located on the other side of the Tepeyac Hill from the grand Villa Guadalupe, the 16th century church of Santa Isabel Tola lies in the heart of the eponymous barrio, reputedly named by the Aztecs after the ancient city of Tula.

The small church of Santa Isabel, a Franciscan ermita, was built in the 1570s in Plateresque style. This modest gem retains its fine interior with an ornately carved beamed ceiling and a sanctuary arch prominently embossed with rosettes and the tasseled Franciscan cord. 
The sanctuary—the earliest part of the building—is higher than the nave, raised above the wooden nave ceiling, suggesting its original use as an open chapel. 
The baroque tower is a later addition, and the glassed in pavilion covering the front is new, although one early nave window nestles behind the tower, framed in Isabelline style with carved rosettes.
The baroque main altarpiece boasts gilded spiral columns and features a 17th c. painting of the patron saint, Elizabeth of Portugal, a 13th century royal Franciscan tertiary.  
   This painting, along with all the others in the retablo, was stolen a few years ago; it was later recovered, following which the altarpiece was restored to its present beautiful condition.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  color images courtesy of Diana Roberts

See our other posts in the series: San Bernardo; Tepepan; San Felipe Neri El Nuevo;

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Mexican Murals. Ozumba: the portería murals

Ozumba, the portería
The venerable Franciscan convento at Ozumba, a small town south east of Mexico City in the shadow of the volcano Popocatépetl, dates from the middle years of the 16th century.  
Beyond its arcaded front (portería) lies a broad vestibule, or anteporteria, which is decorated with polychrome murals on all sides from floor to ceiling. 
Although these murals have been neglected, altered and repainted over time, and probably date from different periods, they remain an extraordinary and unique pictorial document of formative historical events in what has been called the Spiritual Conquest of Mexico, and the leading figures who participated.
The sequence consists of four main panels and two smaller ones that document the key episodes, in which the Franciscan Order played a leading role.
1.  Three Friars    
The first narrow fresco in the cycle inside the entry portrays the three original Flemish Franciscans to arrive in Mexico after the Conquest: Pedro de Gante, Fr. Juan de Tecto and Fr. Juan de Aora, precursors to the main Franciscan missionary cohort.
2. The Twelve with Cortés
Awaiting the Apostolic Twelve—the main Franciscan contingent to arrive in 1524—on the causeway leading into the city was the conquistador himself, Hernán Cortés, at the head of a retinue of high ranking Spaniards and native nobles. 
   To the astonishment of the assembled Indian lords, all the Spaniards, including the great Cortés himself, promptly fell to their knees before the humble friars, headed by Fray Martín de Valencia, their leader and future Guardian of nearby Tlalmanalco, thus emphasizing the importance of the Franciscans in the evangelization of Mexico. 
The Spaniards shown are leading conquistadors, including Cortés, Pedro de Alvarado and Raphael de Trejo, together with the Mercedarian friar Bartolome de Olmedo who accompanied Cortés to Mexico during the military conquest.
The native lords, although shown modestly dressed, hold flowers and may include portraits of leading Aztec nobles like Cuauhtémoc or Ixtilxochitl.

3.  The Arrival of the Twelve
On June 24, 1524, the main contingent of twelve ragged Franciscan friars finally reached Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the new capital of colonial New Spain, then rising from the ruins of the Aztec island city.  Exhausted, they had walked barefoot from Veracruz on the Gulf coast 250 miles to the east.  
The stupendous task assigned to these Apostolic Twelve, who had been sent at the specific request of Cortés, was no less than the evangelization and conversion to Catholicism of the vast native population of New Spain. 
The Twelve Franciscans shown include presumed portraits of all the friars as well as two lay brothers Juan de Palos and Andrés de Córdoba.
4.  St Francis and the Immaculate Conception
Above the doorway into the convento is a horizontal mural, probably a later, 17th century addition. This allegorical fresco shows St. Francis supporting an image of La Purísima, additionally burdened by the globes symbolizing the Three Franciscan Orders. 
He is flanked by Franciscan writers John Duns Scotus and Sor María de Agreda, supporters of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. 

5.  Los Niños Mártires
One of the best known episodes of the Spiritual Conquest is that of the Niños Martires. The story goes that shortly after the conquest, in 1527, Axotecatl, one of the Four Lords of Tlaxcala—allies of Cortés in the defeat of the Aztecs—sent his three sons to be educated in the Franciscan monastery of Tlaxcala.
On their return, the young men set about smashing idols and reproaching their father for his polygamy and excessive drinking. The enraged lord beat his son Cristóbal and burned him to death. The other two boys, Antonio and Juan, fled but continued their preaching and iconoclastic ways, until they too soon suffered a martyr's fate.   

The boy martyrs are identified by inscriptions and are shown in a rural landscape being killed by the villagers by different methods in graphic detail.  
Churches in the background represent the towns of Tecali and Tlaxcala itself.  Note the broken idol on the lower right.
6. The Apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe 
Another mural, a later addition, depicts details of the Apparitions of Guadalupe to Juan Diego on the Tepeyac hill.  On the left, the main illustration shows Juan Diego’s cloak, or tilma, imprinted with an image of the Virgin. Mexican Archbishop Zumárraga stoops to inspect the miracle and roses fall from the tilma (at one time probably a painted cloth, now effaced.) 
The remaining three Apparitions are shown in miniature on the right of the main panel.
7.  Flagellation of Cortés  
In the final, narrow panel, to the right inside the entry, Cortés is shown again, this time kneeling and being beaten by a friar in front of a group of native lords. A cautionary scene emphasizing Franciscan authority.
text © 2015  Richard D. Perry 
color images by the author, Niccolò Brooker and Alejandro Linares García 

Please see our previous posts on the murals at EpazoyucanTepeapulcoTulaYecapixtla and Zempoala.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Mexican Murals: Tlalmanalco

Place of Flattened Ground 
In the winter of 1534, a line of cowled friars bore the body of their beloved Fray Martin de Valencia to its final resting place beneath the earthen floor of the primitive mission church at San Luis Obispo Tlalmanalco, located at the foot of the snow-capped volcano of Ixtaccihuatl
   So ended Father Martin's ten eventful years as the moving force behind the Spiritual Conquest of Mexico. In 1524, as leader of the Franciscan Twelve, he undertook the awesome task of baptizing and converting the native masses to Christianity. After his death, as pilgrims flocked to the mission, popular demand mounted to erect a memorial to this venerated Franciscan pioneer. The famous, sculpted open chapel at Tlalmanalco is that memorial.  
   But our concern here is the murals in the convento, which also memorialize Fray Martin.

The Convento 
A wide pilgrim's portico of seven bays stands in front of the convento. It is entirely plain, conspicuously lacking the rich carving of the open chapel. 
However, vestiges of 16th century frescoes have been uncovered on the inner walls of the entry portería. The most interesting of these is the Arrival of the Twelve Franciscans, on the east wall, a partial fresco reminiscent of the more complete murals at nearby Ozumba. 
   Friars file forwards escorted by rows of Indians, Spaniards and musicians. The mural, of which only the heads of the figures remain, is bordered by charming friezes of fruit, flowers and symbolic creatures such as hares, cranes and dolphins.
In the nearby cloister ghostly traces of ancient frescoes adhere to the scarred walls of the walks. Supporting the corbels beneath the arches are an ox, an elephant and a bowed atlantean figure. 
Pigeons, rabbits, even an anteater, peer out at the visitor from friezes along the walls and around the door frames. 

The most complete and unique murals survive above adjacent doorways in the northwest corner of the cloister. The first pays tribute to Fray Martín de Valencia. 
Here the revered prelate and founder emerges with a beatific expression from a decorous tangle of vines sprouting "roses without thorns,” a reference to his exemplary life.
The almost identical* adjacent mural shows St. Clare.
Note, some of the foliage in this mural has been identified as from a native psychotropic plant.

The Church Murals
During restoration and removal of altarpieces in the church, several earlier murals have been uncovered. 
   In fact the entire interior of the church seems to have been at one time covered with murals, some fragmentary and many overpainted  with multiple colors—red, orange, green, ocher and mauve—atop the original monochrome.  
   Although most are currently in poor condition, which makes their interpretation difficult, they appear to illustrate a variety of themes with biblical scenes and portraits of saints—possibly including that of Martín de Valencia.
   Full documentation and restoration of these murals is planned, at which time their date, content and significance will be made clearer. An exciting prospect.
text and images © 2015 by Richard D. Perry.   Exceptions noted

Please see our previous posts on the murals at EpazoyucanTepeapulcoTulaYecapixtla and Zempoala.