Monday, February 23, 2015

Yecapixtla: The Convento and its Murals

For our final post on Yecapixtla we consider the extensive convento or friars' quarters of the priory.
The Convento 
As with many Mexican monasteries, the convento is located on the sunnier south side of the church.
   In contrast to the opulent sculptural detail of the church, the architecture of the convento is plain. Above the austere arcade of the monastery entrance, or portería, the outline of a bricked-up archway overhead may indicate the location of a former open chapel.    
Although the arched convento entry inside the porteria is also sober, some refinement is reflected in the framing colonettes and surmounting Gothic finials. 
A less subtle touch is evinced by the Calvary cross or tree cross relief above the doorway. “Pruned" stubs project along its arms and shaft and a startlingly realistic skull grins from the base.
The Murals 
One of the glories of Yecapixtla is its extensive gallery of 16th century murals inside the convento which ameliorate the severity of the architecture. 
   The sala de profundis * just inside the entrance is the jewel in the crown. Recently restored painted arcades along the side walls frame portraits of Augustinian martyrs, outlined in black and highlighted with earthy reds and ochers. 
The piece de resistance is the spectacular Resurrection scene on the end wall. Based on a medieval print or wood-cut, the risen Christ raises the cross in triumph above the overlapping haloes of a throng of saints, apostles and other notables. 

Like the portería, the single-story cloister is surprisingly plain for an Augustinian house, its stark, whitewashed arcades free of architectural ornament. 
By contrast, the cloister walks are ablaze with color. Although often fragmentary, heavily restored portraits of saints, martyrs and founders of the early church look out from the arcade piers, many with scrolled name plaques. 
© Ramón Moreno Rodríguez
We can pick out the youthful St. Francis, St Peter of Verona and the magisterial figure of Pope Gregory in his papal finery and triple tiara. 
Red, blue and beige coffered artesonado patterns cover the barrel vaults, and lively grotesque friezes studded with medallions line the corridors. 
Traces of a mural cycle depicting Christ's Passion cling to the corner bays. Ongoing restoration of the murals are leading to new discoveries.
   Beyond the cloister, Isabelline portals lead to other rooms, including the sacristy, the Sagrario Chapel and the colonial monastery school. 
* Traditionally a funerary chapel memorializing deceased members of the Order, so named from the opening words of the penitential Psalm 130, "de profundis clamavi ad te, Domine", in New World monasteries it also served as a chapter room and ante refectory.
The Resurrection mural before restoration (1990)

text © 2015 Richard D. Perry.  color images by Niccolò Brooker except where noted.
for details on other 16th century Mexican monasteries, consult our classic guide book

1 comment:

  1. The skull under the cross is meant to be read as Adam's skull. Calvery was said to be the hill in which adam and eve were buried. adam's sin is being redeemed by Jesus' death. this is the ame hill that Helen, mother of Constantine, excavated in 4th Century and found the cross, the "True Cross" on May 3rd.