Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Altarpieces of Yucatán: Calotmul

Following our previous post on a "lost mission" of Yucatán, we look now at one of the region's better known colonial survivals.
   Last year we ran a series of posts on outstanding colonial altarpieces of Yucatán, many of which have been restored in recent years.  Among the other magnificent 18th century retablos extant in the peninsula, the recently restored main altarpiece at Calotmul is a classic of its kind.
   As the shrine to Our Lady of Calotmul (La Purísima), in colonial times San Esteban Calotmul was an important pilgrimage stop on the way to Tizimín from Valladolid in northeastern Yucatán. 
   The venerated image of the Virgin, brought from Spain and dating from the 16th century, was credited as a protectress of mariners. She was displayed in the main altarpiece and housed in an elevated camarín behind it.  On special feast days the image descends from the altarpiece into the nave.
San Esteban Calotmul in 1984
Although there was a Franciscan mission here in the early 1600s,  the present church was only completed in the mid-1700s according to the facade inscription
   The monumental square facade, anchored by massive flanking towers bereft of belfries, is reminiscent of the earlier church of Los Reyes Tizimín, its heavily buttressed exterior enlivened with arched niches and decorative merlons above.
Calotmul, nave exterior, south side (1984)
Calotmul, nave interior (2007)
Inside the church, dramatically framed by a whitewashed, tunnel like nave vaulted with striking log ceilings that draw the eye eastward, the main altarpiece is a classic example of a late baroque retablo in the Yucatecan style.
Calotmul, main retablo (2007)
Seamlessly crowned by a rounded pediment, the retablo rises to the ceiling and is divided by densely carved and ornamented estípite pilasters that enclose ornate shell niches. 
   The broad center pavilion, or calle, of the altarpiece gently pushes forward, subtly focusing attention on the central cult image of La Purísima.
Calotmul, main retablo detail (2007)
In the classic regional pattern, intertwined passages of gilded floral and filigree ornament fill every space, standing out against the burgundy background.
Calotmul, main retablo sculpture niche (©Jürgen Putz)
text and legacy images © Richard D. Perry (except where noted)

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