Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Oaxaca. San Pablo Huitzo: survival of the "grotesque"

In our last post on the Dominican mission of San Pablo Huitzo we included an image of a frescoed Gothic niche in the convento.
© Richard D. Perry.   click to enlarge
Here we take a closer look at the details, especially the broad, painted, monochrome frame around the now partly effaced centerpiece (originally the backdrop to a piece of statuary).
   This is a classic example of how a traditional "grotesque" foliated border, taken from an Italian or Flemish book illustration of the period, has been enlarged and "Mexicanized" by 16th century indigenous artists, to include native birds, fruits, flowers and foliage in a dramatic, more stylized composition.
remnant frieze in Huitzo refectory
Traces of other painted grotesque friezes and ornament are found elsewhere in the Huitzo convento and in early churches and convents throughout Mexico.*
grotesque jamb relief (Atotonilco de Tula)
Similar, often even more fantastic and imaginative designs survive in painted as well as sculpted frames and friezes throughout the missions of 16th century Mexico, monuments to native ingenuity in the adaptation of European pictorial motifs.

text & images © 1992 & 2014 Richard D. Perry

*For more on the grotesque pictorial tradition in Mexico see Estrada de Gerlero, Elena Isabel: Apuntes sobre el orígen y la fortuna del grutesco en el arte novohispano de evangelización.   in: Muros, Sargas y Papeles...  UNAM 2011 

*Look for our forthcoming guide to Mexico's early colonial murals.

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