Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tecali 4: two crosses

Finally, in addition to the stone fonts we saw at Santiago Tecali, two contrasting carved stone crosses are found in the precincts.
The Atrium Cross
Now standing before the parish church door, this is apparently a largely reconstructed version of the original monastery cross.
Mounted on a plinth carved with a skull and bones and incised with a long, dated inscription, the elongated cross has the squared shaft and long, slender arms of the Pueblan style. 
   The front of the cross is liberally sculpted with conventional Passion symbols in high, flat relief. Christ’s tunic on the neck is an unusual placement. Cannonball finials and a large, ornamental INRI plaque add to its imposing presence.
The Cloister Cross
The second, older cross, now standing in the center of the ruined cloister, is carved from dark basalt. Like the atrium cross, it is tall and slender although octagonal in section. Its profile is enhanced and streamlined by incised grooves, raised moldings and coffering along the facets. 
   No Passion symbols or other narrative reliefs disturb this linear symmetry apart from abbreviated sunflower finials on the arms and another ornamental INRI scroll atop the cross.  The base is inscribed with the date 1722.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  color images courtesy of Felipe Falcón.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tecali 3: the carved fonts

In addition to the altarpieces saved from the Basilica and installed in the parish church at Tecali, two monolithic stone fonts have also survived from an earlier period and are located in the nave.
   Both date from the 16th century and are carved with ringed medallions that enclose Greek and Latin Christograms as well as the Franciscan emblem of the Stigmata or Five Wounds of Christ. 
The smaller and more archaic of the two basins is rimmed by acanthus foliage and the Franciscan knotted cord, and shows kneeling figures, or hovering angels, pointing to the medallions.
Set atop a coffered pedestal, the larger font also rises from a petalled margarita style base. Here, the monograms stand alone and are more ornamental in character. 
The Latin inscription carved around the rim reads: 
AQUA BENEDICTA SIT NOBIS SALUS ET VITA ET PERDUCAT  NOS IN VITAM  ETERNAM    (May this holy water give us health and life and bring us to eternal life)
text and photography ©2016 Richard D. Perry
Please review our earlier posts on regional carved baptismal fonts; Oaxaca; Yucatán; Tlaxcala; Eastern Michoacán; Western Michoacán

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tecali 2: the murals

As noted before in this series, the arcaded basilica of Santiago Tecali is now roofless, its walls largely stripped of whatever early murals there might have been.  However, a few passages remain to indicate their former quality.
The Apse
The partially covered apse retains vestiges of colored ornament. Sections of the intricate, Moorish influenced, green and white artesonado vault still cling.
On the rear wall, elements survive of a vast, polychrome Crucifixion scene that once underlay the missing main altarpiece, whose eroded, wooden supports are still in evidence.
Sun, moon and stars
Openings and niches along the nave also shelter a few traces of the complex friezes and insignia that have survived the elements.
On either side of urns bursting with fruits, sheaves and birds, paired, winged figures play horns hung with banners emblazoned with scorpions—a pattern almost identical to friezes at Tepeapulco.
The West Front
Much of the basilican front is in place, notably the triumphal entry porch, framed in elegant purista style. 
   Fragments of mural decoration also cling to the somewhat protected spandrels above the doorway, featuring angels holding ribbons and foliage, skillfully painted in red, blue and orange hues.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and Niccolò Brooker

see some of our other posts on Mexican Murals:  CuautinchánXometlaCulhuacánZacualpanOzumbaTlalmanalcoIxmilquilpanMama;  IzucarTree muralsTepeapulcoTulaEpazoyucanZempoalaYecapixtla;

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tecali 1: the altarpieces

This is the first of four posts on the art and artifacts of the early Franciscan mission complex at Tecali, Puebla.
Tecali, the roofless basilica (Niccolo Brooker)
The great arcaded basilica of Santiago Tecali, reputedly designed by the prominent Renaissance architect Claudio de Arciniega and completed in 1569, was one of the outstanding early architectural monuments in Puebla and colonial Mexico. 
   Now abandoned and roofless, the church has been stripped of all its colonial furnishing save for some fragmentary murals and carved stone crosses.
Tecali, the parish church (Felipe Falcón)
Tecali: The Altarpieces  
However, some of the superb early colonial art works were rescued from the basilica before it was abandoned, and are now installed in the adjacent parish church. 
Tecali, the main altarpiece (Niccolo Brooker)
The Main Altarpiece
The most precious of these relics is the main altarpiece (retablo mayor), dating from about 1580 and one of the earliest to survive in Mexico. 
   The framing of the retablo is notable for its understated Ionic pilasters and Renaissance motifs of cherubs, swags, urns and grapevinesAt its center is the beautifully carved and richly clad figure of Santiago, the patron saint of the monastery, shown here as a pilgrim rather than as the usual militant horseman. 
   Other statues include those of St. Francis and St. Clare on the left, and St. Dominic and St. Catherine on the right.
Tecali, the main altarpiece, The Annunciation;    The Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth. 
Four exceptional panels by an unknown master occupy the outer compartments. Derived from late Renaissance engravings, they depict scenes from the life of the Virgin; the figures, formally posed in flowing draperies, are luminously painted in blues, crimsons and ochers with a keen eye for detail. The glowing Annunciation is especially well observed. 
   Reclining figures of Faith and Charity flank the Baptism of Christ panel in the upper tier.
Tecali, the main altarpiece, St. Ambrose (Niccolo Brooker)
Along the base panels, the Four Doctors of the Latin Church, preoccupied with their studies, recline in idealized Italianate landscapes. 
Tecali, the main altarpiece, St. Jerome
Tecali, the altarpiece of St. Francis
A smaller side retablo of the Miracles of St. Francis, also originally from the basilica, is contemporary with the main altarpiece and similarly framed. 
   The extraordinary center panel depicts the saint receiving the Stigmata, ringed by anecdotal scenes from his life rendered in picturesque detail, including the Apotheosis (fiery chariot) scene in the pediment. 
Tecali, the altarpiece of St. Francis (detail)
altarpiece of the Archangels (Javier del Rio)
A third retablo of interest is the ornate, gilded altarpiece of the Archangels in the transept, dating from the late 1700s. 
   Confidently fashioned in sumptuous late baroque style, it employs tiers of encrusted estípite pilasters to frame elaborately canopied niches containing the richly robed figures of the seven archangelsLayered entablatures, along with sinuous, zigzag moldings and floral arabesques add to the complex textures of the retablo.
text and color images © 2016 Richard D. Perry, except where indicated 

See some of our earlier posts featuring important Mexican altarpieces:

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Mass of St Gregory

Yecapixtla, mural of St Gregory 
St. Gregory, later Pope Gregory, one of the four Latin Fathers and a Doctor of the Church appears frequently in Mexican colonial art, usually in the form of reliefs and statuary in altarpieces.  He appears less often in mural art.
Israhel van Meckenem the younger, the Mass of Saint Gregory. date
The Mass of St. Gregory
In one version of this story, St. Gregory, then Pope, was celebrating mass when a member of the congregation expressed doubt that the communion wafer was the body of Christ, saying she had baked it earlier that day. Gregory prayed for a sign and saw a vision of Christ as the Man of Sorrows rising from the altar accompanied by the Arma Cristi, or symbols of the Passion.
   This apocryphal event gained new life in late medieval times and was further revived during the Counter Reformation to reinforce Catholic orthodoxy and the doctrine of transubstantiation. The theme was popularized through a series of illustrations by prominent artists including Albrecht Durer.
The 'Mass of St. Gregory, feathers on wood panel, México, 1539. 
Following the conquest of Mexico, these prints, especially those by the Dutch engraver Israhel van Meckenem circulated in the Americas and became the basis for numerous images, the most famous of which is the 1539 feather work image * created by Diego Huanitzin, the nephew of the ill-fated Moctezuma ll, for presentation to the Pope.
San Gabriel Cholula, Puebla.  Mass of St Gregory mural
The theme also appears in a handful of early monastic murals, notably at San Gabriel Cholula and San Francisco Tepeapulco, with smaller scale variations at Cuernavaca and elsewhere.
Tepeapulco, Hidalgo.   Mass of St Gregory mural
* now thought to be the work of a group of elite artisans headed by Huanitzin in Pedro de Gante's celebrated school of San José de los Naturales.

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Niccolò Brooker.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Acolman: The Arma Christi relief

Acolman, the Augustinian rear cloister
San Agustín Acolman is the grandest 16th century monastery in the Valley of Mexico, renowned for its superb architecture, sculpture and murals. The variety of carved crosses at Acolman comprises a virtual compendium of the imagery and styles to be found in the region.   
   Twelve intriguing reliefs are emblazoned above the lower arcades in the larger rear cloister at Acolman. Although they reveal a wide variation in the quality and styles of the carving, all are distinguished by their boldness of execution. They illustrate a number of themes, together with Augustinian insignia, but several show various representations of the cross.
Here we focus on one relief in particular, the “shield” cross.

The Shield Cross
Framed by a curved escutcheon and expertly modeled in the round, this is the most complex, the most intricately carved and the most interesting of the cloister medallions.
   The relief portrays a cross emerging from a tomb, surrounded by a panoply of the Arma Christi, or objects associated with the Passion, suggesting a variant of the Mass of St Gregory. 
 While this is a fairly common depiction, the various objects are artfully arrayed around the cross in a compact but compelling design—the crown of thorns draped around the neck, the spear and hyssop at an angle against the cross, with the other implements harmoniously fitted into the interstices. One unusual detail is Christ’s rumpled tunic casually draped over the tomb opening. 
   Although no Wounds are shown, two inclined heads protrude below the arms. On the right, the bearded and turbaned head probably portrays Caiphas, the high priest and prosecutor of Christ.
   Opposite, an ambiguous figure wearing net like headgear spits or utters an imprecation towards the cross, possibly representing a Roman soldier or the “spitting” Jew of biblical lore.

text ©2016 Richard D. Perry
please review our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupoTemimilcingo

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Mexican Crosses: Two at Temimilcingo

In our previous post we described the carved cross at Alfajayucan; here we look at the sculpted atrium cross at Temimilcingo, in the state of Morelos.
Asunción Temimilcingo 
"On the Small Round Stone Column"
"On the Small, Round Stone Column" is a reference, preserved in the Aztec place name, to an ancient shrine or temple here, now long gone. But the tradition of sanctity lives on in the mission, perhaps erected on the original temple site.
   Like nearby Tlaquiltenango, this early Franciscan mission in the tierra caliente of Morelos was taken over by the Dominicans in the mid 1500s.
The unprepossessing rectangular church front, with its solitary tower, has as its only ornament a Calvary cross relief featuring a large "windblown" crown of thorns with protruding spikes over the axis.
But the main interest here is the imposing atrium cross, still mounted in the churchyard. Possibly a remnant from the Franciscan tenure of Temimilcingo, this rustic carved cross is our favorite among the few that survive in this region.
   Raised on a high base inset with an arched cavity extending deep into the base at the front—still a receptacle for devotional offerings—the cross is set on a box pedestal carved with crossed bones. 
The cross itself is carved with a full assortment of Passion related reliefs, packed tightly between raised borders. 
   As with the facade cross, a worn, spiny crown of thorns seems to rotate at the crossing. A trio of angled spikes with round, drilled bases appears on the arms and lower shaft—minimal representations of Christ's wounds.
upper shaft;                                lower shaft
Other objects crowded on the shaft include three tumbling dice beside an elongated column topped with a rooster. At the foot, a corn plant springs from an oval ring. An indistinct INRI plaque transfixes the head of the cross.
   There are also four profile heads: two small heads are outlined in the outer corners of each arm, while the head of Judas appears on the upper shaft, dangling a rope and purse, flanked by rows of silver coins. A fourth head at the foot of the cross vomits an angry speech scroll.

   It is tempting to regard this densely carved stone monument as the successor to a stele or inscribed pillar that may once have graced the ancient temple precinct here.
Other features of interest at Temimilcingo include the old stone fonts and folkloric processional santos in the baptistry, as well as the austere but neatly restored two story cloister.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Niccolò Brooker
please review our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Mexican Crosses. Alfajayucan: the atrium cross

In our previous post we looked at the architecture and murals of San Martín Alfajayucan, Hidalgo. Here we describe its magnificent atrium cross.  
   Now mounted on a pedestal in the center of the cloister patio, the Alfajayucan cross is chiseled from dark red volcanic tezontle and densely carved on all sides with the symbols of Christ's Passion in flat relief. 
Alfajayucan, atrium cross, side one
On both faces, for example, the intricately sculpted disk at the crossing represents a stylized crown of thorns. Other instruments of the Passion appear along either arm and down the shaft. 
   On one side, a knife, nails and rows of silver coins stand out along the arms while on the shaft, a large cockerel perches atop an elongated, fluted column above a chalice and host. A tiny bleeding wound is carved below.
Alfajayucan, atrium cross, side two
On the reverse face, along the right arm a metal tipped scourge dominates, with a lantern squeezed in at the end. A sideways tunic appears on the left side. Squared bunches of foliage terminate both arms. 
   A garlanded, crossed spear and reed are prominently displayed on the shaft below a trio of detailed, square dice. Below one arm are carved a ladder and corn plant. 
   An ornamental INRI plaque inscribed on both sides caps the cross. Altogether an outstanding example of a sculpted colonial cross in this region of finely carved colonial stone crosses.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
please review our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: TepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito; TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás AjuscoSan Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo

Monday, August 1, 2016

San Martín Alfajayucan. the monastery and its murals

Here is the first of two posts on this early Franciscan monastery in Hidalgo. The second will describe the unique atrium cross there.

Where the Waters Rise 
San Martín Alfajayucan is a spartan Franciscan monastery located in the chaparral dotted badlands of the western Mezquital, about 50 kms north of Tula, in the state of Hidalgo.
The lofty church front is a tapestry of neat ashlar stonework in mingled hues of ocher, rose-red and hyacinth.  Coffered diamante panels around the arches of the west door and the choir window are the only adornment, reminiscent of the Zempoala and Tula facades. 
                                                                   Charlotte Eckland
The church interior has been largely stripped of its colonial furnishings, although the exquisite baroque pulpit, dated 1772 and inset with portraits of the four Evangelists and surmounted by a finely finished statue of St. Michael, still remains.

portería before restoration — Charlotte Eckland
Breakin news...
The formerly blocked portería to the convento on the north side of the church has just been opened up, and its colonnade restored. Now, the grand open chapel behind the arcade is exposed and fully restored, revealing a spectacular new dimension to the monastery. 
   Murals of the Annunciation—Mary on one side and the Archangel Gabriel on the other—have been uncovered in the spandrels of the chapel arch. Fragments of other murals line the walls, awaiting further restoration. 

From the single open bay of the portería, a long, narrow passage leads the visitor into the clean cloister, cut from attractive, pink and lavender stonework like the facade. 
   As with the portería arcade, plain unfolded arches rest on ringed columns with coffered slab capitals and bases severity is somewhat softened by the  tones of the masonry. A carved supporting corbel is dated 1585.
The Murals
Although most of the multi-colored frescoes that once embellished the cloister walks have disappeared, a few fragments remain to brighten these austere precincts. 
A large, oval Maria monogram, flanked by full length robed figures of saints Peter and Paul, is emblazoned above the entry arch against a faded blue background. The doorway is framed by panels of detailed grotesque ornament with putti entwined in foliage.
Above the Isabelline arch of a doorway along the north walk appears the vestigial figure of St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, set in a wooded landscape with rocks, animals and other unidentifiable figures—the only narrative mural now in evidence at Alfajayucan.  Painted panels flanking the doorway include Plateresque candelabra also with the date 1576—a rare dated mural.
Another partial Annunciation scene unfolds on one of the arcades—a portrait of Mary.

Along the cloister walks, a sinuous upper frieze portrays angels, demonic masks and winged horses (pegasi) picked out in white against a sepia background. 
text ©1992 & 2016 Richard D. Perry
color images ©1990 by the author. 
additional photography: Benjamin Arredondo and Charlotte Eckland