Friday, September 30, 2016

Zacatecas: The Guadalupe Relief

In this first of a series on various carved reliefs of special interest, we look at the facade of the Apostolic College of Guadalupe, near Zacatecas.
The Apostolic College of Guadalupe, was founded by Franciscan Propaganda Fide missionaries in the 18th century.  The church front, skilfully cut from honey colored limestone, boasts a busily sculpted facade in the ornate, late baroque Zacatecas manner, featuring two grand reliefs.
Arrayed above the church entry, the main relief is among the most intriguing in the region.  Carved in popular style by indigenous master artisans, the tableau is sculpted in the round and depicts a cast of religious figures supporting a doctrine dear to the Apostolic Franciscans—the Immaculate Conception of Mary.
At center is the patron, the Virgin of Guadalupe, standing above the crescent moon and framed by rays and scrolled clouds. 
   One intriguing detail is the winged bust of St. Francis above the keystone supporting the Virgin.  As the scholar Jaime Lara has recently noted,* this is the only sculpted example known of the winged saint in Mexico—a theme more popular in the Andean region.
The Virgin is flanked on the left by St. Luke, jewel studded palette in hand, painting her portrait. And below, a youthful St. John the Evangelist, author of the Apocalypse * accompanied by his eagle, holds a pen (missing) and his open gospel.
On the right, the "subtle doctor" Duns Scotus, wearing a biretta, stands arms raised beside the mystic Sor Maria de Agreda holding her pen and book—both noted supporters of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The other large relief, above the choir window, although somewhat rearranged, depicts God the Father and the Holy Spirit accompanied by winged seraphs and musical angels playing harp and horn in a celestial sea of angel heads and puffy clouds.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  new images © Niccolò Brooker.
* The image of the Virgin Immaculate was traditionally based on the Woman of the Apocalypse as envisioned by St. John in his Book of Revelation.
Jaime Lara,  Birdman of Assisi  ASU-ACMRS  2016 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Folk Baroque: San Jerónimo Aljojuca

El Pico de Orizaba (Beverley Spears, 2016)
The variety and persistence of the Pueblan popular baroque tradition seems unending. Situated on the scenic western slopes of the snow clad Pico de Orizaba, Mexico's highest volcanic peak, the lakeside town of Aljojuca (Aljojuca = Sky Blue Waters), boasts one of the most sightly "folk baroque" churches in the Pueblan highlands. 
© Felipe Falcón
The Facade
The elegant "retablo" facade rises through two stages to a scalloped gable. It was recently repainted a brilliant white, with the architectural elements boldly outlined in scarlet and ocher trim. Crisply carved estípite pilasters faced in stucco frame the ornate sculpture niches on either side. 
©Felipe Falcón
The niches retain their statuary: carved figures of the archangels, or Seven Princes, which are accented in ocher shades as with other sculptural reliefs across the facade.
   Although we may describe this church front as "folk" baroque, because of the popular flavor of its statuary and ornamental reliefs, its overall design is in fact harmoniously proportioned and quite sophisticated in its detailing—the stylistic equal of many classic urban church fronts configured in the late 18th century barroco estípite style. 
Inside the church, the nave is lined with wooden retablos, all framed in a late baroque style similar to the church facade. Painted brilliant white with blue and gold accents, most display a variety of late colonial devotional paintings in popular style.
                                                                       La Divina Pastora

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. images by Felipe Falcón and Tacho

Another local monument of interest in view of the volcano, also fashioned in ornate, late baroque style, is the grand, now abandoned and reputedly haunted chapel of the Hacienda de Caxcantla.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Mexican Murals. Tlaltizapan: lions, boars, dogs, birds and dolphins, oh my!

Chalk Hill
San Miguel Tlaltizapan, a battlemented Dominican church and convento, is located in the tropical sugar country of southern Morelos near Temimilcingo. 
While much of the original decoration has been erased or whitewashed in the cloister and lower sections of the convento, several mural passages survive in the friezes and ceilings of the upper rooms, where faded geometrical artesonado designs in reds and blues decorate the walls and ceilings interposed with Dominican insignia.    
    Along the walls inventive, swagged and grotesque style friezes, predominantly colored in red oxide, showcase a variety of animals, real and imagined. Birds, dolphins, lions, deer, even wild boar make an appearance, intermingled with baskets and swaths of luxuriant vegetation.
Giant swags with lion’s head 
lunette with Dominican cross and dogs
Swag with boar’s head
Floral frieze with birds, dolphins and rattlesnakes

The crowned eagle escutcheon of St. Michael
text © 2016  and mural images © 1987 Richard D. Perry. All rights reserved.

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mexican Murals: The Battle mural at Atotonilco

El Santuario de Atotonilco
This rambling pilgrimage church and monastery, located north of San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, was founded in 1740 as the site of a religious sanctuary for the Oratorian Fathers, under the activist priest Fray Felipe Néri de Alfaro (Padre Alfaro), a leading if somewhat eccentric figure in the religious life of San Miguel.
   The complex was under construction from the 1740s until the end of the century, although “assembled” might be a better term, because of the constant addition of chapels and conventual rooms. However, the main church or Sanctuary, which is dedicated to Jesus the Nazarene, was built and decorated in a sustained burst of creative energy  between 1746 and 1748.
Beyond the carved and painted entry doors lies the densely painted interior, aptly described as a “polychrome grotto” by the Mexican art critic Francisco de la Maza. Many of these murals, hidden beneath coats of whitewash, were uncovered in the late 1900s and have the subject of much study and more recent restoration.
   Using the conventions of late baroque painting as a point of departure, the floor-to-ceiling murals are rendered in a colorful, popular but idiosyncratic style.  The dramatic narrative scenes and painted reliefs are integrated with multiple texts composed by the founder Padre Alfaro and exert considerable psychological power. 
   In addition, their special interest for us is that they were executed in large part by Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, probably the best known indigenous muralist of the late colonial period. 
The Rosary Chapel
In this post we focus on what is in our view the most distinctive and indeed unique* mural at Atotonilco, which unfolds across the vault of the diminutive Rosary Chapel, at the eastern end of the nave. 
This heroic four part fresco depicts in two sections the naval battle of Lepanto. This famous 1572 victory, in which a coalition of Christian naval forces routed the Turkish fleet off the coast of Sicily, proved a decisive blow against the advance of Islam in the Mediterranean. 
Curiously, the ships portrayed are galleons rather than galleys with oars that constituted the greater part of the battle fleets on both sides.
The opposing quadrants of the mural refer to the Virgin of the Rosary, to whom the chapel is dedicated. The Christian victory was attributed to her timely intervention, invoked through praying the Rosary.
   October 7th was declared the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary by Pope Pius V on the anniversary of the battle, which explains the exterior and interior views of St. Peter's basilica in Rome.
*To our knowledge, the only other Mexican mural depiction of this battle is part of a portrait of Pope Pius V on one of the pendentives in the church of Santo Domingo in Sombrerete,  Zacatecas:
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
mural views by Niccolò Brooker
see our other posts on Mexican Murals:  CuautinchánXometlaCulhuacánZacualpan
OzumbaTlalmanalcoIxmilquilpanMama;  IzucarTree muralsTepeapulcoTulaEpazoyucanZempoalaYecapixtla;

Friday, September 9, 2016

Arts of Oaxaca: The slave retablo of San Nicolás Ayotla

Continuing our posts on Oaxaca, today we look at a unique and historic work of art in the extreme north of the state near Teotitlan del Camino close to the Puebla border.
   Some time in the 1740s, the Jesuits established the sugar hacienda of San Nicolás Ayotla in this tropical region, using slave labor. 
   Shortly afterwards they built a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary and employed one Victorino Antonio Sánchez, a carpenter and a black slave, to construct the main altarpiece for the chapel, which mostly served the mulatto community of the hacienda.
   According to the agreement, Sánchez was paid between 300 and 500 pesos for his work, of which 100 pesos was returned to the Jesuits to buy the freedom of his son.
The Altarpiece
The compartmented retablo is fashioned in popular 18th century style and owes many details to the Oaxacan baroque, with decorative sculpture niches, projecting cornices with pendants and dense filigree ornament. 
   Instead of the gilded spiral columns more common in the region, Sánchez opted for painted ornamental atlantes and caryatids as framing supports.*
   However, it is the iconography of the altarpiece that is of special significance. The principal image, in the center niche, is a kneeling, penitential statue of Nicholas of Tolentino, the patron saint of the hacienda and a commonly portrayed saint in Oaxaca. (the flanking figures of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are later additions.)
But it is the four statues in the upper level that are of unusual interest, portraying saints of special meaning to the black community.
   The two principal figures flanking the empty center niche, both dressed in Franciscan habits and with arms crossed on their breasts,  represent San Martín de Porres and San Benito de Palermo, aka Benedict the Moor, both well known saints of African origin and the patrons of black cofradías.
   Although the identity of the smaller, outer figures is less certain, one is believed to portray San Pedro Claver (Peter Claver), a Jesuit who evangelized and ministered to various African enclaves in the New World. Alternatively they might represent the more traditional Ethiopian saints, Ephigenia and Elesban.
   Sadly for Sánchez, the Jesuits were summarily expelled from Mexico in 1767 and the promise of freedom for his son was delayed until after his death. But the altarpiece is his memorial, the only major work of art known to have been created by a black slave in Mexico—a forbidden practice in colonial times.
* Other examples of this style of framing in the Mixteca Alta are found in the altarpiece of the archangels at Yanhuitlan and the main altarpiece of San Mateo Yucucui, near Yanhuitlan. 
There are variants in retablos at Capulalpan and San Miguel del Valle elsewhere in Oaxaca (below).

text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
based on information and images from researcher José Arturo Motta and Luis Huidobro, the restorer of this altarpiece and others in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca.

Planning a trip to Oaxaca? Take our guidebook along.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Arts of Oaxaca: Teposcolula and its origins

Teposcolula, the restored front (2014)
 The great Dominican priory of St. Peter and St. Paul Teposcolula, in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, is among the finest early colonial buildings in Mexico—a repository of outstanding colonial art and architecture.
image © Barry Kiracofe
This picture, taken from the west in the 1990s before major reconstruction work, shows the priory front with its great open chapel, then roofless, and in the foreground, the Casa de La Cacica, a 16th century walled compound and palace, or tecpan, built to house the local native nobility and serve as an administrative center, also now fully restored. 
Much has been written about the monastery, but our focus in this post is on a huge, complex painting in the church, dated 1746, that portrays the ceremonial founding of the priory, with the Virgin presenting the Rosary to Teposcolula as its centerpiece.   
   The background landscape shows colonial priory (mid left) as it appeared at that time—clearly in the aftermath of an earthquake that had skewed one of the church towers.
details © Barry Kiracofe
However, a recently uncovered wall painting in the Casa de La Cacica may depict the priory church as it appeared even earlier, perhaps in the late 16th or early 17th century and possibly even before the present church was rebuilt. Although fanciful in its detail, it shows a rose window like that at Coixtlahuaca.
image ©Carlos Mautner. All rights reserved
Another interesting detail of the Rosary canvas is the group of musical angels playing period string instruments flanking God the Father at the top of the painting.
Readers who wish to learn more about Teposcolula can consult our guide book and, in greater detail, the works of the late Robert Mullen:
  • Dominican Architecture in 16th Century Oaxaca (1975) 
  • The Architecture and Sculpture of Oaxaca 1530s—1980s (1995)
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images by the author, Barry Kiracofe and Carlos Mautner. 

Planning a trip to Oaxaca? Take our guidebook along.