Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Miguel de Mendoza: a colonial artist in Oaxaca. 1

In previous pages we have looked at colonial painters of distinction who worked in Oaxaca, notably José de Páez and native Marcial Santaella.
   In this new series of posts we review selected works of Don Miguel de Mendoza, a contemporary of Páez and Santaella and a native Oaxacan artist, whose paintings can be seen in churches across the Mixteca Alta region of the state and beyond. 
Miguel de Mendoza was born in Puebla in the later 1600s, into a leading family of indigenous nobility from the chocho speaking area around Coixtlahuaca, located in the Mixteca Alta (he often signed his work with the honorific Don to indicate his elite ancestry).  
   Stylistically, his early work was much influenced by that of the eminent Mexican painter Cristóbal de Villalpando, who completed many commissions in Puebla; Mendoza may have been apprenticed to, or worked in the Pueblan studio of the master, and may even have been distantly related to the master.
   In his active period, during the early decades of the 18th century, Mendoza seems to have worked almost exclusively in his ancestral area, most notably in the town of San Cristóbal Suchixtlahuaca, where he was long domiciled and held positions of community leadership.
   Although considered a follower of Villalpando, his work evolved over time, moving closer to the full blown baroque style of his fellow Oaxacan, the prolific Miguel Cabrera. Nevertheless a consistent feature in his work is the Mannerist inflected style of the Andalusian baroque as exemplified in Oaxaca by the earlier master Andrés de Concha and later amplified into a distinctive regional style. 
Our first page on Mendoza considers the treasury of recently documented paintings in his adopted town of Suchixtlahuaca
The modest parish church, was historically subject to the grand Dominican priory of San Juan Coixtlahuaca nearby, as evidence the Dominican fleur-de-lis medallion on the facade.
Mendoza's paintings inside the church are among his earliest documented, many of them signed and dated 1709. 
  The most distinctive of these at Suchixtlahuaca adorn the dramatic side retablo of the Last Judgment

In the main panel, Christ sits in judgment atop a rainbow, flanked in this case by the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist.  Below, angels blow horns to either side of St, Michael with his fiery sword.
   On the bottom tier naked figures of the fearful dead rise from their tombs; on the left, those who are saved are escorted to Heaven by angels, while on the right, condemned sinners are herded by demons towards the mouth of Hell. 
the martyrdom of St Stephen and St Lawrence
In addition to the central subject—one of Mendoza's largest paintings—the other panels depict a violent series of harrowing martyrdoms that add to the apocalyptic tone of this altarpiece.
At the top of the altarpiece is a portrait of the Virgin of Carmen as protectress with Sts. Francis and John the Evangelist?. This serene composition seems out of keeping with other panels in the retablo, and may possibly be taken from another retablo.

The final item of interest here is the base panel illustrating a Mass for the Dead, an unusual feature in altarpieces and possibly intended as a memorial.
A second side retablo of note is that of the Virgin of the Rosary, handsomely framed with spiral columns and gilded filigree in the classic manner of the Oaxacan baroque.
St Dominic receiving the Rosary;   Sts Dominic and Francis
The six paintings, mostly signed, are all the work of Mendoza, and illustrate scenes from the life of St. Dominic, richly hued in green, blue and red/orange tones.

The neoclassical side retablo of La Soledad, also holds Mendoza paintings, also possibly from another, earlier altarpiece. 
Only the upper portrait of St. Bartholomew is dated (1710) and inscribed as by Mendoza, and it seems likely that other two, unrelated thematically—a Flagellation and a St. Sebastian set in a colorful landscape—are also his.

The San Sebastian is of special interest because of the portraits of the presumed native sponsors of the painting on the lower right.
Another retablo in Oaxacan baroque style is dedicated to St. Anthony of Padua. The large, luminous center portrait of the saint is attributed to Mendoza, although unsigned. We may also assume that the smaller lateral panels showing six scenes from the life of St. Anthony are by the artist.
Finally, a handful of other individual paintings attributed to Mendoza survive elsewhere at Suchixtlahuaca, notably a large panel in a side chapel portraying the Virgin of the Rosary interceding for souls in Purgatory (Animas). 
   It is possible that this panel formerly capped the Rosario altarpiece, where the Carmen painting now resides.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
based on, with images adapted from, the 2013 thesis, DON MIGUEL DE MENDOZA. PINTOR INDIO CACIQUE, CATALOGO E ITINERARIO ARTÍSTICO  by Perla Miriam Jimenez Santos
Last Judgment fotos:  Eumelia Hernandez.  Rosario fotos:  Davy Caballero & Perla Jimenez
See some of our earlier posts featuring important Mexican altarpieces:
Planning a trip to Oaxaca?  Take our guidebook along

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