Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Atlixco: The Third Order Chapel of St. Francis. 2. The Altarpiece

In our previous post we described the eclectic architectural detailing of this church. Here we look at the superb main altarpiece and its sculptures.
The Main Altarpiece
The richness of the chapel front is only exceeded by the more sophisticated, screen-like altarpiece inside. This gilded "Retablo de Los Reyes" dates from the mid 1700s and is framed by slender spiral columns banded with carved floral decoration and headed by sharply projecting slab capitals. 
   In keeping with the dedication of the church to the Franciscan Third Order, three tiers of statuary, housed in variously shaped niches, showcase a host of mostly Franciscan saints, prominent and obscure, and primarily Tertiaries, including those of royal blood from whom the retablo takes its name. 
   The 18th century statues are competently carved with conventional expressions, but are notable for the richness of their costuming and estofado detailing—appropriately for such aristocratic personages.
Lower Tier: Elizabeth of Hungary; San Fernando Rey; Isabel of Portugal; San Luis Rey de Francia.
Middle Tier:  Blessed Delphine of Provence; St Urban of Langres;  St John Nepomuc; St Clare;
Top Tier:  St Francis; St Bernardino of Siena; St Peter?; St Dominic
Elzear of Saban;                               God the Father at the top
Curiously, the figure in the prominent center niche of the retablo is a relatively obscure French baron, one St. Elzear of Sabran, whose particular significance here is unclear, although several of the figures are from southern France.  However, the unusual position of some saints—the most important being found in the top tier, for example—suggests that their original placement has been altered.

text © 2017 by Richard D. Perry.    color images © by Niccolò Brooker
See some of our earlier posts featuring important Mexican altarpieces:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Atlixco: The Third Order Chapel of St. Francis. 1. The Architecture

Atlixco.  The Third Order Chapel of St. Francis
Set at the foot of the hill leading up to the mother monastery of San Francisco, the Franciscan Third Order Chapel is dedicated to the Tertiaries, or lay members of the Franciscan Order.
   In its architecture and church furnishings the chapel incorporates an eclectic variety of colonial artistic styles. The classic retablo design of the west front, reminiscent of the main altarpiece at San Francisco, has been amped up to create a delightful baroque confection.  
St Paul
Paired spiral columns, luxuriantly carved with twisting, painted vines and fruits, enclose two tiers of ornamental shell niches on either side of the lofty entry that house statues of Apostles and Franciscan saints—Peter and Paul below and St Francis and Anthony of Padua above. 
   A mask-like cornucopia projects above the arched doorway and the choir window overhead is also covered by a shell arch and framed by bands of geometric filigree relief and decorative "basketweave" columns. Moorish style medallions on either side frame reliefs of two Fathers of the Church.  Cherubs and angels romp throughout the facade.
The narrow top tier below the triple belfry capping the façade holds a smaller statue of San Luis Rey de Francia—a prominent Franciscan Tertiary.  A carved basalt cross stands atop the belfry.
The Moorish theme is echoed in the decorative side entry, whose octagonal doorframe and Isabelline window vie with geometrical and foliated stuccowork, acanthus scrolls and cherubs in a complex composition, again with paired spiral columns.
The exterior sacristy doorway, although retaining the octagonal doorframe is styled in a more classical manner with fluted pilasters and an overarching triangular pediment. An ornately framed relief of the Franciscan Crossed Arms fills the pediment. 
Text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
Photography by Carolyn Brown, Jeffrey BecomTacho Juárez Herrera & Niccolò Brooker

Friday, November 25, 2016

Atlixco: the altarpiece of the Assumption

In this first post of a series on the colonial arts and architecture of Atlixco, in Puebla—one of our favorite places in Mexico—we look at the 16th century monastery church of San Francisco and its handsome 18th century altarpiece of the Assumption.
The hilltop monastery of San Francisco in Atlixco, a charming town situated on the lower slopes of the volcano Popocatepetl, was founded in 1538 by the pioneering Franciscan missionary Toribio de Benavente, known as "Motolinia," under its former name of Acapetlahuacan.
   The elevated location, perched on the rocky Cerro de San Miguel, was chosen partly to avoid the mosquitos of the humid valley below, but also to keep the Indian converts apart from the baleful influence of the Spanish colonists. The fortress-like aspect of the monastery only helped to reinforce this separateness. 
   The Moorish-Gothic facade of the church was altered in the 1700s with the addition of spiral columns on each side of the doorway and the ocular window overhead.
The Main Retablo
But the chief addition to the church was its magnificent, early 18th century, gilded main retablo, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin. Recently cleaned and restored under the auspices of Adopte una Obra de Arte, it rests in the apse beneath the original Gothic style rib vault. 
   Although the designer is not known, he seems likely to have been a Spaniard, or at least a leading Pueblan architect.  The altarpiece is unusual in that it is markedly Spanish in format, with an Italianate influence. Whether by design or influence, it is also related to other baroque church fronts in Atlixco, notably that of the Third Order of St. Francis.  
   The essentially simple format consists of a single main tier, set above a high predella and crowned by a semicircular pediment.The principal tier is divided vertically by pairs of giant spiral columns, deftly carved with vines and foliage and headed by complex composite capitals, all richly painted and gilded. 
A coffered, semicircular frieze borders the pediment, which also features gilded pilasters carved with fruit and floral motifs.
The Paintings
The other main attraction of the retablo is its nine canvases of the Life of the Virgin, painted in warm, glowing colors by the well known Mexican baroque artist Francisco Martínez (active 1718 - 1757), and dated 1732 by an inscription.  
   A prolific painter, gilder and theatrical designer, Martínez is best known for gilding the retablo de Los Reyes in the Mexico City cathedral (1743). Although several of his numerous paintings have survived—some are also in the Mexico City cathedral and in the Davenport collection (Iowa)—the Atlixco retablo contains his only known complete and intact cycle of retablo paintings in situ. It is also quite likely that Martínez decorated and gilded the retablo.
   Considered a competent if uninspiring artist, and noted painter of women, Martínez’ strengths are his draftmanship and assertive compositions in the late 17th century Mannerist tradition. However, his figures here seem rather static and lack the sensuous lines and facial expressiveness associated with the more facile artist Miguel Cabrera who followed him.
The principal canvases are of different sizes and shapes, and have been newly cleaned and restored (2000). 
   The iconography glorifies the life of the Virgin, proceeding from the base panels to the pediment, although the intended original order may have differed. The small base panels, as restored, portray the Virgin as a girl, praying (on the right) and reading under the gaze of her father Joachim (at left.) 
The four main canvases, between the columns, represent, on the lower left, the Presentation at the Temple, and the Marriage of Mary above, all lit in a Zurbaranesque chiaroscuro. 
At right are the Nativity of the Virgin, and the Annunciation. 
The square painting at the center of the upper pediment portrays the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin by the Holy Trinity. This composition is more dynamic than the other panels, a swirl of robes, clouds and putti in the style of Rubens. 
The center canvas is flanked by two segmented panels featuring The Nativity of Jesus and The Visitation.  An exceptional altarpiece now in prime condition.

text and graphic ©1992 & 2016 Richard D. Perry.   color images courtesy of E L T B
See some of our earlier posts featuring important Mexican altarpieces:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Mexican Crosses: The Chávez Morado Cross

Formerly in the collection of the late Guanajuatan artist José Chávez Morado and his wife, this intriguing 16th century cross now rests in the Guanajuato City Museum (La Casa de Rayas). 
   Although its origin is unknown, it resembles some stone crosses in the Ixtla region of eastern Guanajuato.  
   A charming, square sectioned cross of modest size without borders, it is folkloric in draftsmanship and execution, with idiosyncratic iconography and unorthodox representation of the various Passion symbols.

A spiky crown of thorns motif occupies the crossing enclosing a mask-like face and ringed by stars with pierced centers. Corn plant reliefs flank it on either arm with, on the extremities, implements piercing streaming wounds

   Above the crown on the neck of the cross, a stylized lantern appears to sprout floral sprays—possibly a representation of the Tres Potencias. A compressed INRI relief is inscribed above and cannonball finials project from the arms and the head of the cross.

Atop the shaft, a curious, phoenix like bird spreads its wings while below, a rooster stands amid arrow like spikes atop an abbreviated, vase like column trailing woven ropes or ties. 
Pieces of silver descend in a column down the left side of the shaft.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. 
color images © by Niccolò Brooker.  Thank you Nick!

see our other posts on Mexican crosses: AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Mexican Crosses: Santa Ana Zirosto

Santa Ana Zirosto, set in the volcanic hills of western Michoacán, was one of the largest Augustinian houses in the region with numerous visitas. Although the former convento and cloister are now largely leveled, the elegant Plateresque church has been reconstructed with a new beamed roof.
The Atrium Cross
Mounted on a high stone base with a pyramidal top and a cord molding at ground level, the cross is isolated in the center of the windswept former atrium.

   Reassembled from different carved stones, some older than others, the cross is largely ornamental in style with few overt Passion symbols. On both sides, the reliefs mostly consist of varied bands of floral motifs on the shaft, neck and arms, extending into the wedge shaped finials. 
The only non decorative reliefs are the skull and crossed bones at the foot of the shaft on the front, and an unusual head with a feathered headdress and bow on the reverse side.
A more delicately carved panel showing angels bearing the Host is set into the base facing the church.
A smaller cross, carved in similar foliated style, stands atop the curving gable of the church.

text and graphic © 2016 Richard D. Perry.
color images courtesy of Diana Roberts and Niccolò Brooker

please review some of our earlier posts on Mexican crosses: AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCiudad HidalgoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupoTemimilcingo

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Mexican Crosses: Santa Maria Tarecuato

This early Franciscan monastery on the former shores of Lake Chapala is a shrine to its founder Fray Jácobo Daciano, a distinguished 16th century missionary of royal descent and a cousin of the Emperor Charles V of Spain.
Standing in the center of the walled atrium, the venerable weatherbeaten cross is cut from local janamú volcanic redstone. It is mounted on a stepped base banded with the Franciscan cord and densely carved on all sides with alternating friezes of rosettes and linked floral motifs interspersed with tiny, skirted figures. 
Slender and rectangular in section, the cross is likewise carved with complex foliated reliefs on each surface. Overt Passion symbols are confined to the front of the cross. 
   The face of Christ, an almost universal element in early crosses, is conspicuously lacking here, although a woven crown of thorns is draped below the neck at the crossing, framing a small rosette.
Reliefs of winged angels carrying the arma christi flank the crown on the arms—a rare example of angeles pasionarias on a cross, although they are fairly common in early murals and architectural reliefs. Worn, round depressions with drilled center holes—all that now remain of wound reliefs or inlays—appear at the end of either arm.

Three profile heads crowd the upper shaft, two with speech scrolls, and the third portraying an agonized Judas with a purse around his neck, extending his hand to a column of coins overhead. 
A shield-like recess in mid-shaft may also once have framed an obsidian inlay.
Complex, almost abstract, rosette like reliefs alternate on the lower shaft and across the reverse face of cross as well as along the sculpted base.
A second ornamental cross, carved with similar floral motifs, stands atop the atrium gateway, whose arch is banded with undulating vine reliefs.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker, Diana Roberts and Robert Jackson.  
Thank you one and all.

for more on the churches of Michoacán consult our guide book to west Mexico

Monday, November 7, 2016

Mexican Crosses: Two at San Felipe de Los Alzati

San Felipe de Los Alzati is a small village on the way to the butterfly refuge at nearby Angangueo, in eastern Michoacán, and is renowned for its spectacular atrium crosses.
Located in the churchyard, the principal cross combines several elements seen elsewhere in the region, notably at Ciudad Hidalgo and San Matías El Grande.
Like the former, a black obsidian disk or mirror is set inside a crown of thorns motif at the crossing. Shovel shaped Wounds project from the arms, pierced by large vertical spikes. 
   A third, larger Wound, also pierced by a round-headed nail, decorates the octagonal shaft—the only other Passion symbol to appear on the cross. The round hole in the shaft may also have had an obsidian inlay at one time.
   Stylized fleur-de-lis reliefs adorn the block finials on the arms and atop the head of the cross.

The cross rises from a stepped, pyramidal mound carved with a Skull and Bones and the Franciscan emblem of the Stigmata. Merlons, surmounted by complex fleurs-de-lis reminiscent of Celtic crosses, mark each corner of the elevated base beneath.
A small, arched niche sits on one side of the base, underlain by a basalt bowl looking very much like an Aztec cuauxicalli, or sacrificial vessel—still a place for local offerings.
La Candelaria
The second cross stands in front of the adjacent chapel of La Candelaria, set high atop a domed, cylindrical base.
The Candelaria cross is plainer than the principal cross, although now mostly erased reliefs can be traced on the arms and crossing. As with the main cross, the round indentation in the shaft may once have housed an obsidian inlay.
Like the principal cross, the pedestal is inset with an arched niche, here hidden behind an altar stone or gravestone carved with a cross relief. 
text © 2014  Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Felipe Falcón and Niccolò Brooker
Some of our other cross posts:
AlfajayucanTepeapulcoCuitzeoActopanCharapanBucareli/El Pueblito;TepoztlanUruapanCholulaCajititlanCoyoacanAxotlaChimalistacMixcoacHuipulcoSanto Tomás Ajusco;San Pedro MartirAtoyacCapachoHuandacareoHuangoHuaniqueoCorupo