Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Bagpiper at the Nativity

In an earlier post on the main altarpiece at Cuauhtinchan, we mentioned an 18th century painted panel by Cristóbal de Villalpando illustrating the Adoration of the Shepherds. 
   This scene featured a bagpiper, a rare portrayal in Mexican colonial art, the only other example being a 16th century mural at Ixmiquilpan.
The Cuautinchan Nativity scene with bagpiper
This depiction, with no biblical reference, appears to have sprung from folk traditions in southern Italy—traditions still observed in the region, where piping shepherds (Zampognari) perform in Christmas festivities and displays.
Robert Campin, The Nativity, detail (1420)
This tradition first made its appearance in late medieval and Renaissance Italian and Flemish art, in paintings and prints by such eminent artists as Hieronymous Bosch, Jacobo Bassano, Domenichino, Simon de Chalons, and Albrecht Dürer.

Hieronymous Bosch, The Nativity (c.1495)  with piping shepherdess on the roof
Simon de Chalons,  Adoration of the Shepherds (1548)
Jacobo Bassano, Adoration of the Shepherds (c. 1545)
Domenichino, The Adoration of the Shepherds (c 1610)
Albrecht Durer,  The Nativity (1511)  The Small Passion series

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry

Sunday, December 10, 2017


At this time and this season we would like to draw attention to a worthy organization, of which we are members:
LOS AMIGOS DEL ARTE POPULAR (LADAP) is a national, non-profit association of Mexican folk art collectors and aficionados. 
   The organization is active in supporting and promoting the work of Mexican artists and provides grants and support to artisans and organizations promoting Mexican folk art.  It also organizes folk art-related trips throughout Mexico and the U.S. 
   For more information, visit the LADAP website at To join, click on the “membership” tab. Member dues and trip registration fees help fund the grant program.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Institute of Oaxacan Historic Organs

Some of our readers may recall our reports on historic pipe organs in the churches of Oaxaca, many of which have been restored by the Institute of Oaxacan Historic Organs (IOHIO) led by Cicely Winter. 
   Long time support of IOHIO by the Harp/Helu foundation has been terminated and IOHIO is urgently seeking funding elsewhere. As aficionados of Mexican colonial arts and their preservation, our readers may be interested in this appeal. 

The Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca (IOHIO) has had an astonishing impact on the cultural life of Oaxaca. When our project began in 2000, the general public had little idea of what an organ was or that Oaxaca had so many remarkable, historic instruments. Now after more than 17 years of work, we feel deeply gratified by the local awareness and appreciation of the organs as special Oaxacan treasures.
We have recently come to an organizational turning point which will afford us more independence to continue our work, and for this your support is especially important. If you have ever heard the arresting sound of the organs during our concerts, witnessed the euphoric response of our audiences of hundreds, reveled in our festivals, marveled at the abilities of our students, experienced the mass accompanied by the sound of a pipe organ rather than an electronic keyboard, observed the transformation
of an unrestored organ after a day of cleaning and conservation work, or attended the inaugural festivities of an organ brought back to life during a recent restoration, you would be amazed!
The IOHIO is a unique, multi-faceted, and ever-expanding project. Please consider a contribution to keep it moving forward.

How to Donate

US dollars (deductible in the US) using PayPal.
US dollars as a check payable to Oaxaca Lending Library Foundation, (registered as
a 501 (c)(3) for tax deductibility in the US), noting IOHIO in the check
s lower left corner, to:
Jim Corrigan, 5443 Drover Dr., San Diego, CA 92115
Deposited checks will be transferred to the IOHIO account in Oaxaca.
Mexican pesos as a cash deposit or transfer from another Mexican bank to our account: Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca A.C.
Citibanamex account number 70091603827
CLABE 002610700916038278

Please contact us with the date and amount of your deposit.
Donations in euros. Please contact us for instructions.
A transfer from a US bank to our Mexican account will incur a foreign transaction fee.

Monday, December 4, 2017


In our survey of the Silver Chapels, we have seen that however dispersed, their buildings and art treasures have for the most part been preserved and maintained, enhancing the reputation of Guanajuato as a diligent conserver of its colonial heritage. 
    Alas, in our consideration of the last of the Silver Chapels in this series, the 18th century Temple of Mellado complex has not fared so well, its architecture and surviving art currently in a state of neglect and decay.
The hilltop Temple of Mellado, visible above the Rayas mine
In 1752, by royal assent, the Mercedarian Order established a hospice/convento in wealthy Guanajuato to solicit alms from the mine workers among others for the ransom of Christian captives in North Africa. The Mellado mine owners, Los Marqueses de San Clemente, offered the friars the use of an existing chapel beside their mine.
A convento and cloister were added to the chapel, which was radically expanded in the late 1700s and dedicated to the patron of the Order, The Virgin of Mercy (Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes)   
   By the early 1800s the mine had played out and was abandoned, its workers mostly dispersed. After Independence, which had a disastrous effect on the wealth of Guanajuato along with the fortunes of the Mercedarians, the temple complex declined further and by the 1860s was abandoned
Today the elegant stone and stucco temple facade is battered, its fluted classical columns crumbling, the carved reliefs eroded, and several statues headless. 

Above the doorway is a legend from the gospel of Mark (12:30): Amar a Dios sobre todas las cosas — Love God above all things.
the Templo interior facing east
In the 1700s a handsome pipe organ was installed (still playable) and the new Temple, as well as the adjacent chapel dedicated to San Gonzalo de Amarante, was the scene of popular musical concerts and festivals. 
                         The Templo organ;                                   San Gonzalo de Amarante with harp
The chapel of San Gonzalo (El Bailador) is dedicated to the Portuguese Dominican, a patron of colonial popular dance, and predates the main Templo.  However, it is currently in very poor condition, its painted walls and cracked vaults streaked and discolored by longstanding roof leaks.
Much of the convento too is in ruins. A fine lobed doorway from the church opens to the single remaining corridor of the cloister, still lined with traces of faded murals.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Benjamin Arredondo, Alejandro Hernández García and others

Friday, December 1, 2017

New Books

Here are some recently published books on various aspects of the arts and culture of Mexico that may be of interest to our readers:
University of New Mexico Press  October 2017
Over the years, Beverley Spears, an architect and connoisseur of architecture, has devoted much time and effort to visiting and photographing most of these historic mission buildings across Mexico and documenting the regional nuances of style. In this new book, with her architect’s eye, she makes a valuable contribution to this effort, bringing their richness and variety to a larger public.
Wisely she has chosen black and white photography to document the conventos, with a special focus on their distinctive physical environments. As she notes in her Introduction, this approach “removes the distraction of color and helps convey architectural form, space and light and gives a timeless quality to the photographs which is appropriate for these monuments nearly half a millennium in age.”

from the Foreword
"The commissioning and censorship of [Diego] Rivera by the Rockefellers in the 1930s is a well-known episode in American art history, and much has been written about it. And yet, the story has become somewhat simplistic. Paquette’s book enriches the story and reveals that, in order to understand this episode in American art history, we need to consider more than simplistic or Manichean conceptions of good socialist art versus bad capitalist patron.  
   No one else has gone into such rich depth in their analysis of either the mural or the relevant contexts in which its meaning was debated, shaped, and determined. I believe this book will have a wide readership within and beyond academic audiences.”
Mary K. Coffey, Dartmouth College 
First published in 1960 in the series Jalisco en el Arte by the eminent architect and historian Sergio Zaldívar, this was the first publication to document and identify the unique architectural and sculptural style of the rural Jaliscan baroque, with full commentary on the most important buildings. 
This recent second edition (2015) contains all the original text and illustrative material in a large format.  Although the photographic quality is uneven, the text and graphics remain of great value and interest to students of Mexican colonial architecture and its associated arts.

University of Oklahoma Press (October 2017)
This beautifully illustrated new book is the culmination and integration of the author's various studies of the religious, cultural and artistic traditions of Yanhuitlan and its historic Dominican priory in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.
   Frassani relates the history of Yanhuitlan by examining the rich store of art and architecture in the town’s church and convent, bolstering her account with more than 100 color and black-and-white illustrations. She presents the first two centuries of the church complex’s construction works, maintenance, and decorations as the product of cultural, political, and economic negotiation between Mixtec caciques, Spanish encomenderos, and Dominican friars. The author then ties the village’s present-day religious celebrations to the colonial past, and traces the cult of specific images through these celebrations’ history. Cultural artifacts, Frassani demonstrates, do not need pre-Hispanic origins to be considered genuinely Mesoamerican—the processes attached to their appropriation are more meaningful than their having any pre-Hispanic past.
   Based on original and unpublished documents and punctuated with stunning photography, Building Yanhuitlan combines archival and ethnographic work with visual analysis to make an innovative statement regarding artistic forms and to tell the story of a remarkable community.

  • Cambridge Latin American Studies (Book 103)  Cambridge University Press (October 3, 2016)
"The distillation of a lifetime of study, Theater of a Thousand Wonders tells a story of affection, veneration, petition and grace across the Mexican landscape in the colonial period. Careful, attentive, and reflective, William B. Taylor examines how shrines were founded, what made them succeed or fail, how they changed over time, and the material aspects of their miracle-workings images. His wise work finds universal patterns in the local and recalls the marvelous side of long-forgotten lives." 
William A. Christian Jr., author of Local Religion in Sixteenth-Century Spain

''Theater of a Thousand Wonders is a remarkable work of scholarship. Bringing together decades of research on the saints, shrines, images and miracles of colonial New Spain, William Taylor not only offers a beautifully written panorama of the country's religious geography, but also a thoughtful examination of the meanings of such places and events for the colony's everyday Catholics. Embracing meditations on race, material culture, art, and the history of emotions, it is one of the great contemporary works of religious history..."
Benjamin Smith, The University of Warwick

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Colonial painting exhibit at LACMA

A spectacular and ground breaking new exhibit of Mexican baroque painting has opened at LACMA in Los Angeles.
The show, entitled Painted in Mexico 1700—1790: Pinxit Mexici has been organized by LACMA curator of Latin American Art Ilona Katsew and includes numerous works never before displayed in the US or Mexico.
Casta Paintings at LACMA
An authority on colonial Mexican casta painting, Ilona has recently added several rare examples of the genre to the LACMA collection, including one by Baroque master Miguel Cabrera with hopes for an additional acquisition!
For fuller details please follow the text links.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

SILVER CHAPELS OF GUANAJUATO: The Rayas chapel altarpiece

The Rayas altarpiece in situ before removal to California
The Chapel Altarpiece
Like the portal discussed in our previous post, the Rayas chapel's magnificent gilded retablo is presumed to have been designed by Felipe de Ureña,* or his son-in-law Juan García de Castañeda, and fabricated in the family workshop. 
   Like so many other colonial arts and furnishings in Guanajuato, this altarpiece is now no longer in place, either in the chapel or even in MexicoDuring the 1920s—a period of religious repression and one of considerable peril for religious art—the altarpiece was purchased and exported by an American collector. Fortunately it has been carefully preserved and is now located in the St. Francis wedding chapel of the Mission Inn in Riverside, California.
The restored Rayas chapel altarpiece
As with other Ureña altarpieces, prominent estípite pilasters frame the retablo, projecting forward and extending through two tiers, thus drawing attention inward to the center and its abundant baroque statuary—an effect amplified by recessing broken arches of densely carved and richly gilded ornament.
   This elegant configuration is similar, although less opulent and on a reduced scale, to that of the magnificent retablos of La Valenciana, works of undocumented authorship but presumed to have been fabricated by the Ureña taller, probably to a design by Felipe or his son Francisco Bruno.

Rayas retablo key (©Arturo Parra)
The iconography of the retablo echoes that of the chapel portal and is related to the Cata retablos. Although the principal image, no doubt of the Virgin of Sorrows, is missing we can still admire the accompanying figures of her richly appareled parents, Sts Joachim and Anna, both expertly carved, painted and finished in classic Mexican estofado manner.
St. Joachim and St. Anne
                        St. Joseph and the archangel Michael                                                  
Together with the swaying figure of St. Joseph with the Christ child in the central niche, flanked by archangels, this grouping, as in the Rayas chapel entry, completes the depiction of the Five Lords. Statues of the Franciscan saints Francis and Anthony of Padua stand on either side.
St. Francis & St. Anthony
Sts Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier
Five statues of Jesuit saints in the upper tiers, including Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, reference the family connection to the city church of La Compañía, founded and built by José Joaquín de Sardaneta y Legazpi, the Jesuit brother of the Marqués de Rayas, also to a design by Felipe de Ureña. 
Finally, the crowning relief depicts the Holy Trinity as three identical bearded young men in the traditional Mexican fashion (1).
   This superb and well preserved Mexican altarpiece is the finest example of its genre in the United States.

(1This representation, originally promoted to combat heresy and signify the Church Triumphant, was initially deemed appropriate for newly converted peoples, especially in the Americas. Ironically, by the 1700s, this depiction was itself was considered heretical and officially banned by the Church, although to little effect in Mexico.

*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  graphic by Antonio Parra
color images by the author and Robert Guess by kind permission

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


For the last of our current series on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato, we offer a two part feature on another chapel with ties to the architect Felipe de Ureña and the eminent Sardaneta family of that city.
   In 1776 Don Vicente Manuel de Sardaneta y Legaspi, now sole owner of the Mineral de Rayas silver mine and patron of the Templo de Rayas, an aristocratic hacendado, and one of the richest men in Mexico, added the finishing touches to his colonial mansion in the burgeoning city center of Guanajuato.  La Casa de Rayas, as it was known, was a suitably imposing residence for the Marqués de Rayas—a new title bestowed on Don Vicente by the king of Spain two years earlier. 
La Casa de Rayas: the present front;                                            the sculpture niche;
This venerable townhouse now houses the city museum, El Museo del Pueblo de Guanajuato, which was opened to the public in 1979. Its only original exterior feature is the ornamental niche that formerly held a statue of the Virgin of Sorrows, the Sardaneta family patron saint.
The Rayas Chapel 
Great care, as well as considerable funds, were lavished on the family chapel, located in the upper level of the hillside house. This chapel, with its elegant facade dated 1776, remains in place. 

   It was reportedly designed by Felipe de Ureña* although to judge by the dedication date this would have been very late in his career and at a time when he may have been in Oaxaca. 
The chapel entry with former sculpture pedestals (ringed)
Nevertheless, the slender portal provides an appropriately impressive entry to the chapel, very much in the felipense style. Elaborately layered, projecting estípite pilasters rise to support the scrolled ends of a broken pediment, and a large octagonal window overhead completes the design.
The archway bears a long, dedicatory inscription in Latin (1). The escutcheon of the Sardaneta family, once prominently emblazoned above the doorway but now obliterated save for the crowning tiara, was the focus of the facade, flanked by the names of Jesus and Joseph.
   Empty sculpture pedestals over the tiara and to each side of the window, once supported three statues. Although these have been lost, it is likely that they would have represented The Virgin Mary and her parents Joachim and Anna. Together with the inscribed names of Jesus and Joseph below, these statues would have signified the Five Lords (Los Cinco Señores), a widespread, late colonial Catholic devotion of the Holy Family (2). 
   The image of the Virgin, like those formerly in the exterior niche and the Cata retablo, was probably that of Dolores—Our Lady of Sorrows—whose cult was especially favored by the Sardaneta family.  
chapel facade details
The ornament and the interplay between its varied forms and shifting levels succeed in animating the doorway despite its limited scale and constricted space. In characteristic felipense fashion, the elongated estípites draw the eye upwards from the plain doorframe to focus on the inscriptions and the statuary above. 
All the intervening spaces are filled with rococo relief ornament, recalling the Templo de Rayas facade. 
In our final post we will look at the chapel altarpiece, also by Ureña.

(1)  “My house is a house of prayer saith the Lord. Within, whoever asks shall receive, whoever seeks shall find, and to whomever knocks it shall be opened. How awesome is this place; truly, is it not the house of God and the Gate of Heaven.”

(2)  Related to the popular cult of The Powerful hand (La Mano Poderosa) in which the five fingers of the right hand - the Hand of God - signify the five members of the Holy Family.

*Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master", Felipe de Ureña was the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and expand the Churrigueresque style into New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with family members, he was primarily responsible for the spread and subsequent evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, he later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades. His elegant and distinctive designs are recognized and known as the felipense style.
See our previous posts on the Silver Chapels of Guanajuato: La Valenciana, El Santuario de VillasecaTemplo de San Juan de Rayas;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  images by the author and Niccolò Brooker