Friday, January 27, 2017

Tecamachalco: Las Animas

Before we leave Tecamachalco * we should make note of another major colonial art work of note currently hung in the nave of the church. This is a large, highly detailed and finely finished 18th century painting of Las Animas—a common theme in colonial paintings and sculptural works. 
   Crowded with persons of all types—nuns, priests, bishops, saints, archangels and of course suffering souls—the composition, the iconography and its underlying theology is unusually complex. 
The painting is structured in three broad horizons. Briefly, the lower part depicts the celebration of the Eucharist and the road to salvation marked by prayer, penitence and good works. 
   The priest is flanked by nuns and various lay figures in period dress, including at least one acolyte of indigenous caste. Flagellants appear to the left of the altar and on the right, a richly costumed figure gives alms.
The center section portrays souls rising from Purgatory aided by angels and flanked by notables from the religious Orders. These include St. Dominic, St. Augustine, Santa Teresa and others. St. Francis is conspicuously absent. 
The top tier contains a unique depiction of a gilded coffer or chest of Indulgences, presided over by St. Peter and St. Michael. A Mexican style Trinity* hovers above.
   An inscription on the coffer reads, "An Infinite Treasure for Man." Not to mention the church!

Note: our second Tecamachalco post, on the Gerson murals, will appear as the inaugural entry on our new blog. Check it out.
 The Mexican Trinity is a depiction of the figures—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit— as three bearded young men, often shown seated on thrones. This portrayal is also known as the Synthronous Trinity, and was initially employed as an aid in introducing this difficult religious concept to new Catholic converts. Although later banned by the Inquisition as heretical, it continued to be popular in Mexico until late colonial times and beyond.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry, based on an article by Jaime Morera.
color images by ELTB

Monday, January 23, 2017

Tecamachalco: the North Doorway

Tecamachalco in 1989
This is the first of three * posts on the early Franciscan monastery of Asunción Tecamachalco, in Puebla, noted for its variety of outstanding colonial artworks, many with a powerful indigenous flavor, including the Eagle Warrior relief on the facade that we described previously. 
   Our first post looks at some of the architectural and sculptural highlights of the church and convento. 
One of the less well known features at Tecamachalco is the sculpted north doorway, or portiuncula, a classic example of early Franciscan architectural sculpture and ornament.
   As with many other early Franciscan doorways, broad jambs are bracketed by carved bases and capitals, in this case friezes of densely folded foliage. 
   Like the main west entry, the upper doorway is framed by a moorish style alfiz, boldly but simply outlined by an enclosed beaded molding.
Like various other openings in the church and adjacent convento (below), the undulating, lobed arch of the doorway is also derived from Islamic ornament, here enriched by a complex but harmoniously composed frieze of native foliage entwined with eagles, exquisitely sculpted in the classic 16th century tequitqui manner.
Tecamachalco, the west doorway: its undulating arch bordered by knotted cord moldings and framed by an alfiz enclosing Isabelline beading.
Tecamachalco,  the  sacristy doorway;                                a cloister niche.
Other examples of high quality stone work at Tecamachalco include the original baptismal font, carved with hovering angels in high relief, and the tree cross mounted on the facade above the choir window.

Note: our second Tecamachalco post, on the Gerson murals, will appear as the inaugural entry on our new blog.
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry.  
 images by the author, and courtesy of Beverley Spears and Niccolò Brooker

Friday, January 20, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: San Diego

The second folk baroque church is that of San Diego, originally part of an Augustinian foundation in Quecholac.
Like San Simón, San Diego is fronted by a large walled atrium accessed through a large, arcaded gateway, whose curved baroque pediment is punctuated by statues of saints and angels in popular style.
Although less brilliantly colored than San Simón, the facade is also divided by decorative pilasters and framed by bands of foliated relief. 
Ornamental features include folkloric saints, angels and outsize coats of arms outlined in red for emphasis.
The church interior is especially rich in late colonial furnishings, notably gilded altarpieces in various baroque styles and conditions. The retablo mayor is especially handsome, framed by ornate estípite pilasters incorporating sculpted, polychrome figures of archangels.
   Other folkloric items of note include a relief of St. Francis in the ceiling above the main retablo and a jaunty mural of St. Christopher above the north entry.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color photography courtesy of Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca 
thank you Enrique for sharing your wonderful images.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: San Simón de Bravo

We should not leave Quecholac without a brief look at two of its colorful, folk baroque, barrio churches: San Simón and San Diego.
Both boast landscaped atriums with picturesque entry gateways fronting brightly painted and ornamented facades in popular style.
Red, yellow, orange and green make up the decorative palette at San Simón de Bravo.  The triple arcade of the gateway sets the tone, its undulating parapet inset with scrolls, statuary and dated plaques, and capped with pointed merlons.
Likewise, the church front is framed in brilliant, contrasting colors to highlight its various elements—spiral and estípite pilasters, moorish window, bands of faux foliage and folkloric reliefs.
Above the facade, similar treatment of the multi-tiered tower and ornamental, lantern topped dome adds even more color and interest to the profile and lively presence of the church of San Simón.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color photography courtesy of Enrique López-Tamayo Biosca 
thank you Enrique for sharing your wonderful images.
review some of our other posts on Puebla: Puebla cathedralSan José ChiapaSan José de PueblaSan Francisco de PueblaIzucarEl CarmenLa LuzSan AntonioSan MarcosGuadalupeEagle WarriorsJolalpan

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: La Magdalena

Although little of the 16th century Franciscan monastery of Magdalena Quecholac now remains, it was once one of the largest in Mexico, faced by an enormous atrium.
   Built in the 1560s and '70s to replace a primitive earlier mission, the church was designed in basilical form with three aisles—modeled on, or possibly a model for, the great roofless basilica that we saw at nearby Tecali.

Today, all that is left of the original church is its mutilated but still grand facade, faced with triple entries of dark basaltic stone fashioned in starkly elegant purista Renaissance style. (The towers are later additions)
The main entry of the basilica
The 18th century facade
The present cruciform church, much reduced in size from the original and set well back from the old front, was rebuilt in the 1700s within the original nave walls. 
   Beyond its idiosyncratic colonnaded front, the now single nave is home to several gilded altarpieces preserved in good condition.

Although the altarpieces come in a variety of sizes, almost all are designed in early 18th century baroque style deploying ornate spiral "solomonic" columns densely wreathed with vines, and sculpture niches framed by foliated arabesque panels. 
Retablo of the Archangels (left)                     Retablo of Rosario (right)
All display fine, original sculptural detailing.   
Two altarpieces of special interest include the side retablo of Las Animas, its large center panel depicting Souls in Purgatory with the Archangel Michael. 
The Mass for the Dead, detail
At its foot is a classic depiction of the Mass for the Dead—among the best preserved of the relatively few examples in colonial art. (see another example at Suchixtlahuaca
   A black draped coffin is placed at center flanked by rows of candles. Mourners kneel by the altar where a priest in black robes officiates. A well dressed couple stands apart to his left, probably relatives, sponsors of the mass and possibly the altarpiece itself.
The other is an ungilded retablo, whose ornate twisting columns incorporate expressive caryatids beneath jutting capitals.
The untreated cedar gives a viewer a rare insight—and occasional scent—into the exquisite craftsmanship of the colonial woodcarver's art at its most intricate.
In addition to the 18th century altarpieces, two remnant items from the earlier 16th century mission survive: the monolithic stone fonts.
   The larger and more decorative—ringed by a chain like vine relief with alternating leaves and flowers and set on a carved, footed base—still serves as the principal baptismal font in the church.
   A smaller, much plainer, and possibly older basin currently stands in a forecourt between the original basilican front and the later church. Surprisingly, neither is carved with the knotted cord, usually a standard feature of Franciscan baptismal fonts. 
text © 2017  Richard D. Perry.  color images by ELTB
enhorabuena enrique!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: La Merced

The picturesque town of Quecholac, located some 60 kms south east of the city of Puebla beside the Mexico—Veracruz toll road, is home to several colonial churches of interest. 
   These include the roofless temple of La Merced, the partly rebuilt Franciscan basilica of Santa María Magdalena, and the folk baroque churches of San Agustín and San Simón.
   In our four part series on the Quecholac churches we look first at the temple of La Merced, illustrated here by several classic pictures taken after the 1999 earthquake that damaged many colonial buildings in the region.
La Merced
Even in its present condition, the roofless temple of La Merced remains one of the most decorative churches in the state of Puebla.
   Its 18th century facade and standing triple gateway are densely sculpted in stone and stucco relief—a exceptionally ornate example of the popular barroco poblano style. 
La Merced, the gateway frames the church front
Both the facade and the gateway display an eclectic architectural mix: classical friezes jostle with vine clad spiral columns and relief panels, enveloping lobed Moorish arches and hexagonal openings, all framed with bands of arabesque and foliated ornament.
The gateway gable
The surfaces are alive with sculpted reliefs and statuary of angels and archangels, some set in decorative niches and others emblazoned above the archways or standing above the columns.
The Virgin of Mercy occupies the center niche.

The Spanish royal arms and those of the Mercedarian order flank an elaborate shell niche in the upper facade, once doubtless also occupied by the Virgin of Mercy but now empty. Decapitated statues of saints occupy the lower niches
Facade: headless saints
The lone tower sets precariously on its cracked base, which still retains a primitive relief of St. Barbara.
text and photography © 2000 & 2017 Richard D. Perry

Friday, January 6, 2017

La Conchita restoration: the altarpiece

In our first post on La Conchita we reported on the history and recently completed restoration of this little chapel, located in the Mexico City barrio of Coyoacán. In this second post we look at the unusual main altarpiece of the chapel. 
The Main Altarpiece
During the wholesale destruction and dismantling of gilded baroque altarpieces at various times—during the neoclassic revival of the late 1700s, the Reform of the mid 1800s and the Revolution of the past century—some sections of the earlier retablos were preserved and warehoused.  
   On a few occasions these disparate pieces were later cobbled together to create new, impressive, but iconographically incoherent assemblages to create what is known as a retablo fragmentario.
varied sources for the altarpiece (González Galván)
The newly cleaned main altarpiece at La Conchita is one outstanding example in the city of such an assemblage. While the large center section (A) appears to have come from a single retablo, the surrounding elements may come from as many as seven other sources, none of which have been currently identified.  
   Although the various elements show differences in design and ornament, stylistically all appear to date from the early to mid 1700s.  And while all of the statuary is recent, most of the paintings date from late colonial times.
Retablo mayor, center section 
While the overall iconology is inconsistent, as might be expected from the piecemeal reassemblage, the portraits of Jesuit saints and martyrs in the most complete center section point to its origin in a Jesuit church, probably dating from just before or after the Jesuit expulsions from Mexico in the 1760s.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
information & diagram source © Manuel González Galván