Friday, June 30, 2017

The Passion Crosses of Puebla

The City of Puebla is celebrated for its many fine colonial churches and nunneries. In colonial times many of these boasted large, walled forecourts, containing ancillary buildings and carved stone crosses. Street widening and other changes in the 19th century, resulted in the loss of many of these spaces and their structures including the crosses.
   In this post we look at a special selection of city crosses that share a common form and pattern of ornament. Like others across Puebla and the adjacent state of Tlaxcala, they are distinguished by their slender arms and tall shafts, conspicuously headed by often ornate INRI plaques. 
   But setting this group apart stylistically are their boldly carved reliefs of classic Passion symbols. While most have survived, in their original locations or elsewhere, others have gone missing even in recent times. 
El Sagrado Corazón
This early 19th century church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built next to the old Mercedarian convent in the north west quadrant of the city. 
   Now set against the partially tiled front, the cross is crafted in the classic attenuated Pueblan style, its arms and shaft liberally carved with a full complement of evenly spaced and simply outlined Passion reliefs.—a model for the others in this group.
   Objects of note include a Corn plant, what appears to be a Lantern in the form of a beer stein!, and a crowned Face of Christ reminiscent of a face card in a deck of playing cards. A typical, lozenge shaped INRI scroll heads the cross, although here, the “I” has been omitted.

Nuestra Señora del Carmen
Founded as a modest barrio chapel or ermita in the 1500s, this chapel was taken over and greatly expanded into a conventual complex by the Discalced Carmelites in the 17th century. Although refurbished in recent times, the structures and much of the exuberant tile and stucco work dates from that period. 
   Overlooking the shrunken inner courtyard, the putative former atrium cross is now mounted atop the gable of the church. As at nearby El Sagrado Corazón, it is profusely carved with Passion symbols in low relief along the severely rectangular arms and shaft. 
   Curly locks fringe the Face at the crossing with a simple woven Crown raised on the neck above. The Rooster perches atop a jug like Column and a pair of Dice have been squeezed, almost as an afterthought, at the foot of the Ladder. The only unconventional object is the outline of a house or chapel with an alfiz below the Tunic on the upper shaft. Again, the cross is capped by an oval INRI plaque with tightly scrolled ingrowing volutes.

Two virtually identical crosses in a similar style are found in the former barrio chapel of Candelaria Xonaca, located in an eastern section of the city.

Xonaca, the Wall Cross;                            the Atrium Cross.  
1. The Wall Cross
The ultra slim wall cross displays a multiplicity of Instruments and Passion objects, carved in almost glyph-like bas relief and extending to the edges of the borderless arms and shaft. The only exception is the more finely modeled crowned Face of Christ, framed by a verónica, at its axis. 

2. The Atrium Cross
This freestanding cross in front of the church portrays the Passion objects in the same, sometimes idiosyncratic, manner and in almost the same positions, including a curious, house like Lantern with a roof and door opening on the shaft. However, the Face is carved on the neck while crossed Scourges occupy the axis—a most unusual placement. 
Puebla: El Parián market cross;  
The Parian Cross
Mounted in the busy, downtown Parian market, this cross is very similar in style and composition to the others we have seen.

                 The "Theater" cross
A Lost Cross
As noted, many of the old colonial crosses in Puebla have been lost or misplaced. Photographs taken in the 1970s document another freestanding cross, crafted in the same style as the others, last seen in front of a local theater. Hope remains that it may still survive somewhere in the city.
San Gregorio Zacapechpan                      Magdalena Xixitla  
The Cholula Crosses
In addition to these Puebla city crosses, there are others in similar style in and around the neighboring city of Cholula, notably at Magdalena Xixitla (dated 1666) and San Gregorio Zacapechpan.
   This distinctive regional stylistic cluster points to the existence of an itinerant team or family of skilled stone carvers working in the area in the later 1600s.
text and graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry. all rights reserved
black and white photography by Judith Hancock Sandoval.
review some of our other posts on Puebla: Puebla cathedralSan José ChiapaSan José de PueblaSan Francisco de PueblaIzucarEl CarmenLa LuzSan AntonioSan MarcosGuadalupeEagle WarriorsJolalpan; Tecamachalco; Quecholac

Monday, June 26, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: The North Doorway

In a recent post on our sister site we described the murals inside the church at San Miguel Huejotzingo, in which the north entry played a central, ceremonial role. Here we look at this complex, sculpted doorway in greater detail.
   More sensuously carved than the west doorway of the church, the ornate Plateresque north entry may have been influenced by the Manueline style—an ornate amalgam of late Gothic, Moorish and oriental architecture that flourished in 15th century Portugal. 

Like all the sculpture at Huejotzingo, the exotic detailing of the north porch reflects religious symbolism, in this case related to its historical function. 
   From medieval times, the north doorway of the church had held special significance for the Franciscans. The portiuncula, as it was known, commemorated the rebuilding of the tiny ruined chapel of Santa Maria degli Angeli, just outside Assisi, by the young, newly converted St. Francis. As the processional entry to a Franciscan church, it was usually opened only on certain feast days, such as Easter Friday. 
   Also known as the Door of Jubilee, in a wider sense it symbolized for the friars the portal of Paradise, the entry of the faithful to the New Jerusalem.  In fact some believe that details of the Huejotzingo design were based on an Old Testament description of Solomon's Temple, one of the biblical models for the Celestial City that would be established after the Second Coming of Christ—an event imminently anticipated by the more eschatological missionaries. 
The Jambs
The broad, foliated doorjambs are bracketed by pearl moldings above and below and divided by unusual half columns with bulbous "basket" capitals and bases. Heraldic shields displaying the crossed Keys of Heaven are affixed to the center of either column, superimposed upon crucifixes hung with reliefs of the Instruments of the Passion. 
   The columns are headed by enormous finials of sprouting acanthus leaves topped by bunches of grapes, that burst through the doorframe into the archway overhead.
The Archway
A distinctive chain molding 
around the center archway is thought to signify the Order of the Golden Fleece, an aristocratic religious/military order headed by the Spanish Emperor Charles V.
   Similar chain moldings appear in the porteria and posas of the monastery, although the pervasive presence of this motif here at Huejotzingo is unexplained.
chain moldings on the porteria and posa
The outer floral ring above the archway is especially bold. Alternating, broad leaf clusters and swelling buds sprout from the molding, vigorously modeled in the round.  
   A generous alfiz studded with rosettes frames the entire doorway, also enclosing escutcheons of the Five Wounds on either side.

Check out our other recent posts on colonial facades and doorways of note: 

text and photography © 1989, 1992 & 2017 Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: a painting by Talavera

In a previous post we described the grand painting at San Juan Coixtlahuaca depicting the meeting of saints Francis and Dominic, by the painter Pablo José de Talavera, one of a noted family of poblano artists, who also worked in Oaxaca.
images by José Ignacio Lanzagorta
Talavera is credited with two other monumental paintings of historic events, both hung in the 18th century church of La Soledad in the city of Puebla. 
   The first depicts a crowded procession of the image of the Virgin of La Soledad through the streets of the city, while the second records the issuing of a papal bull that authorized the building of the new church.

Recently our attention was drawn to another canvas by Talavera, executed on a more modest scale, in the Pueblan monastery church of San Miguel Huejotzingo
   This richly colored composition illustrates in a popular style the theme of the Fulfillment of Christ—a doctrine according to which the events in Christ’s life and death were thought to fulfill many of the prophecies in the Old Testament.        
    The painting depicts Christ on the cross, flanked by the figures of Justice and Faith on the left, and a horned and goat legged Satan hunched on the right. Justice wields a sword and scales while Faith holds a crucifix and a heart shaped vessel to catch the blood of Christ. The painting is inscribed with several relevant biblical quotations in Latin.
   The painting is signed "Talavera imbent (inventor)" emphasizing the artist’s creative achievement in addition to his artistic proficiency, and thus his professional status as a “learned practitioner of a noble art.”
However, according to our colleagues at PESSCA, the image is an almost exact copy of a 1578 engraving by the Flemish printmaker Hendrick Goltzius, part of a series on The Allegories of Faith.    Nevertheless, the confident adaptation of the small print to a larger format, with vivid, added color and finely observed detail, testify to Talavera's skills as an artist and draftsman.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by José Ignacio Lanzagorta and courtesy of PESSCA
See our sister site for a series on the Huejotzingo murals.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Totimehuacan 3: the paintings

For our third and final post on Totimehuacan, we look at two other outstanding colonial artworks that stand in the nave of the parish church of San Francisco.
   These are large, complex paintings of high quality: a monumental Last Judgment, and a crowded canvas depicting Purgatory (Las Animas).

The Last Judgment
This extraordinary composition, dating from the late 1600s, is by the Andalusian painter Antonio de Santander, patriarch of a leading family of Pueblan artists.
By customary tradition, Christ sits in judgment atop a globe, flanked in this case by the Virgin Mary, John the Evangelist and assembled saints and ranks of the Elect.  St. Francis as standard bearer clutches the cross, accompanied by angels holding the Instruments of the Passion. 
St Michael flanked by angel and devil
Below, to one side of St. Michael portrayed with his fiery sword, the saved ascend to gate of Heaven, while the condemned look down in despair towards the mouth of Hell and its demons below.
   An interesting touch is the angel and devil posed on either side of the archangel, holding open books with contrasting Latin inscriptions, respectively: "I was the Father, the eye of the Poor." and "We oppress the Poor." 
The Thomassin engraving of the Last Judgment (1606)
 The composition is loosely based on a widely sourced print by the French engraver Philippe Thomassin.

Las Animas (aka The Communion of Saints)
In this crowded second canvas, a vigorous Archangel Michael is again the focus, dominating the lower tier. Beside him, St. Dominic and St. Francis reach down to the struggling souls in Purgatory. 
   Founders of the other religious Orders line up behind St. Michael, while a company of prominent saints, apostles and martyrs of the Church fill the celestial tier above. The Trinity occupies the top level accompanied by the Holy Family and the Patriarchs and Prophets of the Old Testament, while angelic musicians play below the dove of the Holy Spirit.
   Possibly commissioned as a more inclusive companion piece to the Last Judgment and although unsigned,? it is likely also the work of Antonio de Santander or members of his family workshop.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  
images by PESSCA and adapted from published material by Jaime Morera.
Please review our other posts on Last Judgment depictions in Mexico, at: SuchixtlahuacaXoxotecoEl Llanito; Yanhuitlan.   upcoming:  Jarácuaro;  Zirimícuaro; 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Totimehuacan 2: the altarpieces

San Francisco Totimehuacan - parish church front (Niccolo Brooker)
In our first post we described the now abandoned buildings of the early Franciscan monastery at Totimehuacan. Here we look at significant colonial paintings and altarpieces, some saved from the monastery, that are preserved in the nearby parish church.

Perhaps the crown jewel of the furnishings is the well preserved side altarpiece illustrating the Miracles of St. Anthony of Padua, whose statue occupies the center niche.
Still in generally excellent condition, the retablo, although fashioned in Plateresque style with elegant, fluted Corinthian columns, is thought to date from the early 17th century. The paintings are rendered in a light and colorful popular style.
A related work of quality is this ornately carved and gilded side retablo of the Calvary, notable for its almost life-size statues of Christ Crucified and the attendant Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist.
Please review our previous posts on Pueblan altarpieces of note: 
TecaliPuebla CathedralCuauhtinchanAtlixco Third OrderAtlixco San FranciscoSan José Chiapa
text and images © 1989 & 2017  Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Totimehuacan 1: a noble ruin

Totimehuacan in 1989
San Francisco Totimehuacan
In this blog we have looked at several early Franciscan monasteries in Puebla.*  Most are still in use after almost 500 years, and some, like the basilica at Tecali, are now roofless and disused. 
   However, few of these grand early churches remain in such a ruinous and neglected state as the great 16th century monastery at Totimehuacan, formerly one of the most important and handsome Franciscan houses in the region.
Totimehuacan today
In the first of three posts on Totimehuacan we review the architectural high points of the church and convento.
    Founded in the 1560s, construction of the massive church, girded by a large atrium, took another 20 years. Reputedly built to a design by the celebrated Spanish architect Francisco Becerra, who also worked on nearby Cuautinchan and Puebla Cathedral, the church was remodeled more than once in the colonial period.
Totimehuacan, the facade
Even in its present abandoned condition, the 16th century west entry retains its severe Renaissance grandeur, closely related to the purista style front at the nearby Basilica of Tecali. 
   Sleek paired columns reach up from high, squared bases to frame the outsized arched doorway, forming a classic triumphal arch.
Tecali, the Basilica
The roofless nave to the west, and east
Little now stands of the lofty vaulting of the nave, save for the ribbed section above the polygonal apse, which, together with the now missing wooden main altarpiece, long helped to protect a large 16th century Calvary fresco in the rear lunette—all that remains of the once abundant church murals. 
  Although only fragments remain, they testify to its high quality and possible affinity to the similarly placed Crucifixion scene at Tecali.
The two story convento also remains in ruins, with only a few column sections and gaping openings to indicate its former scale.   
In our next post on Totimehuacan we will look at the colonial furnishings preserved in the parish church, including retablos and an unusual painting of the Last Judgment. 
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author, Niccolò Brooker and ELTB

* please review some of our other posts on Puebla: Puebla cathedralSan José ChiapaSan José de PueblaSan Francisco de PueblaIzucarEl CarmenLa LuzSan AntonioSan MarcosGuadalupeEagle WarriorsJolalpanTecamachalcoQuecholac

Friday, June 2, 2017

San Juan Bautista Cuautinchán: the main altarpiece

In a post on our sister site, we review the diverse early murals at the Franciscan monastery of San Juan Bautista Cuautinchán, south of the city of Puebla. 
   Erected in the 1570s to a design of Francisco Becerra, the Spanish architect who designed Puebla Cathedral, the rugged, twin-towered church was built to last, despite suffering recurrent blows from earthquakes.

Among its early colonial treasures, the main altarpiece in the church stands out. Although reputed to be the earliest altarpiece of substance in Mexico, its actual origins and authorship remain in question.
   One story has that it was originally commissioned and fabricated, circa 1570, for the main altar of Franciscan church of the Five Wounds in the city of Puebla. In this version, Francisco Becerra, the eminent architect, may have been the author of the altarpiece, although other documents name Nicolás Tejeda de Guzmán, a noted painter, and Pedro de Brizuela, a sculptor, as principals.
  Then, in 1599 the mestizo artist Juan de Arrúe, who is believed to have painted some of the main panels, acquired it as part payment for other work and sold it to the pueblo of Tehuacán for their convento, then in completion, and undertook various alterations.
   However, an earthquake severely damaged the church in Tehuacán before it could be installed, so the retablo was transferred to the community of Cuautinchán and duly installed in its church of San Juan Bautista in 1601. 
   Yet another version posits Arrúe together with his father, a Sevillian sculptor, as the authors of the altarpiece, which was actually created for Tehuacán. Damaged after the earthquake, it was restored in Puebla, and then, being out of scale with the rebuilt church at Tehuacan, passed on to Cuautinchán. Whatever the facts, its antiquity is undoubted.

Its structure is relatively straightforward, with the focus on the paintings. The compartments are simply framed by slender fluted and baluster columns in Renaissance Plateresque style and horizontal friezes with angel's heads.
The Cuautinchan retablo, upper tiers
The narrative program consists almost entirely of six large paintings, which we may attribute to Arrúe. They illustrate key episodes in the life of Christ in a sober if warm Renaissance style, tempered by a colorful Mannerist palette—perhaps reflecting his Andalusian heritage, or more likely the influence of the Sevillian painter Andrés de Concha with whom the artist may have worked in Oaxaca. 
On the first tier we see a dramatic Annunciation, and a Nativity scene (Adoration of the Shepherds) which includes a traditional bagpiper.
   The center tier depicts a related Three Kings (Adoration of the Magi) and the Resurrection, while the top tier includes the Ascension and Pentecost. The Assumption of the Virgin in the center panel is a later work.
Across the foot of the retablo, the predella, represents the Apostles, in this case including, unusually, Judas Iscariot, without halo but holding the bag of coins on the extreme right (i), whose large, bent nose signifies his moral deformity.   
   Columns of smaller scale portraits of saints flank the retablo on either side. The only statue, in the central niche, may have originally portrayed St. Francis, but was changed for Tehuacán, whose advocation was La Purísima, as it remains. 
   After long years of neglect the altarpiece was first conserved in 1987, and more recently in 2006 when the paintings were restored.

Please review our previous posts on Pueblan altarpieces of note: TecaliPuebla CathedralCuauhtinchanAtlixco Third OrderAtlixco San FranciscoSan José Chiapa
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolo Brooker and others.