Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Santa Cruz Tlaxcala: Sins and Sacraments

Santa Cruz de Tlaxcala
This is the second of two posts on the arts of Santa Cruz de Tlaxcala. In our first post we looked at the various crosses in the church precincts. Here we look at two unique paintings inside the church. 
Santa Cruz de Tlaxcala, the main altarpiece with the Holy Cross
To either side of the main altarpiece, in the apse of the church, hang a pair of large 18th century paintings of great interest. Dated 1735, they depict the opposing/complementary concepts of the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Sacraments.
   Both paintings are composed using the device of a symbolic tree: in the case of the Seven Sacraments, the Tree of Life (the Crucifixion,) and for the Seven Sins, the Tree of Evil or Knowledge, as portrayed in the Garden of Eden with Adam, Eve and the snake. 
   In each case too, the Sins and Sacraments are clearly illustrated in oval medallions that seem to spring from the branches, and are identified by name. 
The Seven Sacraments
In the Sacraments painting to the left of the altar, the cross of the Crucifixion is transformed into a grapevine, from which hang bunches of fruit being gathered by saints and other workers—a portrayal associated with the concept of the Mystic Vintage, in which the redemptive blood of Christ is identified with the wine harvest.  
The Seven Deadly Sins
A similar format is followed in the Seven Sins canvas on the right side. The Garden of Eden especially is delightfully portrayed with an abundance of flora and fauna in realistic detail—including native cacti and a variety of birds and animals, including peacocks and camels! 
The Tree of Knowledge, Adam, Eve and the snake
Aside from their grand themes, outsize scale, broad range of color and extraordinary detail, both paintings are notable for their inscriptions in Nahuatl, the indigenous language of the region.
   It is interesting that the use of the native tongue should be employed in colonial religious art of this late date (1745), a time when most parishioners would be accustomed to Spanish or Latin texts in works of this prominence. 
   This suggests that the works may have been aimed primarily at the numerous native pilgrims and penitents who came to visit the famous cross from across the region during the Corpus Christi festival, a time when celebrated miracle plays, also in Nahuatl, were performed, and when the priests may have used the occasion to deliver cautionary sermons using the paintings as texts.
   There is also the possibility that the paintings were commissioned by members of the local native nobility, who especially in Tlaxcala, were protective of their privileges and retained a prominent leadership role throughout the colonial period.
text and images © 1999 and 2017 by Richard D. Perry
all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Tlaxcalan crosses: Santa Cruz Tlaxcala

This is the first of two posts on the arts of Santa Cruz de Tlaxcala:
Santa Cruz Tlaxcala
In addition to the eponymous bejeweled cross lodged in the gilded retablo inside the church, two other crosses—of carved stone by way of contrast—survive in the precincts of this venerable 16th century Franciscan monastery.
The Facade Cross
Possibly once mounted in the atrium but now housed in an upper niche, this large early colonial cross is hewn from gray basalt. 

   Simple in outline, its raised borders along the slender arms and shaft enclose a variety of Passion related and extraneous objects, many of them quite curiously posed and not easily discerned because of the height, angle and protective netting.
The eroded Face at the crossing is complemented by disembodied hands on either arm and crossed feet on the lower shaft (circled)—one of the few early examples of a cross designed as the physical if abbreviated body of Christ.
Aside from the higgledy-piggledy placement, odd items include a single, quarter round Wound on the side of the shaft, a pair of vases with corn plants at the foot, assorted pikes and a mysterious floral device with two egg like objects on the neck of the cross.

The Gateway Cross
A second, much eroded and possibly older basalt cross now stands atop the atrium gateway. Within its incised outline and flared finials, traces are still evident of some Passion reliefs such as drilled Wounds and possibly a Face or Crown at its axis. An inscrutable date or acronym is carved into the neck.

See our other posts on the crosses of Tlaxcala: 
ApetatitlanTeolocholcoTlatelulcoXiloxoxtlaAtzitzimititlán; Huactzinco
text and graphic © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tlaxcalan Crosses: San Juan Huactzinco

We continue our series on Tlaxcalan carved stone crosses with a look at an atypical atrium cross at San Juan Huactzinco, in the southern cone of the state near Puebla.


San Juan Huactzinco

Arid Sacred Place
This former open chapel, a visita of Tlaxcala and later, of nearby Tepeyanco, is notable for its elegant 17th century stonework—the carved capitals and arches of the arcaded church front, the facade statue of St. John the Evangelist, the old font in the nave, and above all the sculpted atrium cross.
Wreathed in vines and studded with rosettes, the Huactzinco cross is clearly the work of a sure hand, with several imaginative touches, and quite distinct from others in the region—closer in style to the later cross at Tlaxcalancingo and the foliated crosses of the Teotihuacan area.
A modest but expressive Face of Christ, set on a square verónica at the crossing, is the main narrative focus, from which grapevines, ripe with grapes and the occasional bursting pomegranate, spiral around the arms and shaft, interspersed with symmetrical rosettes.
No other explicit Passion symbols appear, aside from a Chalice at the foot of the shaft from which a vine snakes upwards. In contrast to the minimal, scalloped finials on either arm, more curling tendrils frame the large INRI plaque atop the cross.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker
See our other posts on the crosses of Tlaxcala: Apetatitlan; Teolocholco; Tlatelulco, XiloxoxtlaAtzitzimititlánSanta Cruz;

Monday, August 7, 2017

Mexican Crosses: San Pablo Huantepec

Aficionada and avid cross hunter Diana Roberts recently drew our attention to an archaic carved stone cross located in the village of San Pablo Huantepec, near Jilotepec in the northern marches of Mexico State.
The Huantepec cross: reverse side and front
Probably dating to the 1600s or even the late 1500s, the unusual "tilted" style cross is densely carved on both sides with a variety of reliefs, some clearly representing classic Passion symbols, others not.
The face of Christ at the crossing, a star like crown of thorns, a rooster and column, a monstrance and a ladder, are identifiable if archaic in style, but other bird like and starburst motifs are outliers. A second face above that at the crossing is also unusual, especially since it appears to wear a prehispanic headdress.
(The ornate INRI plaque capping the cross is a later addition.)
But of special interest is a recurrent, starfish like motif that may signify the ancient, paw like toponym of Huantepec: "Hill of the Feline Monster."
Huantepec place glyph
S. Pedro & Pablo Jilotepec, cloister cross: front and reverse
In addition, this cross and in particular its related motifs bear a close resemblance to those carved on the cloister cross at nearby S. Pedro & S. Pablo Jilotepec, which appears to be a much later, maybe modern, adaptation of the older Huantepec cross.
text & graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Diana Roberts
see some of our other posts on Mexican crosses:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Painting God's House: an exhibit

A new exhibit of seventeen prints under this title by noted Dallas photographer Carolyn Brown is opening in Dallas this weekend. 
As an exploration of colorful reliefs and folkloric church fronts, mostly in the Puebla region, it will be an eye opener for aficionados who can attend.  
The show will run until September 12, and is hoped to travel it to other locations in Texas.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Crosses of Tlaxcala

The churches of Tlaxcala are rich in colonial architecture, arts and artifacts, examples of which we have singled out in earlier posts.
   One of the earliest groups of regional artifacts is that of carved stone atrium crosses, some dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of the Tlaxcala crosses follow those of neighboring Puebla in form, with long, slender arms and shaft, often decorated with rosettes and other foliar motifs, and capped by ornamental INRI plaques. 
La Malinche volcano
In this post we focus on a distinctive group of crosses in the hinterland of the city of Tlaxcala, some in the shadow of the Malinche volcano. They follow the same outline and all are densely carved with small scale Passion symbols in relief, set within raised borders. Especially notable are the hirsute, frontal faces of Christ at the axis.
   This regional cluster suggests, as in the case of the Puebla crosses we saw earlier, the work of a local, itinerant group of skilled stone carvers in the late 1600s.
San Pablo Apetatitlan                                   San Luis Teolocholco * 

Magdalena Tlatelulco                                   Santa Isabel Xiloxoxtla (dated 1670) 
Belén Atzitzimititlán (Place of the Star Goddess)
San Matías Tepetomatitlan embedded wall cross (crosspiece only)
*  Breaking News...
The magnificent atrium cross at Teolocholco was recently broken into several pieces by an unidentified agency.  Hopefully it will be repaired and reassembled soon with only minimal damage.
see some of our other posts on Mexican crosses:
text and graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry.   all rights strictly reserved

Belén Atzitzimititlán cross photograph by Judith Hancock