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

1 comment:

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