Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hidden Gems: Santa Inés Xanenetla, a folk baroque chapel in Puebla

From time to time we take a look at modest Mexican churches with a colonial pedigree that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of special artistic interest.
Xanenetla, supporting angel
Named for the light volcanic gravel of the locality (Xalnenetl)—a favored construction material as well as an ideal medium for the pottery and tiles for which the barrio is noted—Xanenetla was originally settled in the 1550s by indigenous workers from the Valley of Mexico, drafted as labor for the building of the city of Puebla.
In the 1620s, a large convent was founded here to house elite Dominican nuns that was dedicated to the 15th century prioress and miracle worker St Agnes of Montepulciano
In the 1770s it was decided to rebuild the nun’s chapel, which was rededicated in 1777. The present folk baroque facade dates from this time, a colorful local landmark noted for its painted stucco estípite pilasters and reliefs, whose colors change from time to time—formerly burnt orange, white and red; currently green and light blue!
As is customary, saints Peter and Paul flank the doorway, while the pilaster medallions portray saints Dominic and Catherine of Siena, and the Franciscans Francis and Clare—all in popular style.

A statue of Santa Inés stands atop the facade balustrade. Curiously, her namesake, the lamb (agnes=lamb) which usually sits atop the book she carries, here rests on her head! (a traditional relief of Santa Inés from Santo Domingo de Puebla is on the right)
And much eroded figures of archangels stand out between the columns of the elaborately tiered bell tower.

The Archangel Raphael;                   The Guardian Angel;

Of special historic interest are the large 18th century paintings hung along the nave, portraying key events in the history of the convent depicted in a manner that contrasts with the folkloric style of the facade. 
   Above, Bishop Domingo Pantaleón Álvarez de Abreu bestows the veil on the founding sisters, and below, we see the presentation by Pope Benedict XIV of the official cedula authorizing the founding of the convent (detail).
Check out our other Hidden Gems: Xichu de IndiosSan Felipe Sultepec; San Pablo Malacatepec;  OcoxochitepecMixquiahualaCherán;
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by ELTB

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

El Rosario, Sinaloa. the main altarpiece

In the next of our series on the notable altarpieces of Northern Mexico, we visit the rebuilt/reassembled parish church/cathedral of Nuestra Señora del Rosario, a historic mining town in the state of Sinaloa, to view its newly restored main retablo.
In 2014 restoration was completed of this magnificent, gilded baroque altarpiece in the baroque church of El Rosario—the finest of three such retablos in the state of Sinaloa. Conservation measures involved cleaning, fumigation, repair of carved details including the original statuary, and re-gilding the entire altarpiece.
Funded by the riches from the local mines, which provided the gold with which it is sheathed, the 30 foot high altarpiece dates from the 1770s and is designed in the sinuous, late baroque manner called the Churrigueresque, or barroco estípite style. 
   It was moved in the 1950s together with the 18th century church after reassemblage on its present site (the church was on the point of collapse due to subsidence from mine workings.)
Carved from cedar, the retablo is framed by four prominent, be scrolled, estípite pilasters that enclose equally bold, serpentine interestípites or niche-pilasters. 
   The niches support rather than enclose statues of saints, that comprise saints Paul and Joseph with the Christ Child on the lower tier, and Anne and Joachim, the parents of the Virgin, above them. The Archangel Gabriel dominates the curved top tier accompanied by St. Dominic and St. Peter.
The richly costumed figure of the patron, the Virgin of the Rosary, occupies the curtained niche on the lower tier. 
See our earlier posts in this series: the Ureña altarpiece of Saltillo/Monclova; Parras de La Fuente; Sabinas Hidalgo;
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry.  color images by Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, February 14, 2018


We thought our readers would be interested in this new exhibit of striking photographic images, mostly drawn from colonial Mexico, by our friend and colleague, the eminent Dallas photographer Carolyn Brown. 
To view selected images from the show go to Carolyn's website

¡Feliz Día del Amor y la Amistad!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sabinas Hidalgo: the San José altarpiece

In a previous post we wrote about the great Ureña * retablo in Monclova. For this post, the third in our series on exceptional altarpieces from northern Mexico, we look at a related regional retablo in the church of San José de Sabinas Hidalgo in the state of Nuevo León.
Church front of San José
Early in 1700s, under the auspices of a pious governor, a new Franciscan church was founded in the settlement of Sabinas Hidalgo. Completed by mid century, the church then needed a suitably imposing main altarpiece.  
   Like San Francisco de Monclova, the otherwise fairly modest church of San José thus boasts a lavish, gilded, baroque altarpiece of stunning elegance. 
The San José altarpiece before recent conservation.  © Carlos Abrego
Dating from the late 1750s, the retablo is a masterly work in the late barroco estípite style, fashioned from prime cedar and mahogany and gilded throughout.  Primarily designed to showcase the statuary, elaborate, two tiered niche-pilasters stretch to the full height of the altarpiece, framed on either side by ornate estípite columns inset with portrait medallions and seated cherubs. 
   Like the Monclova retablo too, all the elements are densely ornamented by a golden tapestry of filigree scrollwork and foliage.
estípite columns with medallions and "winged circle" motif; *              San José
A crowned and elegantly robed St. Joseph, the patron, stands in the center vitrine, cradling the naked infant Christ. The saint is flanked by life size statues of different vintages in the niches, while polychrome relief busts of Franciscan and other saints look out from the oval medallions.
Restored in the 1990s and recently undergoing further conservation, this is the finest altarpiece in the state of Nuevo León and its immediate region.
The San José altarpiece during recent conservation—statuary missing (detail)
Although the designer of the altarpiece is so far undocumented, its reputed fabrication in Zacatecas, where the Ureña workshop was then finishing up its retablo commission for the church of Santo Domingo, together with its striking similarity to the Saltillo/Monclova altarpiece, make it quite plausible that it was also a product of the prodigious Ureña taller.  
*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 or barroco estípite 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 as the  "felipense" style.  
* The winged circle is a signature motif in many Ureña altarpieces.
Other Ureña altarpieces: Rayas ChapelAguascalientesCataLa Valenciana; Saltillo/Monclova;
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by Niccolò Brooker except where noted

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Tlaxcala altarpieces: The Third Order chapel

We continue our series of posts on Tlaxcalan altarpieces with a visit to the church of the Assumption, now Tlaxcala cathedral, which with its adjacent convento originally served as the hub for the Franciscan evangelization of this important early colonial province. 
Church of the Assumption: the Third Order Chapel
The Third Order Chapel, adjacent to the church on its south side, is a showpiece. This imposing chapel replaced the original Capilla de Los Indios in the mid-1600s. Shaped like a Latin cross with its two transepts, the chapel is a major repository of historic early colonial artworks and artifacts.

Notable among these treasures is the main altarpiece, an elegant gilded work fashioned in “Solomonic” baroque style. Set amid an array of complementary side altars, its principal feature is the bold use of vine clad pairs of spiral columns to frame its three levels of sculpture niches, all richly carved and interposed with a tapestry of golden filigree ornament.
These niches showcase life size figure sculptures representing prominent historic members, or Tertiaries—some royal—of the Franciscan Third Order. Although unidentified and uncrowned it is likely that they portray, on the lower tier, the two Isabels—of Hungary and Portugal.
A rapt St. Francis looks heavenward in the middle niche flanked by richly robed royal Tertiaries, probably San Luis Rey and San Fernando Rey. A voluminously bearded God the Father gestures benevolently from the apex of the retablo. 
© Pedro Morales
One of the special treasures of the chapel is the bust of St. Francis occupying the grand center niche. Thought to be an import from the Philippines, his kneeling figure is exquisitely sculpted, painted and costumed in rich estofado style, and prominently displays the Stigmata in the form of large, semi precious stone inlays.
    Francis holds up three globes signifying the Three Franciscan Orders: the Friars Minor, the nuns of St. Clare and the Third Order itself.
See our post on Atlixco for another regional Third Order altarpiece.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy © of Jim Cook except where noted.    All rights reserved.
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; ZacatelcoSan José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;