Monday, May 14, 2018

Stones of Otumba: The Carved Doorways

Place of the Otomi 
High on the high northeastern rim of the Valley of Mexico, Otumba has the only regional place name to commemorate the Otomi, the aboriginal settlers of the valley who had long been a marginalized by a succession of invaders including the Aztecs.
The Monastery of La Purísima
Shortly after the Spanish conquest, in 1527, the Franciscans built a primitive mission of rude adobe atop the earthen mound of a former temple here. With the completion of the Arcos de Zempoala
, a famous aqueduct which brought water over 45 kilometers from Zempoala, Otumba prospered as an agricultural and trading center.
   The present stone monastery replaced the early mission sometime after 1550, possibly supervised by Fray Francisco de Tembleque, the builder of the aqueduct. Although the fabric of the monastery has suffered over the centuries from neglect and thoughtless alteration, happily much of the original stone carving has survived. 

Otumba, the west doorway
In contrast to the elegant Renaissance style of nearby Acolman, most of the stonecarving at Otumba exemplifies the classic early Franciscan style in Mexico—a combination of late Isabelline Gothic, Hispano-Moorish and Romanesque motifs, unified in appearance by the traditional tequitqui sculptural techniques of the native Indian artisans who actually built and ornamented the mission.
In contrast to the blandly resurfaced west front, the west porch is densely textured with relief carving. Sinuous vines and bands of fleurs-de-lis rosettes rise between the slender colonettes that divide the broad triple jambs of the doorway. 
Bulbous "basket" reliefs and pearl moldings head the columns, the outermost of which has been transformed into a Franciscan knotted cord that extends upwards to form a generous alfiz above the doorway. Narrow relief panels of rosettes and vines run along the imposts and continue over the flattened arch of the doorway.
Cord motifs and eight petaled rosettes also frame the choir window surmounted by another knotted cord alfiz.
The Convento
Although the cloister and much of the convento are now in ruins, the imposing double arcade of the grand portería has been restored, retaining its later 16th century Renaissance style. 

In common with several other early monasteries, the portería also housed an open chapel. Its broad, raised archway, framed and ornamented in the same style as the west porch, with rosettes, carved foliage and twisting vines, can be seen recessed into the rear wall behind the larger center arch of the arcade. 
© Niccolò Brooker
The ample convento entrance, at the north end of the portería, is another close relative of the church doorway, its wide triple jambs again carved with narrow colonettes and rich foliar decoration. Medallions of the Five Wounds and passages of mudéjar strap work alternate with thistle-bearing vines around the arch.
convento entry details by ELTB
Several other doorways inside the convento are also intricately carved with curling, spiky foliage.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. 
 images ©1986 by the author, except where noted.  all rights reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment