Monday, October 8, 2018

San Bartolomé Otzolotepec 1. The Altarpiece

San Bartolomé Otzolotepec (On Jaguar Hill), now also known as Villa Cuauhtémoc, is located to the northeast of the city of Toluca in western Mexico State. 
   Although there was a church here in the latter 1500s, the present parish church is of later colonial origin, being built in the early 1700s under the episcopal clergy* and with the active cooperation of the indigenous Otomí of the region.
The church is substantial but unexceptional, its gray stone facade modestly but skilfully framed in the sober baroque style of the period. A statue of St. Bartholomew, the patron saint and martyr with flaying knife in hand, looks down from its niche.

The Main Altarpiece
This gleaming masterpiece of colonial art, epitomizes the high point of the Solomonic baroque style, which flourished in the first half of the 18th century. 
   Dating from 1726, it is documented as the work of the metropolitan designer/ensamblador Francisco Xavier de Olivares, and fortunately retains most of its original statuary and paintings. 
The retablo thrusts forward like a folding screen. Gilded, double helix columns divide three tiers of alternating sculpture niches and painted panels; the intervening cornices and panels are sumptuously encrusted with scrolls, shells and swirling foliage.
The Statuary
Variously framed arches cap the niches which house a series of handsomely wrought, elongated figures of saints conservatively posed but richly costumed in the decorative estofado manner.
   St. Bartholomew graces the upper niche in the broad central calle of the retablo, while Sts Peter, Paul and eminent Franciscans occupy the angled lateral niches.
St. Bartholomew
St. Ambrose?      St. Augustine;     St. Matthew
St. John the Evangelist;      St. Mark;     St. Luke    
Miniature reliefs of the Four Evangelists and the Doctors of the Latin Church are exquisitely carved along the base, or predella, at the foot of each column, further emphasizing the superb workmanship of this retablo.
The Martyrdom of St Bartholomew by José de Ibarra
The Paintings
Another notable aspect of the altarpiece is the paintings in its outer calles. These include four major panels illustrating scenes from the life of St. Bartholomew, signed by the eminent baroque artist José de Ibarra—all the more important as they may constitute his earliest known complete cycle of paintings.
* The construction of the church was speedily completed under the direction of the energetic local priest, Prebendaro Nicolás López Jardón (for whom the recently established adjacent municipal museum is named) with the sponsorship of one José Ramo de Vera, a prominent local inquisitor.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images by Dolores Dahlhaus, Cecilia Gutierrez Arriola, ELTB, and others

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