Friday, November 30, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: San Antonio Xocnaceh

We continue our posts on the haciendas of Yucatán and their chapels, with a look at this one in the Puuc region of the peninsula:
This roofless chapel near Oxkutzcab, until recently abandoned since the Caste War of the 19th century, now functions as a reception area adjunct to the private hacienda, open to selected visitors.
The classic 18th century Yucatecan facade features twin belfries with pointed Gothic openings. The sharply pitched center pediment frames an empty niche that once housed a stone statue of the patron saint, St Anthony.
Despite long neglect and exposure to the weather, vestiges of colorful 18th century murals still cling to the surfaces along the nave and in the sanctuary.
mural of St. Anthony
While most of these remnants consist of floral bands and friezes, a portrait of St Anthony, the patron saint, has also survived.
The chapel interior today
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and Jürgen Putz
please visit our other Yucatán hacienda posts: Tabi; Blanca Flor

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Haciendas of Yucatán: Blanca Flor

Yucatán is rich in haciendas, many of them built or expanded during the henequen boom of the early 20th century. In almost every instance a small family chapel was included in the hacienda precincts, either as a dedicated area within the central casa grande or more commonly,as a separate structure.
   We return to Yucatán to visit some of the more interesting examples in the region:
 One of the most distinctive chapels, whose long and eventful history dates back to colonial times, with links to the Caste War and the Revolution, is at Hacienda Blanca Flor, now in the state of Campeche.
Blanca Flor boasts an elegant but evocative 18th century ruined chapel (above), set dramatically on a hillside beside the old Mérida-Campeche highway, across from the hacienda itself. Through its gaping pedimented doorway, the visitor can glimpse the peeling painted walls of the sanctuary, abandoned and untouched for over 100 years.
The hacienda was founded in colonial times as a Franciscan estate and monastic retreat. Most of the older buildings, including the high ceilinged sala and graceful moorish gateways (below) are still intact. The Empress Carlota stayed here on a state visit to Campeche in December 1865, but the old rooms around the inner patio were modernized in the 1900s to accommodate visiting friars. Today the hacienda is open to the public as a wayside inn. 
Blanca Flor, the hacienda gateway
Blanca Flor occupies a special place in Yucatecan lore. During the Caste War, in May 1848, defenders of the hacienda successfully fought off Maya rebels, stemming their advance towards Mérida and possibly saving the capital from being overrun. 
   In 1915, in defiance of federal authority, hastily assembled militias drawn from Mérida's middle class made a heroic stand at Blanca Flor. Surprising the advancing Revolutionary Army of General Alvarado, the ill-trained recruits held off the hardened Mexican troops for twelve hours, firing volleys from machine guns mounted on the chapel roof. At the cost of considerable casualties, the Yucatecans were eventually dislodged from the battered chapel and they retreated north towards Mérida, only to be overtaken and captured at Pocboc and Halachó.
   Eventually, the Revolutionary government prevailed in Yucatán, although here, as elsewhere in Mexico, many promises of the Revolution remain to be fulfilled.
text © 1988 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Miguel S. Espinosa Villatoro
please visit our other Yucatán hacienda posts: Tabi; Xocnaceh

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Campeche: The Monastery of San Francisquito

Nestled at the intersection of Calles 12 and 59, a few blocks from Campeche cathedral in the fortified city of Campeche, is the diminutive monastery of San Francisquito. It was built as a refuge for the friars within the city walls when pirates or other hazards threatened the mission of San Francisco up the coast. 
San Francisquito, the main altarpiece
The narrow little 18th century church is the setting for an exuberant set of late baroque altarpieces: a main altarpiece and four side retablos, rich in Franciscan iconography, recently restored by INAH. 
the side retablos
Restored in dazzling white and ochre, they feature elaborately carved spiral and estípite columns and are intricately ornamented with a filigree of open scroll work. Wooden statues of the best loved saints of the Franciscan order are accompanied by scenes from their lives carved in colorful relief. 
retablo of San Antonio (detail)
The arcaded former hospice next door on Calle 12 has been tastefully restored as a municipal cultural center, keeping the original columns and the carved stone well in the center of the patio. 
© Niccolo Brooker
Its recessed entry is emblazoned with the Crossed Arms of the Franciscan Order amid pierced medallions of the sun, moon, and star of Bethlehem—a reference to Our Lady of Bethlehem, a frequent patron of hospices in Mexico and elsewhere.
text © 1998 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author except where noted
Please visit our earlier pages on the frontier churches of Yucatán: Chemax; ChikindzonotIchmulSacalacaSabán; Peto/Petulillo;

Saturday, November 17, 2018

San Francisco de Campeche

We resume our posts on Yucatán with a look at two churches in the City of Campeche on the western coast of the peninsula:
After the long-delayed conquest of Campeche in 1540,  Francisco de Montejo, the conquistador of Yucatán, invited the Franciscans to establish their first mission here. The friars deliberately chose a location close to the original Maya settlement but at some distance from the fledgling Spanish town, in part to keep the newly converted Indians away from what they considered the baleful influence of the Spanish colonists.
   The earliest mission building was a primitive affair, described by a visiting friar in 1545 as, “built of pole and thatch like the rest of the houses of the pueblo.” This flimsy structure was soon replaced by a masonry mission, which was to be the prototype for many of the later monasteries in Yucatán. It was designed as a compact block, incorporating both church and convento, with the friars’ living quarters placed on the shady north side of the church.

Little of the original fabric of the mission now remains, because its exposed position at the water’s edge made it vulnerable to pirate attacks, as well as to the unremitting action of the sea. As early as 1588, the visiting Father Ponce complained that the building was in deplorable condition, with a leaky roof and waves pounding upon its walls. Today, construction of the coastal highway has at last placed the restored mission beyond the reach of the Gulf waters.
A column embedded in the arcaded portería that stretches across the monastery front commemorates the historic mass of 1517. 
The church facade—currently painted red—is plain and square, its plain classical porch surmounted by a dated relief with the Stigmata—testimony to the long Franciscan presence here. 
The austere 16th century profile of the mission has been altered with an 18th century belfry, pierced by curved and pointed bell niches.
The simple, whitewashed interior of the church contains a monolithic limestone font in which members of the Cortés family were allegedly baptized.
text and photography © 1988 & 2018 Richard D. Perry
Please visit our earlier pages on the frontier churches of Yucatán: Chemax; ChikindzonotIchmulSacalacaSabán; Peto/Petulillo;

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Azcapotzalco. The Santa Ana altarpiece

A third altarpiece of interest stands in the Rosary Chapel at Azcapotzalco.  Designed in a modified Solomonic style and featuring tritostyle spiral columns, the retablo is a century earlier than the main altarpiece, dating from the 1680s.
   Probably originally located in the main church, this gilded two tier retablo may once have had a third tier - perhaps removed when it was relocated.
The altarpiece is dedicated to Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, whose figure occupies the glassed in center niche
   Unlike the main retablo in the chapel, this one displays paintings rather than statuary. These have been identified as the work of the eminent Mexican baroque painter Juan Correa the Elder (c.1645 - 1716) whose signature appears on at least one of the panels (1681)
La Purísima;                                                  The Annunciation
   On the lower level, scenes of the birth of the Virgin Mary and her appearance in the Temple flank the image of St Anne, while on the second tier we see the Annunciation and the Visitation on either side of a larger panel portraying the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima)
La Purísima panel
Portraits of the Doctors of the Latin Church appear along the predella at the base of the retablo.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color image from online sources

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Azcapotzalco: The El Rosario altarpiece

In a previous post we showcased the retablo of St. Rose of Lima in the Dominican church of San Felipe & Santiago Azcapotzalco  in Mexico City.  In this post we look at the first of two altarpieces in the adjacent Rosary Chapel: The principal retablo of El Rosario is dedicated to the Virgin of the Rosary, a devotion especially associated with the Dominicans.

Created c.1775, the gilded retablo mayor is fashioned in the terminal baroque style known as anástilo (eg: without support) in which ornament overwhelms visible structure.  
   Figural ornament is confined to statuary. A modern statue of the Virgin of the Rosary appears in the center niche or vitrine. Most of the other figures however, appear contemporary with the retablo itself, from the 1770s: The Virgin is flanked by statues of her parents, Sts Joachim and Anne. 
St. Joseph stands with the Christ Child in the niche above her, flanked in turn by Sts Peter and Paul in the lateral niche-pilasters.  Others include St John the Evangelist and John the Baptist  as well as Zacharias and Isabel, the parents of the latter.
The Archangel Michael steps out from the apex of the retablo.
Numerous rounded reliefs illustrate the mysteries of the Rosary, the Joys and Sorrows of the Virgin.
The altarpiece is flanked by corner altars beneath the dome in a similar style of ornament: showcasing statues of St John Nepomuk and St Gertrude.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images by JIL

Friday, November 2, 2018

Azcapotzalco, the Villalpando altarpiece

This the first in a series on the altarpieces of the Dominican church of San Felipe y Santiago in Azcapotzalco, in the city of Mexico.
   In an earlier post we looked at the main altarpiece at Huaquechula, which features a complete set of paintings by the eminent baroque painter and Mexican native Cristóbal de Villalpando.
   Villalpando emerged in the 1680s as one of the leading painters in viceregal Mexico, noted for his daring compositions, dynamic movement, brilliant color and expressive elegance. 
   Influenced by the Flemish master Rubens, Villalpando's painting exemplifies the luminous Mexican baroque, leavened by the warm, Mannerist inspired Andalusian artistic tradition so popular in Mexico but at the same time reflecting a New World earthiness.
   In this post we look at the only other surviving Mexican altarpiece with a complete sequence of paintings by Villalpando, that of the retablo of Sta Rosa de Lima, in the Dominican church of San Felipe y Santiago in Azcapotzalco.
The Paintings
Appropriately, all sixteen painted panels document scenes from the life of St. Rose of Lima—a complete set and still in their original locations within the retablo. 
   As one of his first major commissions, one that  undoubtedly helped establish his reputation, the paintings are representative of Villalpando's early style—employing simply structured compositions and a palette of cool, somber colors appropriate to the themes illustrated.
Birth and Death of St Rose
Starting at the lowest of the four tiers of the retablo, the predella consists of four elongated panels that portray the birth, illness and death of the saint, with a scene of her being approached by a well dressed hidalgo (the Devil) These have a popular feeling compared with the more formal panels in the main tiers.
On the first main tier, panels illustrate the saint mortifying her self on the left, and praying on the right. The two center panels portray Christ appearing to her (left) and, on the right, St. Rose embracing Him on the cross.
On the next level are two views of the saint kneeling with the crowned Virgin and Child. These flanked by more penitential scenes on either side. 
In the center, Rose, crowned with roses, walks with the young Christ, the most luminous and colorful scene among the generally somber blues and grays of the other portrayals.
© Pedro López
Paintings along the top tier, include a scene of Jesus presenting the saint with her signature crown of Roses (left) and on the right, a more domestic scene of Rose embroidering a pillow, accompanied by the youthful Jesus and a dove!  In the large center panel, the solitary figure of the saint inside a temple is one of the most striking compositions.
© Pedro Lopez
Murals on either side of the retablo, probably of later origin, portray the saint in the celestial company of the Archangel Gabriel opposite the Holy Trinity.
   Note: Villalpando painted other major commissions portraying the life of St. Rose of Lima, mostly on behalf of the Dominican Order including altarpieces in the cathedrals of Puebla and Mexico City. Unlike the Azcapotzalco retablo many of these panels have been dispersed. One example, the Mystical Marriage of St. Rose, commissioned by the Dominican Order and incorporating a portrait of St. Dominic, was recently on display in Santa Barbara, California.
Check out our other pages on colonial Mexican regional altarpieces of note: 
*Puebla:    TecaliPuebla CathedralCuauhtinchanAtlixco Third OrderAtlixco San FranciscoSan José ChiapaTotimehuacan; Huaquechula
*Oaxaca: San Felipe Neri; San Agustín;  CoixtlahuacaYanhuitlan;  Ixtlan;
*Yucatan: San Bernardino de Sisal; the Master of Mani; Tabi; Tecoh; Tejupan; Calotmul: Calkini; Mendoza retablos
AranzazúAmacueca; Cadereyta; Santa Prisca de TaxcoSanta Prisca - main; Querétaro: the Rojas retablos; TepeyancoEl Cabezón

text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and other sources as noted.