Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oaxaca: The treasures of Tixá

San Miguel Tixá, the church. ©Niccolò Brooker
Restoration and excavation work at the mission of San Miguel Tixá, near Teposcolula in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, was recently undertaken by the Taller de Restauración de la Biblioteca de Investigación Juan de Córdova (BIJC), funded in part by The Fundación Alfredo Harp Helú of Oaxaca (FAHHO)
Among the finds encountered during the project were the foundations of an arcaded possible former open chapel in the casa conventual adjacent to the church.
The principal colonial artifact of interest in the church is the cristo de caña mounted in the main altarpiece. Known as El Señor de las Maravillas, this processional image may date from the late 16th century and is in an excellent state of conservation with no later over painting.  Special features of the sculpture include the elaborate Crown of Thorns and large loincloth with estofado ornament.
images ©Niccolò Brooker
Other colonial items of interest found at Tixá include a carved stone cross embedded above the blocked north entry to the church, as well as a decorative lectern facia in the form of the Habsburg imperial two headed eagle. Both items incorporate a pierced heart motif.

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images by FAHHO and © Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oaxaca. Treasures of Yautepec 3: the Organ, the Music and the Codex

In 2001 staff of the Instituto de Órganos Históricos de Oaxaca (IOHIO), led by Cicely Winter, visited San Bartolo Yautepec to document the imposing pipe organ housed in the choir loft of the community church.
picture courtesy of IOHIO
Similar in style and probably contemporary with the organ at San Baltazar Yatzachi, the organ dates from around 1800. Its handsome cedar case is embellished with ornamental rococo fretwork and the instrument retains its keyboard and most of its pipes, along with the original bellows—seemingly a good candidate for future restoration.
In the course of the IOHIO investigation, two locked wooden chests were also discovered in the choir loft. When opened they were found to contain religious books and manuscripts dating from the 17th and early 18th century, as well as religious and popular band music from the 19th and early 20th century.
The oldest books and scores appear to have been brought from the Dominican seminary in nearby Santo Domingo Nejapa by the seminarian and later maestro de capilla, Domingo Flores, a native of San Bartolo.
Not only that, but investigators found that one of the books was backed with two sections of a pre-hispanic or early colonial codex painted on deerskin—the first to be discovered in this area of Mexico. 
   Recently reported research* indicates that the faded glyphs on the codex, although in a previously unknown style, seem to be part of a sacred ritual calendar or divinatory almanac.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images from IOHIO and online sources
*see Archeology Magazine Sept/Oct 2018
please visit our other recent posts on Oaxaca: 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Oaxaca. Treasures of Yautepec 2: The Main Altarpiece

The principal artistic treasure inside the church of San Bartolo Yautepec, as with others we have seen in the region, is its gilded main altarpiece.
   Only recently professionally restored, the retablo has a fraught history. In 2003 a botched attempt at restoration, that fraudulently involved the application of gold paint instead of gold leaf, led to its further deterioration.

the altarpiece under restoration (2014)
By 2007 the villagers persuaded the experienced restorers at INAH to undertake a rescue effort, funded by the Harp Helú Foundation (FAHHO)  Preliminary stabilization and conservation of the altarpiece was completed, but funding ran out. Further deterioration ensued but in 2013 work resumed with funds from FAHHO, and full restoration was completed by 2015.
the restored altarpiece
Thought to date from the late 1700s, based on its design and ornament, the retablo rises in two main tiers each framed by slender estípite columns, some enclosing "curtained" niches with layered supporting corbels. All the intervening spaces are densely filled with sinuous rocaille reliefs, whose curved facets reflect a golden light throughout the nave.
   The figure of patron St Bartholomew occupies the opulent center spot, while statues of the Four Evangelists fill the lateral niches.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry

Friday, February 15, 2019

Oaxaca. Treasures of Yautepec 1: The Church

This month we return to Oaxaca to present a series of posts on churches like San Bartolo Yautepec.
   Located in the Sierra Sur region, south east of the City of Oaxaca, the Zapotec mountain community of San Bartolo Yautepec is noted for its mescal and skilled weavers. The church too is home to several colonial treasures—some unsuspected, which we will describe in three posts, starting with the church itself.
Established by the Dominicans as a missionary hub for the region, the colonial church of San Bartolo was built in classic Oaxacan style with a massive front and squat twin towers. However, following a devastating earthquake in 1801 it was much remodeled, notably with its present facade.
The Church Front
The imposing, whitewashed facade is fashioned in ornate neo-moorish style, with multilobed openings, decorative colonnettes, zig-zag moldings and a jagged, mixtilinear gable.

Yautepec, The church gable - detail
Large scale, carved stucco ornament covers the surfaces creating an tapestry of outsize stars and scrolls, barbed quatrefoils and twisting floral motifs.
Quatrefoil with star and heart;                candlestick colonette

Serpentine parapets fringe the tower belfries and cap the outer nave walls.

Similar ornamentation continues inside the church, where a complex stucco grapevine relief spans the under choir, and painted floral friezes outline the pilasters and arches of the vaulted nave.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry 
color images by Niccolò Brooker and others. all rights reserved  
please visit our other recent posts on Oaxacas colonial churches: 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Hidden Gems: Twelve at Oxtoyucan

From time to time we take a look at modest rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.
Oxtoyucan (Place of Caves) was one of the original four barrios of Zempoala, in Hidalgo, and the modest church of San Antonio was founded as a visita of the Franciscan monastery there.
© WW
A substantial raised atrium with high, crenelated walls surrounds the church, which largely dates from the latter 1500s.
Although repeated whitewashing has obscured some details, the expansive west entry is quite elegantly framed. The Franciscan knotted cord encloses a variety of relief rosettes that alternate up the jambs and around the arch of the doorway.
Detail of the jamb
What is of special interest, regardless of the variant, is that these reliefs feature 12 petals and/or 12 dots. Clearly this is intentional, and may well have some significance—possibly a reference to Aztec calendrics? 
Detail of the alfiz
In addition, eight point rosettes alternate in fours with dots along the lofty alfiz that rises beside the jambs and above the doorway—also framed by the cordon and punctuated by relief Calvary crosses at the ends and corners. 
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolò Brooker except where noted

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Hidden Gems: San Matias Tepetomatitlan

From time to time we take a look at modest rural Mexican churches with colonial antecedents that are overlooked by most students of viceregal art and architecture, but that often possess features of artistic interest.  We like to call them Hidden Gems.
San Matias Tepetomatitlan, church and chapel
Tlaxcala is home to a dazzling variety of early missions and visitas. One among these is the charming mudéjar chapel of San Matías, the precursor to the adjacent, later church.
We look first at the chapel facade. On close inspection, the at first glance unprepossessing square front displays a sculpted early doorway, set on classical columns. The arch above the entry is carved with a sequence of stylized rosettes and monograms.

Two unusual moldings in the form of the Franciscan knotted cord span the facade, the upper one supporting relief medallions carved with Franciscan insignia and Christic monograms.
But it is the chapel interior that truly delights. Although rarely open, our intrepid friend Niccolo Brooker recently gained entry, and documented many of its unique features, notably its carved and painted mudéjar ceilings.

   A handsome beamed ceiling (alfarje) spans the lofty but narrow nave, leading to the sanctuary or apse—probably a former open chapel—framed by a carved stone archway much like the entry although on a larger scale.
The beamed nave ceiling is supported above the wall on either side by an angled arrocabe, its two tiers set with dark, carved brackets (zapatas) divided by another Franciscan cord. Swags painted with foliage and angels' heads line the top of the nave wall beneath.
A similar, heavier tiled alfarje roofs the sanctuary, its rear wall painted with a faux gilded retablo in "Solomonic" baroque style. 
Featured paintings honor the patron saint St. Matthew and the Virgin of La Candelaria. A colorful Mexican Trinity dressed in red robes adorns the gable. 
The west end of the chapel is treated similarly, its wooden choir support again ornamented with twisting foliage and angels' heads in red and blue hues and a date of 1731.

The chapel at Tepetomatitlan is a minor gem of mudéjar inspired colonial architecture and decoration, reminiscent of other early interiors like Tlahuelilpa, Angahuan and Aranza.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color photography © 2018 by Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Hidden Gems. San Agustín (Jalisco): La Capilla del Refugio.

In earlier posts on the Jaliscan baroquewe looked at a variety of related churches near the city of Guadalajara. On this page we visit one of the more interesting if modest examples of the historic hospital chapels of the region.
   Unfortunately, the old colonial Franciscan mission church at San Agustín (formerly Nicolás Casillas) a small community close to Atliztac, was demolished as recently as the 1930s, and replaced by a modernistic parish church.

© Tony Burton
Fortunately, the 18th century hospital chapel formerly attached to the mission, now dedicated to Nuestra Señora del Refugio, still stands across from the new church.
Its principal exterior feature is the elegant doorway, fashioned from the local cantera amarilla limestone in a sober classical or mannerist style.  
    Fluted Doric pilasters, like those at Santa Cruz and San Sebastianito, flank the plain arched doorway, while understated reliefs of foliage in the spandrels and atop the outlying urns lend a popular baroque touch.
The arcaded transverse nave

Like some other area chapels, notably at Santa Cruz de Las Flores, La Capilla del Refugio probably started life as an open chapel (now the present apse). And in the same way was later fronted by a double arcaded transverse nave, and finally enclosed by the present facade in late colonial times, as this cutaway section indicates: 
© José Alfredo Alcántar Gutiérrez
Multiple reliefs of stylized rosettes outlining the sanctuary arch add another rich ornamental touch in the regional style. An ambiguous relief figure on the keystone combines a man with an animal, possibly one of the Evangelists.


The base of the atrium cross? out front of the church is inscribed with the date 1681.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry. images courtesy of Tony Burton and online sources.

* See our earlier posts on  Santa Cruz de las Flores,  San Sebastianito,  Santa Anita Atlixtac;  Santa Cruz El Grande; San Juan de Ocotán; Santa Ana Tepetitlan, and the churches around Lake Cajititlan