Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Tlaxcalan Altarpieces: Yauhquemehcan

Located some 15 kms north of the city of Tlaxcala, San Dionisio Yauhquemehcan (Place of Finely Arrayed Warriors) boasts an elegant baroque church with several colonial art works of interest.
The church sits in a spacious atrium surrounded by a scalloped wall capped with conical merlons.
The facade is sculpted from the locally quarried stone known as cantera de Xaltocan and displays statues of archangels and the Saints Peter and Paul in shell niches between decorative zigzag columns on either side of the trefoil west entry. 
St Peter;                                                    St Paul
A similar figure of the patron, St. Dennis (San Dionisio) holding his severed head rests high in the gable.
The lofty bell tower houses one of the largest bells ever cast in Tlaxcala, from neighboring Rosario Ocotoxco, a historic bellfounding village.
The Main Altarpiece
Restored in 2015, this imposing gilded retablo is fashioned in an  idiosyncratic late baroque style with estípite pilasters, and houses multiple images of saints and martyrs, including the patron, as well as painted portraits and life size statuary.
St. Dennis (San Dionisio) 

Las Animas
Also of note at Yauhquemehcan is an enormous painting in the nave of Las Animas with St Michael, dated 1775 and entirely framed by 18 painted panels of guardian angels with individual souls. 
The upper tiers portray the Church Triumphant with the Holy Trinity and the archangel with the ranks of the Elect — apostles, saints and martyrs. 
A Mass for the dead unfolds on the earthly middle tier while Souls struggle in the flames of Purgatory on the lower levels, some rescued by angels.

The church baptismal font is set on a base carved in the form of a archangel with arms uplifted.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry. 
Color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Tlaxcalan Altarpieces: San Pablo del Monte

San Pablo del Monte church, from the atrium gateway
San Pablo del Monte, aboriginally Cuauhtotoatla, “spring of the mountain bird” and later renamed for Vicente Guerrero—a mixed race hero of Mexican Independence, recently reverted to its colonial name and retains its colonial heritage in the form of its handsome 17th century church with its Pueblan style tiled front.
El Retablo Mayor
The church interior boasts a variety of late colonial altarpieces, most notably the recently restored retablo mayor, framed in sumptuous Solomonic style with tiers of helical columns amid a sea of gilded arabesques. 
St. Paul;                                                     St. Peter
Dedicated to St Paul, it displays his statue together with that of St Peter. The lateral paintings illustrate episodes from the life of Paul.
        La Dolorosa;                                                The Passion of Christ
Among the side altars of note are those of La Dolorosa and The Passion of Christ, also framed in late baroque style. There is also a partial retablo dedicated to St. Barbara.
St. Barbara altarpiece
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of © Niccolo Brooker

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Tlaxcalan Altarpieces: Atlihuetzia

As recorded by Motolinia, in 1527 Axotecatl, ruler of Altihuetzia and one of the Four Lords of Tlaxcala, sent his three sons to be catechized at the monastery of San Francisco. On their return the boys set about zealously smashing idols and reproached their father for his polygamy and excessive drinking. Enraged, Azotechatl beat and burned to death his eldest son Cristóbal. The other two boys fled but continued their preaching and iconoclastic ways until they too suffered martyr's deaths. 
Santa Maria Atlihuetzia church front
The parish church of Santa Maria Atlihuetzia is a shrine to the memory of Los Ninos Martires, as the boys are known in the pantheon of the Mexican church; their fate is recorded in a pair of dramatic, late colonial paintings with Nahuat speech inscriptions. 
Our focus in this post, however, is on a select group of baroque altarpieces in the nave: the retablo mayor and three side altars.
This vast gilded main altarpiece, which fills the apse of the church, is framed in a highly ornate 18th century Solomonic style. Its complex spiral columns are wreathed in golden foliage and capped by jutting cornices like those we saw at Tepeyanco.
The retablo preserved much of its fine original statuary including, in the center niches, St. Joseph, St. Michael and a figure of the Virgin Mary reputedly imported from the Philippines.
retablos of The Nazarene (l) and The Assumption of the Virgin (r)
Two other gilded side retablos, framed in more modest provincial manner feature cycles of colonial paintings in attractive popular style. 
Among the smaller lateral altars those of Guadalupe and San Diego de Alcalá (above) stand out. 
The church contains several sculpted figures of Christ including this jointed figure of the Man of Sorrows.
text © 2019 by Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Tacho
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; Zacatelco; San José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Tlaxcalan Altarpieces: Tlaxco

For the next in our series on Tlaxcala altarpieces we visit the distinctive church of San Agustín Tlaxco.
The handsome front of the parish church of San Agustín Tlaxco is attributed to Vicenzo Barrochio de la Escayola, the Italian trained architect of the cathedrals of Puebla and Morelia, whose influence is evident in its soberly Mannerist inspired facade.
 new pic
As at Morelia, a large central relief carved from cool white limestone stands out against the warm rose-colored stone of the facade. The relief depicts St. Augustine, flanked by angels, posed above the Imperial two-headed eagle of the Hapsburgs.
Along the nave gray stone pilasters and arches frame painted vaults and a series of austere neoclassic altars. A towering baroque pipe organ looms above the choir loft.

The Retablos
Besides the neoclassical altars, three gilded retablos in 
the Churrigueresque or barroco estípite style of the later 1700s, survive in the church: the main retablo and two more in the transepts.
Dated 1760, the main altarpiece is the crown jewel of the ensemble, an exuberant example of this late baroque style, framed by extravagant estípite pilasters that incorporate painted busts of saints.
A mitered St. Augustine, the patron saint, occupies the center niche while six full size, polychrome statues of the Church Fathers and Augustinian saints are mounted between the pilasters, wreathed with swirls, scrolls and restless filigree ornament. A brilliant work of art that shines against the gray stone apse.

A retablo dedicated to La Dolorosa, the Virgin of Sorrows, stands in the right transept, framed in similar, even bolder, bescrolled fashion than the main altarpiece.  

Its twin, dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, occupies the left transept, the estípites once again prominently inset with polychrome busts.

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of ELTB
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; Zacatelco; San José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

The Tlaxcalan Altarpieces: Miracle at Metepec

San Diego de Metepec
This modest 18th c. church, located 5 kms NW of the city of Tlaxcala, marks the site of a 17th century miracle, among the first to be fully documented in post conquest Mexico. 
   A remarkable altarpiece inside the church features a series of painted reliefs that illustrate the miracle, which involved the Franciscan saint San Diego de Alcalá and a local Indian woman named Maria Jacoba.
The Miracle
According to the contemporary document, one day in 1611 a convalescent itinerant Indian painter lodged in the family house in Metepec of a young Tlaxcalan woman named María Jacoba, who was paralysed in the legs and unable to walk. 
During his recovery the painter was instructed in a dream by San Diego de Alcalá, the recently canonized Spanish Franciscan brother and healer to whom the artist had prayed, to paint his image on the entry of the family chapel, which was duly done. 
   Then one day, when Maria was grinding corn inside the house, she heard the voice of the saint summoning her to rise and walk outside, which she did. The miracle caused a sensation and the church was re-dedicated to San Diego the healer.  
  At the time of the miracle, only 25 years after his canonization, San Diego enjoyed high visibility and popular devotion. The humble healer was promoted by the Franciscans to enhance their prestige, especially among the native peoples to whom they ministered.
   In time the new church was built and the costly retablo created to celebrate the miracle and accommodate the pilgrims who came in hopes of relieving their own ills. 
The Church
The church was built in the 1740s and 1750s, either on the site of the miracle or more likely, replacing an earlier mission dedicated to St. Gregory—a former visita of the main Franciscan monastery of San Francisco de Tlaxcala.
Set against a tiled facade in the Pueblan style, the imposing west doorway and surmounting choir window are fashioned from the roseate local stone. The archway of the baroque doorway is carved with vines and bears a tiny image of the Christ Child. A diminutive statue of San Diego de Alcalá, holding a basket and a foliated cross, stands in a niche above the ornamental choir window flanked by a pair of awkwardly carved, rampant lions? and outlying heraldic escutcheons. 
The Main Retablo
Dated 1773, this richly carved and gilded Churrigueresque style altarpiece fills the apse and is a masterpiece of late baroque design and workmanship. 
   Surrounding the image of San Diego in the center niche, four large lateral panels of polychrome reliefs set in complex mixtlinear frames with accompanying inscriptions relate the story of the miracle. 
1.                                           2.
The first panel shows the saint ministering to the recumbent Indian painter lying in his bed.
In the second panel San Diego appears outside the room in which Maria kneels grinding corn in a metate. She is dressed in a huipil and a pile of tortillas lies beside her. The basket of tortillas recalls the traditional legend of the saint bringing bread to the hungry.
3.                                                 4.
The third panel shows the saint raising Maria to her feet, while the fourth panel show the saint and Maria standing side by side with an orange tree growing between them. 
Part of the legend records that San Diego ordered that an orange tree growing outside the native compound be preserved in his honor and never chopped down, a detail that explains the presence of the tree in the reliefs.  Also present is a foliated or vineclad cross—the traditional attribute of San Diego de Alcalá. 
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images from online sources

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Tlaxcalan altarpieces: Xicotzinco

For another in our series on the altarpieces of Tlaxcala, we report on a pair of late colonial examples at Santo Toribio Xicotzinco.
Xicotzinco, the church front (Felipe Falcón)
Originally founded as a 16th century visita of the Franciscan convento at Tepeyanco, the present parish church of Xicotzinco (Under the Beehives) was built starting in the late 1700s. 
   The present colorful front, completed in the early 1800s, is distinguished by its two tall towers, and a brilliant red painted facade inset with patterns of glossy azulejo tiles in the popular Pueblan manner.
Colorful, tiled panels depicting archangels, complement the folkloric painted statues of archangels. 
As well as the figure of the patron saint, an early Christian Spanish bishop, Turibius of Astorga (Santo Toribio)—one of the few Mexican churches to carry this dedication. *
Turibius of Astorga (Santo Toribio) 
The Altarpieces
Although the church interior underwent a neoclassical makeover in the 19th century, one fine, late baroque altarpiece has survived in a transept. 
retablo of Santo Toribio
The retablo of Santo Toribio
Designed in an exceptionally bold Churrigueresque style, the retablo features prominent, freestanding estípite columns set at an angle and capped by sharp, zigzag “prow” cornices, as at Tepeyanco.  
Santo Toribio and St. Christopher
Most of the original statuary seems intact, notably that of the patron Santo Toribio in the center niche, together with St. Christopher, John the Baptist and Franciscan saints.
The retablo of Guadalupe
Similar to the Toribio altarpiece although on a smaller scale, this side retablo is also framed by giant estípites—in this case robust pilasters that extend unbroken through two tiers of canopied niches to the rounded gable.
   A conventional Guadalupe panel occupies center stage. Above, a second painting portrays the young Virgin Mary, flanked by statues of her parents Saints Joachim and Anne on either side. A relief of the Mexican Trinity projects from the center niche in the gable.
pulpit. carved stone relief of Santo Toribio, with his episcopal staff and miter in adjacent panels
We noted the rarity of images of Santo Toribio in Mexico, but here at Xicotzingo yet another apparent portrait of the saint appears, this time in a relief carved on the old stone pulpit—also no doubt from the earlier church—making this unique in Mexican colonial sculpture (good eye Niccolò!)
* Although there is no firm documentary evidence, the rarity of Santo Toribio as a patron saint in Mexico suggests that the founding of Xicotzinco may be ascribed to the prominent early Franciscan missionary Fray Toribio de Benavente (aka Motolinia) who evangelized Tlaxcala, and may have named it in honor of his patron saint Turibius, the former Bishop of Astorga in northwestern Spain.  
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry. 
Color images by Niccolo Brooker, Felipe Falcón and others
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; ZacatelcoSan José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;