Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Folk Baroque in the City: Santiago Acahualtepec

Folkloric church fronts, incandescent with brightly colored stone and stucco ornament and statuary are more commonly associated with the Puebla area.*  So it is unusual to find a full blown example of this more joyful genre in the gritty environs of Mexico City.
Founded as a Franciscan visita of nearby Mexicalzingo, the early mission at the former lakeside community of Acahualtepec dates back to the 16th century. Legend holds that a processional image of Santiago, being transported by canoe, suddenly became too heavy to move and thus stayed here to give his name to the village and church. 
However the present, multihued facade of Santiago Acahualtepec, divided by ornamental estípite pilasters in provincial style, was only added in the later 1700s, and its details and certainly its coloration have changed over the years since.
Numerous statues of squat, blue robed, barefoot friars look out from niches across the church front, distinguished only by their hand gestures, possibly related to their once holding of the Arma Christi, attributes now largely missing. 
bell tower with corner niche and statue of St Francis
Although none are individually named or identified, it seem likely that St. Francis is the figure placed in the isolated corner niche on the right side of the facade.
upside down cherub and window archangel
Other relief figures of note include an upside down cherub on one side of the portal, and an archangel lodged beside a window at the base of the bell tower.
Heads of cherubs and other figures, including what may be Adam and Eve, pop up amid a whirl of carved and painted foliage.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolò Brooker, who drew this church to our attention. 
Gracias Niccolò 
Further details: Monterrosa, Mariano, “La capilla de Santiago Acahualtepec”, en Boletín del Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Núm. 40, junio 1970, p. 11-14.
Please review our earlier posts on the folk baroque churches of Mexico: San Jeronimo AljojucaSanta Inez Xanenetla; TlancualpicanSanta Ana Jolalpan; Santa Maria JolalpanSan Simón Quecholac;

Friday, May 24, 2019

Treasures of Mexico City: San Lorenzo Totolinga

Although much remodeled over time, the chapel of San Lorenzo, located in the Naucalpan district north west of the City proper, is thought to have been a visita of the former Franciscan doctrina of San Gabriel Tacuba
The chapel retains its attractive early sculpted doorway, set in a typical square front in 16th century fashion. Divided jambs densely carved with foliated motifs enclose a Plateresque like pilaster and support a low basket handle archway also with carved relief ornament incorporating letters that appears to spell out a name or invocation.

   Narrow bands carved with foliage rise on either side of the doorway to support a rectangular alfiz, carved at either upper corner with paired relief bands.
Mounted outside the chapel of San Lorenzo, we see another example of early stoneworking: a tall stone cross carved with several unusual elements.  A wavy, much eroded Crown relief is contained within a square border at the axis. This motif is echoed by pairs of small square frames on the neck, shaft and tapered arms—some with Nails, and others with indistinct, button-like protrusions. No other Passion objects appear, aside from two drippy Wounds pierced by Nails on the lower shaft.
details © Eleanor Wake
The cross stands on a broad pedestal carved with a partially hidden Skull and Bones. One atypical adornment is the worn, formerly gold painted, stone relief of the Virgin of Guadalupe affixed to the foot of the cross.
More Treasures: San BernardoTepepanSan CosmeSan Felipe El NuevoSanta Isabel TolaAcolmanTlalmanalcoTlalnepantla
text and graphic © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Eleanor Wake and Niccolo Brooker

Monday, May 20, 2019

Treasures of Mexico City: Santa Teresa la Antigua.

We continue our visits to Mexico State churches with a look at the former nun’s church of Santa Teresa la Antigua.
Completed in 1684 by the eminent Mexico City architect Cristóbal de Medina Vargas, Santa Teresa la Antigua is an outstanding example in the city of the late 17th century so-called Solomonic baroque style—distinguished by the prominent use of spiral columns in the lateral twin portals—a typical feature of colonial nunnery churches.
Paired columns flank both doorways, while singles frame the overhead nave windows. The portals are notable for their finely sculpted detail, including statues of the Christ child set between the broken gable pediments.

The church front is distinguished by its passages of intricately carved relief ornament. Another distinctive aspect of the church is that it leans slightly, a result of its foundations being built atop the sinking former lake bed underlying much of Mexico City.

Most of the attached convento has gone although an original tiled fountain survives in the former patio.

Santa Teresa la Antigua, the dome

Today the elegantly refurbished interior serves as a gallery for contemporary art, known as Ex Teresa Arte Actual.
More Treasures: San Bernardo; Tepepan; San Cosme; San Felipe El Nuevo; Santa Isabel Tola; Acolman; Tlalmanalco; Tlalnepantla

text © 2019 Richard D. Perry

color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and others

Thursday, May 16, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 3. the atrium cross

For our final post on Rio Tenco we look at the carved stone cross in the church atrium.
Currently precariously mounted on an arch spanning a disused fountain, the atrium cross is less well cared for, with peeling coats of whitewash. 
  The cross is plain with few reliefs, apart from indifferently carved fleur-de-lis finials.  
The toothy skull and bones at the foot of the cross is its most distinctive feature. 
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
images © Niccolo Brooker

Monday, May 13, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 2. The altarpieces

For our second post on Rio Tenco we go inside the church to view the beautiful gilded main retablo of Guadalupe, fashioned like the church front in late baroque style, and newly restored by Adopte una Obra de Arte.  
The center niche portrays the Virgin of Guadalupe in classic style flanked by oval paintings of the four Apparitions mounted in the interestípites.
An image of the patron St Lawrence with his grill occupies the lower niche.
Other exceptional features of the altarpiece include the dynamic statue of the Archangel Michael at the top and the stooped figure of San Juan Diego “holding up” the entire retablo at its foot.

St. Lawrence appears again as the focus of another gilded side altar.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images by N. Brooker and from online sources

Thursday, May 9, 2019

San Lorenzo de Rio Tenco 1. The Architecture

This is the first of three posts on the church of San Lorenzo in Rio Tenco near Cuautitlan northwest of Mexico City.
    Our first post reports on the exterior architecture and sculpture of the church, pages on the main altarpiece and atrium cross will follow.
The Church of San Lorenzo

An imposing late baroque retablo style church front with much sculptural detail has recently been refurbished & heavily whitewashed.   
Statues of saints in the facade niches include Paul and the Patron St. Lawrence with his grill.
Reliefs include the equestrian figures of saints George and James (Santiago) as well as above the doorway, reliefs of The Virgin of Guadalupe and God the Father  attended by cherubs with cornucopia.
A large shell surmounts the recessed northern entry dotted with blackened reliefs, notably of the Holy Trinity.
text © 2019 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Monday, May 6, 2019

Treasures of Mexico City. Tlalmanalco: the Open Chapel

Set against the majestic backdrop of the volcano Ixtaccihuatl, the arcaded open chapel at Tlalmanalco is one of the masterworks of 16th century sculpture in Mexico, "half Indian, half European and all Mexican" as John McAndrew, the art historian, has called it.
The design is elegantly simple. From the sanctuary at the rear, framed by a triumphal arch and Moorish alfiz, the walls of the chapel flare forward to embrace the broad arcade of the outer portico.
   Sensuously carved from chocolate-colored stone by native artisans, the sculptural forms are a stylistic mix. Although the underlying forms are those of Renaissance grotesque decoration, medieval imagery and symbolism give the chapel an exotic, archaic feeling, like some long-forgotten Hindu temple.
   But the unique significance of the chapel lies in its complex iconography. It is nothing less than a pictorial manifesto of late 16th century Franciscan beliefs on life, death and salvation—a sermon in stone designed to impress and instruct the native converts and reinforce the zeal of the friars.
   By the 1560s, when the chapel was being built, the friars' view of their mission in the New World had become increasingly pessimistic. The epidemics then decimating the Indian population were interpreted by the friars as divine punishment for the alarming resurgence of idolatry among their flock. 
They saw these events as portents of the Final Days, when an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of good and evil would culminate in Christ's Second Coming. His triumph would precipitate the Last Judgment and establish the New Jerusalem—the Celestial City where, the friars believed, the righteous would dwell in joy forever. 
  Although some of the symbolism remains obscure, this is the message graphically conveyed by the sculpture of the open chapel. 
The five arches of the portico picture sin and vice in all their guises, symbolized by wild animals, like horses, lions and monkeys, entwined in the rank foliage of untamed nature.
© Carolyn Brown
People too, are caught in this jungle. Some resist heroically but others succumb to temptation with agonized expressions. Skulls and crossbones below the center arch symbolize the triumph of death, but the serene crowned head at the apex, flanked by the dragons of the underworld, represents the hope of salvation for man's eternal soul.
The elaborately carved sanctuary behind the arcade is the focal point of the chapel, containing the richest symbolism. Trees of Evil climbing the richest symbolism. Trees of Evil climb the flanking pilasters, headed by grim-visaged Angels of the Apocalypse on the capitals. 
Friezes of grimacing masks, animals and skulls of grimacing masks, animals and skulls continue around the alfiz and along the cornice, where a demonic zoo of fantastic animals—gryphons, birds of prey and hybrid creatures, half animal, half plant—emerge from the serpentine foliage.
A Pyramid of Demons ascends the jambs of the archway. Trapped by a welter of spiny tendrils, the contorted faces of sinners and fallen angels alternate with grinning goats' heads in a medieval bestiary of simians, hippogriffs, three- headed eagles and scaly locusts.headed eagles and scaly locusts.
The archway itself represents the narrow road to salvation. From the chalices at the base— powerful symbols of redemption—a harmonious foliated design ascends to the radiant face of the New Adam at the apex. The knotted cord frames the arch, to emphasize the guiding role of the Franciscan Order along the perilous path to salvation.
   In the spandrels, escutcheons display the Five Wounds, and crowned angels hold up the Instruments of Christ's Passion, by which Satan's power is vanquished.

Above the archway—the symbolic entrance to the Celestial City—stands Christ as Savior, with orb and scepter. The sun's rays, radiating behind his head echoing the theophany repeated every morning as the sun rises above the chapel from the mists surrounding Ixtaccihuatl.
Note. The chapel is currently walled off.
text © 1992 & 2019  Richard D. Perry
images ©1987 & 2019 by the author
Look for our other posts on Tlalmanalco:  The Murals; The Baptismal Font; The Main Altarpiece;