Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Michoacán. Ucareo 2: the retablos

A wooden roof mounted on shaped corbels covers the roomy interior, which was rebuilt and furnished following a disastrous fire in 1700.
The Main Altarpiece
The richly gilded main retablo is fashioned in ornate late baroque style with prominent estípite pilasters framing several statues of colonial saints including Augustinian figures in the upper tiers. 

The Animas retablo
Probably earlier than the main altarpiece, this side retablo represents Souls in Purgatory. The principal painting is dated 1733 and is divided into three levels; Heaven above, with the Holy Trinity; Earth in the center, and Purgatory below.
Three figures dominate the center section, the Augustinian saint Nicholas of Tolentino in the middle flanked by St Lawrence with his grill, and the Archangel Michael on the right.
   Nicholas gestures to a soul with his robe cord, saving him from Purgatory. More souls, several in chains are shown in the smaller panels along the predella below.
text © Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Alejandro Vargas

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Michoacán. Ucareo: the Church

In an earlier post we looked at the magnificent atrium cross at Ucareo. In this and a subsequent post we describe first the church exterior, and then the altarpieces.
Ucareo, view of the church and convento
San Agustín Ucareo was the eighth monastery to be established by the Augustinians in Michoacán.  It was founded in 1555 by Fray Juan de Utrera, an innovative architect/builder, whose unassuming statue now stands before the church door.
   Almost single-handedly he supervised construction of the entire monastery—an imposing project concluded in record time to forestall harsh criticism by the colonial authorities of what they viewed as an unnecessarily lavish Augustinian building program. This feat was achieved by Fray Juan’s then novel method of cutting all the stone to its final form at the quarry, saving time, effort and expense.
   The church was completed in 1603 and despite Basalenque’s claim that it was inspired by the Temple of Solomon, the retablo facade is an uncompromising example of Renaissance austerity. Classical orders of half-columns frame the plain arched doorway and choir window against courses of fine ashlar stonework. 
Although the facade, with its high pyramidal gable, is similar in outline to Charo, Ucareo lacks the veneer of geometrical decoration that adorns its neighbor. 

The sole concessions to ornament are the carved Augustinian insignia beneath the gable, inlaid with mirror-like pieces of obsidian.

text © 1997 & 2021 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and Robert Jackson

Monday, December 21, 2020

Michoacán. Morelia: Guadalupe/San Diego 2

 As an addendum to our previous post, we showcase more interior pictures of the nave, designed by Joaquín Orta.

the nave facing east
The nave facing west
the crossing (detail)
the crossing
color photography © Richard D. Perry  All rights reserved.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Michoacán. Morelia: Guadalupe/San Diego

In an earlier post we mentioned the architect Joaquín Orta who redesigned the nave of the parish church in Tlalpujahua, Mich.
Here we look at his other grand interior design, that of the church of San Diego/ Guadalupe in the city of Morelia.
   Fronting the Alameda park on its south side stands the church and former convento of San Diego, now known as the Santuario de Guadalupe. Founded in the early 1700s, the church was built in stages through the 18th century. When the church was completed, the  Franciscan order of San Diego, familiarly called Los Dieguiños, added the adjacent convento and hospice. 
The church front projects a typical Morelian profile. The facade thrusts powerfully upwards, and is flanked by a single tall bell tower. The doorway, choir window and sculpture niches are linked in an elongated design that accentuates the verticality of the facade—a composition recalling the earlier Plateresque facade at Cuitzeo. 
Morelia: La Compañía

Its pyramidal gable is clearly derived from the nearby church of La Compañía.
Above the high arched doorway, a deep attic rises to the choir window, which is prominently flanked by ornamental escutcheons emblazoned with the Franciscan emblems of the Stigmata and the Crossed Arms. 
   A primitive relief of the Virgin of Guadalupe rests in the upper niche, surrounded by a relief tapestry of vines and foliage into which the Franciscan insignia are sinuously woven. 
Morelia. Las Capuchinas tower
Projecting balustrades and a high, ribbed cupola distinguish the tower, which is very similar to that of Las Capuchinas.
Re-designed in 1915 by Joaquín Orta, the extravagant Rococo-Moorish interior is worth a visit in itself. Walls and ceilings glitter with foliated red and gilt tilework, providing an incongruous setting for the cycle of four large modern paintings depicting in narrative style the historic achievements of Franciscan missionaries.

Another item of interest here is the handsome octagonal “speaking” cross in the adjacent patio garden.  Closely modeled on similar foliated crosses at Tiripetio and Huichapan, the cross is streamlined by bold panels on each facet, that stretch without interruption along the entire length of the shaft and arms.
   Curled volutes like ancient speech scrolls alternate in serpentine fashion within each narrow panel, extending into the coffered finials that cap either arm, a decorative device that enlivens the otherwise geometric forms of the cross.
text color images and graphic © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry

Saturday, December 12, 2020

El Dia de Guadalupe

Guadalupe Acozac, the late baroque main altarpiece

Today, on the feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe, we bring you this portrait, the centerpiece of the retablo mayor in the church of Guadalupe in Acozac in northern Mexico state.

This is a classic portrayal, with the Virgin in a starry blue cape standing atop a crescent moon. The four Apparitions occupy the corners, while a scene of the original basilica in the Villa de Guadalupe is shown at the bottom. Although this painting is almost certainly late colonial, it does not appear to be signed.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker

Thursday, December 10, 2020

In Memoriam: Rosa Blum Perez.

We are saddened to report the untimely death of Rosa Blum Perez, a long time dealer /collector of regional folk art in Oaxaca. We remember her as a warm person dedicated to the support of folk artists in the region. 
   Married to bookstore owner Henry Wangeman, in former years she maintained a folk art gallery and store in the city of Oaxaca.

In 2012 Rosa commissioned a series of art works from talented craftsmen in several local communities on the theme of books and reading and arranged a special exhibit of these one of a kind pieces under the title “Manos que crean y ojos que leen” (Hands that create and eyes that read), at the Biblioteca Andrés Henestrosa in downtown Oaxaca City.

exhibit poster
Warming to this unusual topic, the artisans outdid themselves, creating an amazing array of highly imaginative, colorful and often humorous art objects large and small, simple and complex.

Twenty-five artisans from six different villages participated in this exhibit, which I was privileged to see while there on a visit. A couple of these works are in my personal collection.

Here, we dedicate this page to showing several of these inventive and unique examples of Oaxacan folk art in her memory.

Osito cariñoso;                         Reading Fox
Noah's Ark
Tres Cochinitas
reading animals

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by Rosalind Perry

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Michoacán. Tlalpujahua: St. Peter and St. Paul

The parish church of the apostles Peter and Paul, also known as El Carmen, towers dramatically above this mining town in eastern Michoacán, bordering the State of Mexico. 
   Founded in the 16th century, the hastily built first church here lasted almost two hundred years, until the mid-1700s, when another local silver strike financed its replacement by a splendid new church which, when completed, was one of the most celebrated and grandiose baroque temples in Mexico. 
   The story goes that famed silver baron Don José de la Borda offered to underwrite the new structure, but when pressed by the cautious townspeople to put his offer in writing, took offense and left the area, moving to Taxco where he financed the even more ornate church of Santa Prisca.
   Built of mellow sandstone, the imposing church of Sts Pedro & Pablo occupies a commanding site that overlooks the town and is visible from its every corner. The church is girded by chapels and annexes, and faces a long, elevated atrium with high walls, ornate gateways and a fearsome serrated cross.
The West Front
Strikingly similar to the monastic church front of San Agustín in Querétaro, the eye-catching neostyle facade is thought to be the work of the same architect, Juan Manuel de Villagómez. 
   Its inven ive sculptural detail is contained within an idiosyncratic framework that harks back to the retablo facades of the 17th century. Although the figure sculpture is more conventional than that of San Agustín, the Tlalpujahua facade seems more dramatic, energized by its provincial vigor, bold surface textures and insistent neo-mudéjar geometry. 
   Jutting octagonal columns are slashed by opposing spirals, headed by swagged capitals, and crowned by minaret-like pinnacles. Above the polygonal door way, complex estípites, richly ornamented with herms and animal masks, frame the Moorish choir window and extend upwards to flank the double sculpture niche in the upper facade. A cornucopia of geometrical and foliated reliefs fills the other intervening surfaces. 
   The facade iconography explicitly glorifies the power of the Catholic church and the supremacy of the 18th century ecclesiastical hierarchy. Statues of country priests and mitered bishops, carved in a naive, frontal style, occupy ornamental shell niches on the lower and middle tiers. 
The quality of the stone carving improves markedly in the upper facade, focusing on the unusual double niche. Here, the twin figures of St. Peter and St. Paul—the apostolic founders of the church—appear in flowing robes, accompanied by reliefs of Saints Joachim and Anne. 
In the bas-relief overhead, intricately wrought in a bold popular style, angels adore the Holy Sacrament and, in the lozenge-shaped medallions, they display the pontifical cross and keys of St. Peter. Atop the spectacular gable, curved in the shape of the papal tiara, is silhouetted a statue of the Archangel Raphael—the messenger of God and bringer of divine healing—outfitted in traditional buskins and cutaway skirt, and clutching his fish.
Note too the sirens and bearded tritons with fishtails and scales grimacing from the column pedestals at the base of the facade. Together with other mask reliefs on the facade, these images are thought to signify the sins and vices of the world, destined to be vanquished through the power of the established church and its members.
The serrated atrium cross
Inside the Church
Wholly remodeled in the early 1900s, the church interior is a florid fantasy in polychrome tile and stucco, created in the same eclectic style as the nave of San Diego in Morelia and by the same designer, Joaquín Orta. Every surface is studded with rosettes and fleur-de-lis reliefs, punctuated by lobed portals and Moorish arches dripping with extravagant neo-Gothic ornament. 
   Few of the original church furnishings remain. One by one during the 19th century, reflecting changing fashions, all of the church’s magnificent baroque altarpieces were dismantled. One or two paintings from these retablos have survived, however. On view in the sacristy is an unusual triptych of Christ’s Passion, rendered in somber style by the famous baroque painter Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez. In a side chapel hangs a spirited canvas, portraying the Virgin of Light, by Juárez' even more prominent contemporary Miguel Cabrera.
   Another early colonial survival is the monolithic baptismal font, possibly belonging to the primitive church on this site, splendidly carved with angel heads around its rim. The remodeled Chapel of the Passion, frescoed in a colorful, popular style, is an attraction of more recent vintage.
Pilgrims come from afar to venerate the image of Our Lady of Carmen which adorns the main altar. Miraculously surviving the destruction by a devastating mudslide of the barrio chapel in which it was formerly lodged, this charming late colonial icon portrays the Virgin as Protectress of the Carmelites. Bowing her head beneath a weighty gold and silver halo and crown, she shelters nuns and friars of the order beneath her ample red mantle, which is lifted reverently at the corners by St. Joseph and the Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila. 
See our earlier post on Tlalpujahua
text © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
graphic & color images by the author

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Morelos. Tepoztlán in 1987

Natividad Tepoztlán
More than thirty years ago, in 1987, we spent two days exploring and photographing this great Dominican monastery in the northern foothills of Morelos, just a few hours from Mexico City.  
   While much has changed  in Tepoztlán since then—now an even more popular weekend destination for capitalinos—the monastic precincts, despite some restoration efforts, retain their somber, weathered mystery and rich stone carving.
   In this post we present a portfolio of some of the black and white photographs we took on that occasion, now published for the first time. Enjoy.
Monastery view from atrium
In 1987 the bare atrium, unrestored open chapel and rain streaked walls retained their unadorned 16th century ambience.
The West Doorway
The sculpted west porch is one of the masterpieces of what might be called the Mexican Plateresque. Its sophisticated framework combines Renaissance elements—fluted Ionic pilasters, paneled jambs and dentilled cornices—with Gothic details such as slender colonettes, and the sharply pointed pediment. 
   In contrast, the relief carving bears the unmistakeable hallmark of the indigenous craftsman. The elongated, expressionless saints, the densely sculpted ornament, the patterned wings and drapery of the angels—all are classic examples of native tequitqui work of the highest order. 
The Virgin of the Nativity stands on the crescent moon in the center, cradling the infant Christ, whose halo resembles an Indian feathered headdress. On her left, St. Dominic stands in prayer, an eight-pointed star upon his forehead and his dog by his side.
Jars of lilies, emblems of purity, stand in the angles of the pediment. 
Iconographically, the porch links the cult of the Virgin Mary with the Dominican Order. A catalog of Marian symbols—the sun, the moon and the eight-pointed stars of piety and divinity—appear in the spandrels of the doorway beside the Dominican cross of Alcántara and little Dominican dogs clenching torches between their teeth
Medallions of the fleur-de-lis cross alternate along the frieze above with monograms of the Virgin presented by fluttering angels—smaller versions of the giant reliefs overhead.
fluttering angel relief
north west posa    
Only two of the four original posa chapels survive in the atrium. The first, in the north west corner, boasts sculpted archways springing from Ionic capitals with bands of rosettes, shell niches and a carved stone cross atop the crowning pediment.
The second is ingeniously integrated into the portería, or convento entry on the north side of the church.
Other sculptures include the eroded atrium cross, standing in front of the abandoned open chapel, a larger version of the posa cross with fleur-de-lis finials and a wreath like crown of thorns at the axis.
Another early object in the atrium, beside the convento entry, is the old baptismal font, which is carved with relief medallions of the Dominican cross and the ancient place glyph of Tepoztlán ("Cleft by Copper Axes") 
Clusters of mushroom like merlons capped with cannonball orbs surmount the walls and gateways throughout the monastery complex. 
The cloister is starkly plain, its beveled arcades without moldings or carving. Long barrel vaults are relieved by faded red outlines of painted artesonado ceilings with stars and rosettes.  
The austere friars' cells are spacious enough, some fitted with window seats that frame the nearby bluffs of the scenic Tepozteco range.
text and images © 2017  Richard D Perry.  All rights reserved.