Saturday, January 25, 2020

Arts of La Basilica Menor de Durango: Felipe de Ureña and Juan Correa

We don't cover Durango very often in this blog, but we thought that the connection of the city cathedral with two of Mexico's most influential colonial artists was worth special mention.
Following a disastrous fire in 1620, the old parish church, then the newly designated cathedral of Durango, was rebuilt starting in 1635. Construction problems however ensued and the building was not occupied until the early 1700s.   
   In 1745 the rich and prominent Durango community leader, Joseph Ignacio del Campo y Larrea, ennobled as El Conde del Valle de Suchil, undertook to fund the completion of the cathedral, to be known as La Basílica Menor de Durango.
1. The Altarpieces
As early as 1749, the eminent baroque designer and architect Felipe de Ureña was engaged by El Conde to create an imposing main altarpiece (retablo mayor) for the Cathedral/Basilica, together with designs for extensive choir stalls and a lectern, as well as two lateral retablos. 
   Work went forward rapidly in accordance with his designs but in 1752, with the main retablo almost completed, Felipe fell ill and left the city to convalesce on a distant hacienda. For reasons that remain unclear, instead of returning to Durango, he left the region, returning to his workshop and base in Aguascalientes and then taking up a variety of important commissions in Guanajuato, notably the design and construction of the grand Jesuit church of La Compañía. 
   Fortunately for Felipe, his son and his son-in-law Juan García de Castañeda were able to complete the Durango commissions by the next year.

Less fortunately, the cathedral was again partially rebuilt in the mid-1800s, at which time the baroque Ureña altarpieces, then considered old fashioned, were disassembled and as far as we know, tragically lost. 
   All that survives of the retablo mayor is the elegant wooden statue of La Purísima—first among the 78 statues specified in the original contract, and believed to come from the hand of the maestro himself—which has been handsomely restored and now on display in the Museum of Sacred Art attached to the Basilica. 
The ornate choir stalls, beautifully carved and inset with polychrome reliefs of noted saints, still stand in the cathedral sacristy, while the lectern? and candelabra are in the attached museum.
 the candelabra
2. The Paintings
In addition to the Ureña works, a treasury of colonial paintings from an earlier period survive in the Museo de Arte Sacro, in particular a group of large canvases by Juan Correa * dating from the 1670s. 
   At one time part of a large altarpiece—possibly the predecessor of the lost Ureña retablo mayor—they depict scenes from the life of Christ: A Nativity (signed by the artist and dated 1676), an Adoration of the Three Kings, and a Risen Christ. 

   Although not among his finest works—most likely a product of his large taller rather than the master's hand—they are richly colored in his characteristic manner, the scenes crowded with finely observed detail and incident.
Two other paintings of note include a conventional, flowery but finely wrought Apparitions of Guadalupe, and an unusual and quite dramatic St. George and the Dragon—also attributed to Correa, although his pupil José de Ibarra, another eminent, multiracial painter, may have added some later details.
*Juan Correa (1645–1716), is considered to be one of the leading painters of the Mexican baroque. The son of a Spanish born surgeon and a freed black woman, Correa, together with José de Ibarra and Miguel Cabrera, was one of the few mulatto artists who achieved fame despite his mixed race, since painting was generally the preserve of white or Spanish artists.
   The Mexican-born artist rose to prominence and prosperity in the late 1600s as one of the most productive and accomplished painters of his generation. He and his workshop undertook many of the largest religious commissions of the time, including important works for the metropolitan cathedral in Mexico City. His numerous paintings are widely represented in churches and collections across Spain and north America.
   Although his style evolved during his long career, he is considered one of the foremost exponents of the "luminous" Baroque manner—an eclectic, uniquely American style that fused traditional European Mannerist, tenebrista and High Baroque elements with a native, often naive naturalism to create a dynamic and richly colored style that was very much in tune with the nascent Mexican nationalism of his time. 
   Correa’s work is noted for its vibrant palette, elegant compositions, and especially his emphasis on decorative detail and effects. Close observation of hands, arms and facial expression are typical of Correa’s work, and he was a master at creating subtle color gradations and even iridescence, that contribute to an often unworldly spiritual effect.

See our other posts on works by the Ureña family in northern Mexico: Rayas ChapelAguascalientesCataLa ValencianaSaltillo/Monclova; Toluca

text © 2020 by Richard D. Perry. 

adapted in part from articles and images by Alberto Espinosa Orozco
for more on Juan Correa see our earlier post and the multivolume study "Juan Correa su vida y su obra"   by Elisa Vargas Lugo and others

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