Thursday, April 30, 2020

Oaxaca. the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces 3.

One of the best preserved of the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces is the retablo of St. Hyacinth (San Jacinto), a popular Dominican saint. Set against the south wall of the nave, the retablo illustrates episodes from his life in a series of charming miniatures surrounding his center portrait. 
Note the beautifully realized portraits of the Twelve Apostles along the base panel. 
A painted panel of the distinctive Mexican Trinity is mounted above, of which a fine sculpted version stands along the north wall of the nave—a common feature in Oaxacan churches.

text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry

images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Monday, April 27, 2020

Oaxaca. the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces 2.

For our second post on the Tlacochahuaya retablos we look at a pair of smaller altarpieces that flank the apse beside the sanctuary arch, framed in a similar Oaxacan style with intricate, foliated spiral columns
The Calvary altar on the left features a delicate portrait of St. Catherine and Christ with the cross, together with chiaroscuro portraits of other Dominican saints. 
Newly restored, the retablo of the Virgin of the Rosary on the right holds a huge canvas showing her ringed by a rosary flanked by St Dominic and again Catherine of Siena. Her robe is spangled with gold roses and she wears a gilded crown in the Andean manner.
   In the central niche stands a winsome statue of the Virgin with the Christ Child; the archway is framed with miniature medallions of the Mysteries of the Rosary. 
text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Friday, April 24, 2020

Oaxaca: the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces 1.

As noted in our first post, San Gerónimo Tlacochahuaya is the most lavishly decorated of the churches in the Valley of Oaxaca. Our main focus in this ongoing series will be the church altarpieces and other furnishings. 
   Inside, the church is a treasure house of colorful frescoes, colonial altarpieces, statuary and regional folk art. Walls, ceilings and domes are ablaze with decorative murals painted in brilliant reds, blues, and gold. 
Patterns of rosettes alternate with winged angels’ heads. Giant urns, floral bands and braided moldings wreath the celestial company of figures around the domes, including the Holy Trinity and numerous archangels.
Above the crossing, the Four Evangelists seated on the pendentives with their animal companions seem poised to fly heavenward. 
The Main Altarpieces 
We begin with the main altarpiece. Recessed in the rounded apse, the main retablo is a classic statement of the Oaxacan baroque, elegantly framed by spiral Corinthian columns and gilded strapwork and pendants. 
   First among the large, rectangular paintings is a dramatic Descent from the Cross—believed to be by Juan de Arrué, the well-known  regional painter who was a student of Simon Pereyns and Andrés de Concha. The composition reveals a strong Mannerist influence in its unnatural lighting and the restless movement of drapery. 
   There are also graphic portrayals of the deaths of St. Dominic and St. Catherine. The patron St. Jerome kneels in penance in the center niche, accompanied by his lion—the sole statue in this altarpiece.
text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Monday, April 20, 2020

Oaxaca. Tlacochahuaya: the church front

As planned, this is the first of a series of posts on the picturesque church of San Gerónimo Tlacochahuaya, among the most lavishly decorated of the churches in the Valley of Oaxaca. 
   Nestled in rolling countryside only 20 kms from downtown Oaxaca, Tlacochahuaya was nevertheless quite remote in early colonial times. In 1558, Fray Jordán de Santa Catalina, a Dominican ascetic, chose this spot as a retreat for prayer and meditation, dedicating it to St. Jerome, the patron saint of hermits and penitents. 
    In the late 17th and early 18th centuries the spartan 16th century ermita was transformed into a substantial monastery to also serve the nearby Zapotec communities.  
 We first look at the facade. As noted, the church is the outstanding example of folk baroque architecture and decoration in the region. Massive towers support squat belfries adorned with fluted pilasters, undulating pediments and high tiled cupolas sprouting feathery wrought-iron crosses.
   Despite its imposing scale, the salmon colored stucco front retains a folk-like quality, with plain scrolls, uneven cornices and simple half columns. And faded patches of blue and red paint reveal that the facade was formerly boldly accented in bright colors, which it would be a delight to identify and restore. 
Fortunately most of original stone statues remain in place. These include Saints Dominic, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine and Francis, along with The Virgin Mary. God the father and archangels occupy the gable niches.

Most conspicuous is the figure of the patron St Jerome in the niche above the doorway. He kneels in penance before the crucifix, one hand clutching a rock and the other resting on a skull. The bearded saint strains hear the word of God emanating from the horn beside his left ear.
text & images © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry

Friday, April 17, 2020

The Crosses of Tepetomatitlan

San Matías Tepetomatitlan is a former Franciscan visita mission located just east of the city of Tlaxcala. In an earlier post we looked at the early chapel adjacent to the church. 
Two colonial stone crosses of interest, one complete, one only fragmentary, are found in the precincts.
The Niche Cross
Set in a niche on the church front and carved from coarse basalt, this cross is the later of the two—with a date of 1790. The format is starkly rectangular with an oval plaque and no finials.
  Although primitive in character, the reliefs are flat and crisply outlined. The most arresting feature is the Pharoah like Head of Christ at the axis, from which emaciated arms extend along the crosspiece, ending in open hands pierced with Wound holes—a configuration reminiscent of the cross at Zoquizoquipan (Hidalgo).
   Although the Head is bare, a rosette style starburst on the neck above might be interpreted as a stylized Crown. The shaft of the cross is crowded with familiar Passion symbols crudely outlined in low relief. Among the most notable is a doll like figure, presumably that of Christ, on the lower shaft.

The Wall Cross
Of greater interest is the eroded but more skilfully worked isolated crosspiece—doubtless a remnant of an earlier atrium cross—now embedded in the upper facade.
The prominent, blackened Face at the center trails streaming locks of braided hair. Numerous Passion implements are strung together frieze-like on either side, terminating in Sun and Moon reliefs. Of special note is the corn cob like relief on one side, balanced by a Corn plant on the other.
text and graphics © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker 

Monday, April 13, 2020

Hidalgo. The Carved Cross of Mapethé

In an earlier series*we reviewed many of the outstanding carved stone crosses of Hidalgo, a region north of Mexico City. One exceptional example that we omitted was the celebrated cross of Mapethé, which we showcase here.
   Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra de Pachuca in central Hidalgo, with El Cardonal, Mapethé is one of two old mining towns that host popular shrines with imposing churches and “miraculous” crosses. 

Reputedly brought from Spain by a miner in the 16th century, in the following century a then decaying wooden crucifix was providentially restored. Known as El Cristo Renovado, this miraculous cross was removed to Mexico City.
   Its later colonial successor, El Señor de Mapethé, is now housed in its 18th century baroque Santuario, where it attracts primarily Otomí pilgrims and miracle seekers to this still remote community. 
The Atrium cross
In addition to the crucifix inside, a sculpted stone cross—also the venerated recipient of prayers and offerings—is mounted on a plinth in front of the church.
   Close in form and style to the San Mateito cross at Huichapan, this substantial cross has rectangular arms and shaft. Almost every surface is carved with low reliefs of most standard Passion objects, although Wounds, Cock and Column are conspicuously absent.
On the front, a boldly modeled Face of Christ with fleshy nose and lips projects from the crossing, the eroded Crown across his brow woven into his flowing locks. A large radiating Sun flanks the Face on the left, while an unusually full face Moon stands on the left. Spikes appear at the ends of either arm.
Rows of vertical objects adorn the shaft, notably an elaborate, spindly Chalice with Host flanked by Candles—a rare depiction.
Other Passion symbols are carved on the underside of the crosspiece.
The reverse side is more enigmatic, with more uncommon elements. At the axis, a stylized, wheel like Crown of Thorns motif, ringed with cog like spines, encircles an eight petaled corolla at the center. 
   Undulating waves issue from a Hand on the right arm, while an ambiguous, temple like object—possibly a Lantern—appears on the left. A Spear skewers objects along the shaft, including a rosette and Tunic at the top, and a hyssop and rows of Coins below.
   Finally, button finials terminate each arm and a bescrolled INRI block heads the cross, inscribed with the enigmatic acronym 
I R.O.S? on its reverse side. 
* Aculco, Pino Suarez; AlfajayucanAtlan; Anaya; El CardonalEl Sauz; HuichapanJaltepecLa Magdalena; NonoalcoSan JerónimoTecajique; TepeapulcoTezontepec; TlacolulaTlahuelilpa; Zempoala; Zoquizoquipan
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Robert Jackson

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Calixtlahuaca: The Baptismal Font

Before it was conquered in the mid-1470s by the Aztecs, Matlatzinco had been an independent community in the northern part of the Valley of Toluca, in western Mexico state. The Aztecs renamed the city Calixtlahuaca, “Place of the Plain of Houses,” and erected new buildings in the ancient city center with stone sculptures in Aztec Imperial style.
These monuments included at least two carved, cylindrical pedestals that may have been altars for heart sacrifice. One of these, found on the platform in front of the round temple of the Wind God (Ehecatl), is now located in the main church of San Francisco, serving as a base for the colonial baptismal font. 
   The surmounting font is ringed by the Franciscan knotted cord motif and carved with religious monograms.

 The prehispanic sacrificial stone underlying the font is carved in the Aztec imperial style and is thought to date from the late 15th century, after the Aztecs took political control of Calixtlahuaca.  
   The carved cylinder is ringed by a frieze whose repeated motif features a helmeted head against a crenelated circle flanked by representations of a jade bead—a symbol associated with death, sacrifice and renewal. A deep channel cut into one side, if original, may have been to drain blood from the surface above.
courtesy of Jim Cook
The second altar, now in the site museum at Calixtlahuaca, was also found at the base of the temple of Ehecatl by the pioneering archaeologist José Garcia Payón.
composite image of cemetery chapel courtesy of Michael Smith
Although the main church in San Francisco Calixtlahuaca only dates from the nineteenth century, the smaller cemetery chapel  (panteón) nearby is much older and is probably the original mission site, founded in part on a pre-conquest platform. 
date stone (image courtesy of Michael Smith)

The chapel has a carved stone relief embedded in its rear wall bearing the date "1563 año" and below it, the equivalent for that year in the Aztec calendar (6 Reed). Closed up for many years, the chapel has recently been restored.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry.  
images courtesy of Michael Smith and Jim Cook
* Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of interest: YucatánOaxacaMichoacanZacatelcoTlalmanalcoCuernavacaTepoztlanZacualpanOtumbaChimalhuacanAcatzingoTlaxcalaZinacantepecTecaliTecamachalco

Monday, April 6, 2020

Hidalgo. Epazoyucan: the baptismal fonts

In previous posts we have described the church and convento of Epazoyucan, in the state of Hidalgo. Here we look at early artifacts inside the church.
The church at San Andrés Epazoyucan houses at least two early stone baptismal fonts. The first, located in the baptistry itself is the more distinctive, its monolithic basin crisscrossed with basket like lattice work, giving it the appearance of an outsize pineapple. 
   This archaic look and its presence before a 16th century mural of the Baptism of Christ suggest a possible Franciscan origin antedating construction of the Augustinian church from the 1540s.
A second font stands before the altar steps in the nave.  Set atop a pedestal carved with relief decoration, the basin is scalloped in a shell like pattern, and spouts in the form of fish or animal mouths are let in below the rim suggesting its possible origin as a fountain.

* Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of interest: YucatánOaxacaMichoacanZacatelcoTlalmanalcoCuernavacaTepoztlanZacualpanOtumbaChimalhuacanAcatzingoTlaxcalaZinacantepecTecaliTecamachalco
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author

Friday, April 3, 2020

Hidalgo. Santa María Nativitas: The Baptismal Font

In our ongoing series documenting early baptismal fonts* we visit the former Franciscan visita of Santa Maria Nativitas, located in eastern Hidalgo. 
Much remodeled since its founding in the early 1600s, and set atop what may be a prehispanic mound or platform, the church contains few reminders of its Franciscan origins, with the notable exception of its striking, carved stone baptismal font.
The monolithic basin is ringed by the Franciscan knotted cord linked to ornamentally framed reliefs of the Stigmata. The principal relief is atypical in that the customary Five Wounds surround a cross with two shafts or spears.
 In addition, a pair of animal heads appears below the main relief.

* Please see our earlier posts featuring early Mexican fonts of interest: Yucatán; Oaxaca; Michoacan; Zacatelco; Tlalmanalco; Cuernavaca; Tepoztlan; Zacualpan; Otumba; Chimalhuacan; Acatzingo; Tlaxcala; Zinacantepec; Tecali; Tecamachalco

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of © Niccolo Brooker