Friday, May 29, 2020

Oaxaca: San Juan Bautista Coatzóspam

In earlier posts we have remarked on the survival of elegant colonial altarpieces in otherwise modest country churches across Oaxaca. 
   On this page we look at the second of two churches in the foggy mountain region of northern Oaxaca known as La Cañada, close to the Puebla border, which still house fine late colonial altarpieces:
San Juan Bautista Coatzóspam (Serpent Peak)
Capped by a pitched roof and flanked by a squat belltower, the square front of the parish church presents a simple arched doorway and choir window framed by whitewashed paired pilasters.
the church in the fog
The spartan church front hardly prepares the visitor for the interior, spanned by a rustic wooden beamed ceiling and choir loft, and housing a group of gilded baroque altarpieces.
the main altarpiece
Although showing signs of long term neglect and wear and tear, all the altarpieces evince elegant and once costly workmanship and ornament. Worn but finely crafted statuary fill the niches against fading gilded columns and pilasters headed with atlantean busts.
main altarpiece details

The other altarpieces in the nave are fashioned in the later baroque style, replete with estípite pilasters and richly gilded ornament. The retablo dedicated to the Virgin of Sorrows, is in better condition than the worn main altarpiece, and is notable for its silver altar in front.

A smaller side altar of Las Animas with Our Lady of Mt Carmel, displays an arresting bust of an agonized soul consumed by the flames of Purgatory.
Please visit earlier posts in this series: AyotlaSanto Domingo del ValleTomaltepec;TamazulapanSoyaltepecYautepec
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker, who brought this church to our attention.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Oaxaca: San José Tenango

In earlier posts we have remarked on the survival of elegant colonial altarpieces in otherwise modest country churches across Oaxaca. On this page we look at the first of two churches in the foggy mountain region of northern Oaxaca known as La Cañada, close to the Puebla border, which house fine examples of late colonial, gilded altarpieces.
We consider first the church of San José Tenango. Beyond its unassuming pitched front, fine gilded altarpieces light up the nave beneath a handsome beamed ceiling.
The main retablo mayor in the apse is the star, its complex estípite pilasters, capped by caryatid busts, set against a swirling tapestry of gilded ornament.  Colonial statues include those of Sts Peter and Paul, with the patron St Joseph in the top tier and the Virgin Mary in the center.

A second altarpiece is dedicated to our Lady Of Sorrows. Fashioned in a similar manner although less richly than the main retablo, it features spiral columns in traditional Oaxacan style.
   One item of note in the retablo is an image of El Niño Doctor,
the Christ Child portrayed as a physician - a recent and burgeoning cult across Mexico, perhaps reflecting the inadequacy of health care there.
The presence of these elegant and costly furnishings in a humble country church speaks to the traditional piety and former
wealth of this now overlooked rural community.
Please visit earlier posts in this series: Ayotla; Santo Domingo del Valle; Tomaltepec; Tamazulapan; Soyaltepec; Yautepec

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
altarpiece photography courtesy of Niccolo Brooker, who brought this church to our attention.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Oaxaca: San Miguel Huautla

Continuing our series on the lesser known colonial churches of Oaxaca, we revisit San Miguel Huautla, "where the wild amaranth abounds," a secluded mountain village in the Mixteca Alta of northern Oaxaca, 
   Not to be confused with the border town of Huautla de Jiménez, famous for its caves and magic mushrooms, San Miguel Huautla is located further south, east of Coixtlahuaca near the autopista, but currently only accessible along an unpaved road from Nochistlan.
    Despite its remoteness, Huautla is of architectural note for its unusual early church front, which is designed in a style traditionally associated with the Franciscans rather than that favored by the Dominicans, who missionized most of Oaxaca.
    Modest in most other respects, the church is outstanding for its carved stone facade, whose medieval forms recall early Franciscan church fronts in Puebla and Tlaxcala­ instead of the grander, Renaissance-inspired style usually favored by the Dominicans.
The square church front, braced by flared buttresses, stands above stepped terraces of possible pre-Columbian origin. The imposing west doorway is spanned by a spectacular star-shaped Moorish arch, a facade configuration rare in 16th century Mexican architecture.
Rosettes of varying sizes and shapes decorate the archway and the broad supporting jambs as well as ornamenting the ogee-arched choir window overhead. The sharply pointed keystone, with other sections of the archway, is carved from a single piece of stone.
The doorway is squared by a tall, beaded alfiz inset with an intriguing thorn-and-ribbon continuous molding which has been interpreted as a corn stalk entwined with serpents, suggesting a strong indigenous influence.
The alfiz encloses a large sculpture of St. Peter rendered in sharply undercut low relief,­ in the so-called tequitqui style of early Mexican stone carving. The saint wears the papal tiara and holds up the keys to Paradise. Panels of feather-like motifs flank the relief, which rest on stylized representations of an eagle and a jaguar on the sill—more pre-hispanic survivals. The portrayal of St. Peter rather than St. Michael, the village patron, may reflect the transfer of the church to the episcopal clergy after 1560.
Two smaller reliefs flank St. Peter. These display crosses surrounded by the Stigmata of Christ and framed by a knotted cord —emblems commonly found in Franciscan churches throughout Mexico. 
  The nave is dark and lined with some late colonial altarpieces, among which the main retablo stands out, fabricated in classic Oaxaca style with complex spiral columns and gilded ornament. A statue of the patron St Michael occupies the principal niche. 
   Although the Franciscans were very active across the border in Puebla to the north, there seems to be no record of them operating in this area of the Mixteca Alta. But the unusual facade at Huautla clearly suggests their influence, if not actual presence, during the building of the church. It may be that Franciscans from Huejotzingo or Tehuacán evangelized San Miguel Huautla and built the church in the 1540s or '50s before relinquishing it to the secular arm in the 1560s. 
   Stabilization and restoration of the church fabric was completed in 2017 under the auspices of the Harp Helu foundation.
text © 2007/2020 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Felipe Falcón

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Oaxaca. Santo Domingo de Oaxaca: the Guadalupe retablo

As the mother house of the Dominicans in the region, the grand priory of Santo Domingo exerted a major influence on everyday life and society in colonial Oaxaca, both religious and secular as well as on its art and architecture.
Most of the original wall and ceiling ornamentation inside the church, as well as the adjacent convento and Rosary chapel, features painted stucco relief dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, much of it created by artisans and stucco workers from Puebla.
   With the dissolution of the priory in the mid-19th century, however, the church was converted into an army barracks. The interior was vandalized and many altarpieces burned. When the church was returned to the Dominicans in the 1930s an ambitious program of interior restoration began, eventually completed in 1976. Further work has been done in more recent years.

While many of the original walls and ceilings have been restored, the altarpieces and many other furnishings are modern reproductions. The sumptuous gilded main altarpiece, together with the ornate pulpit and altar rail, were reconstructed on the basis of old descriptions and surviving examples from the colonial period—notably the main retablo at Yanhuitlan
The Guadalupe altarpiece as planned
Restoration of the interior in keeping with its colonial appearance has continued with the recent creation of an altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe. 
The Guadalupe altarpiece as completed
Located in the south transept of the church, this new retablo is designed in traditional Oaxacan Baroque style with encrusted spiral columns, jutting cornices hung with spindles, a variety of rectangular and oval frames and gilded filigree ornament. 
   The classic representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe at center is complemented by the Four Apparitions in the small ovals in the gable.

San Baraquiel                                            San Zeatiel
  San Gabriel.                                                San Uriel.     
However, the four paintings of archangels with gilded windblown draperies, mounted in the side niches, are of 18th century origin, attributed to the noted baroque painter José de Páez, whose work appears elsewhere in Oaxaca City, notably in the church of San Felipe Neri. Apart from Gabriel, those portrayed are among the lesser known archangels.
The Archangel Gabriel
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and © Felipe Falcón, Robert Jackson, 
Mary Ann Sullivan and ELTBAll rights reserved. 

Please visit our post on the murals of Santo Domingo

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Oaxaca. Tlacochahuaya: the church furnishings

Lastly, in addition to the superb altarpieces and the statue of the Trinity already mentioned at Tlacochahuaya, there are several other colonial art works of note in the church:
The paneled pulpit is decorated with stylized rosettes, thought by some to derive from the Zapotec glyph for “earthquake.” 
   It is also a rare example of "zumaque" work, a regional style of marquetry cut from and treated with native plants and woods.
   Atop the canopy is another diminutive kneeling St. Jerome, enshrined in a tabernacle.  
One of the principal treasures at Tlacochahuaya is its grandly ornate 18th century painted pipe organ. Raised in the choir loft, it has been restored to its former multi hued baroque splendor as well as to actual playing condition.
text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Oaxaca. the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces 5.

The only securely dated retablo at Tlacochahuaya is the handsome Guadalupe altarpiece. The familiar image of the Virgin at center is framed by panels of the Apparitions signed by the popular regional painter of mixed race Joseph Nabarro and dated 1689.
The Apparition on the upper left is unusual in that the Virgin is seated—to our knowledge the only known such painted portrayal of Guadalupe.

text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Oaxaca. the Tlacochahuaya altarpieces 4.

Other retablos of interest at Tlacochahuaya include the late colonial altarpiece dedicated to the Dominican American saint, Rose of Lima.
Here she is shown as a postulent with her novice's crown surrounded by roses. Above her is a rather severe portrait of Catherine of Alexandria with her wheel.
text © 2007 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
images by the author and courtesy of Felipe Falcón