Monday, June 29, 2020

Mexican Altarpieces: Tlalmanalco, The Retablo Mayor

In a previous posts we looked at the famous open chapel of Tlalmanalco and its less well known but also unique baptismal font. In this post we focus on the main altarpiece of the church, a beautifully wrought example of the genre in classic baroque style.
Originally designed as a side retablo, the altarpiece of the Virgin now stands behind the main altar. Its luxuriantly carved and gilded framework is a superb example of the ornate "solomonic" style of the late 17th century and early 18th century baroque. 
   Complex spiral columns, wreathed with the tendrils of curling vines, frame the two broad tiers of sculpture niches. The columns are headed by classic Ionic capitals. Every surface is alive with scrollwork and spiraling foliage. 
The Statuary
The altarpiece retains nine of its original set of statues of fine-featured saints set in their ornate niches and attired in flowing estofado draperies (there are no paintings in this retablo)
St. Joseph
On the upper tier, St. Joseph occupied the place of honor in the sumptuous center niche, flanked by the Franciscans St. Francis and St. Anthony of Padua in the inner calles, with John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the outer niches.
Below, saints Peter and Paul occupy the outer niches of the lower tier, beside the sumptuously robed Saints Joachim and Anna, the parents of the Virgin Mary, in the inner spaces. 
 Joachim and Anna
These flank the patron St. Nicholas of Toulouse—a modern image of poor quality, in a later installed center vitrineThe original niche, no doubt similar to that housing St. Joseph overhead, once held an image of the Virgin Mary, to whom the altarpiece was originally dedicated)
An intimate relief tableau of the Visitation in the top tier—possibly a later addition—shows Mary and Elizabeth both with child—greeting each other against an angular architectural background. A youthful Joseph looks on and the pilgrim's hat dangling from Mary's hand is a nice popular touch. 
   Although not securely documented, the prominent 17th century mestizo sculptor and retablista Tomás Xuárez may have been the author of the statuary, the relief, and possibly the altarpiece itself.
See our earlier posts on Mexican altarpieces of note:

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry. 
color photography courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Mexico. Tetelpan: the atrium cross

Another early carved stone cross in Mexico state has recently come to our attention:
Originally founded by the Carmelites in the 16th century, the present church of Santa María de La Natividad de Tetelpan, west of Mexico City near the Desierto de los Leones, was remodeled in recent times with a broad entry and a round bell tower. 
   One surviving early colonial remnant is the atrium cross, mounted on a high, stone and brick base in the former pantheon here.

Octagonal in section, and carved from the local tepetate or compressed volcanic caliche, the cross bears no Passion symbols apart from a stylized Crown of Thorns relief at the crossing. 
The most distinctive features of the cross are the folded fleur-de-lis finials atop the neck and at the ends of either arm, some still with pearl shaped caps. The cross is similar in style to several in Mexico City, notably at Atoyac and Mixcoac.
Another item of interest is the skull and crossbones carved on the base pedestal, set in a matrix of zigzag reliefs.
text ©2020 Richard D. Perry
color images © Niccolo Brooker and Catedrales e Iglesias

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Mexico. the crosses of Teotihuacan 2.

We continue our survey of carved stone crosses in the Teotihuacan area with three more examples from local churches:
Santa Maria Maquizco
Another fully foliated cross in the area is also lodged behind glass in an isolated posa outside the nearby barrio church of Santa Maria Maquizco. As with the San Juan cross, it is wreathed with vines and lush bunches of grapes; all the vine reliefs are painted, although currently much faded.

   By contrast, the bearded Face at the crossing is boldly picked out in color: black with graphic bruises and red with streaming blood.
No other Passion elements are present aside from a single arrow? emerging incongruously from Christ’s head, and what may be Wounds on the shaft?

Santa Maria Coatlán
A similarly carved although unpainted tree cross of possible late manufacture stands outside the ornate church at nearby Coatlán. A stoic Face of Christ stands out at the crossing, nicely modeled in the round and framed by the rays of Las Tres Potencias.

As at San Juan and Maquixco, vines with spiky leaves and grape clusters wind around the cross, enveloping a number of sharply defined Passion symbols clustered on the lower shaft. Button finials cap the arms while, as with the others, a simple INRI block perches atop the cross.
Xometla, the atrial chapel
A related cross, once again lodged in a separate atrial chapel or posa, is that found at San Miguel Xometla, a former visita of the great Augustinian priory at Acolman, whose baptistry murals we described in an earlier post.
Set against the far wall behind the elaborate gated facade, the cross is similar to those at Purificación Teotihuacan and nearby Maquizco, its varied  Passion reliefs picked out in paint against the cylindrical body. These include several instruments as well the black beard head of Christ at the crossing.  The date of the cross is unknown although it may be a post colonial example derived from the crosses already mentioned.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and Diana Roberts

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Mexico. the crosses of Teotihuacan 1.

We begin our new series of posts with a look at colonial artifacts from around Mexico State.
   Several carved stone crosses located in the churches and chapels around the town of San Juan Bautista Teotihuacan show a distinct family resemblance. All are foliated, ie: variants of a tree cross wholly or partly wreathed in vines with outsize leaves and bunches of grapes, and in some cases painted.
   Although none are specifically dated, because of their adoption of the helical, vine clad format associated with the early baroque Solomonic column, they may be dated to the early or mid-1600s.
   Two examples we spotlight here in our first post can be seen in the communities of San Juan Evangelista, and the barrio of La Purificación.

San Juan Evangelista
Currently housed in a freestanding, painted posa in front of the Calvary chapel of San Juan Evangelista, this cross is a classic example of this local style. Judging by its condition, it may be the oldest of the group and perhaps served as a model for the others.

Carved vines, sprouting large leaves and dangling grape clusters, spiral around the shaft and arms, enfolding several familiar Passion reliefs including the sensitively sculpted Face of Christ at the axis. 
   Inexpertly painted in now fading green, black and gold, this imaginative and charming, hybrid tree cross may be derived from the earlier crosses at not too distant Acolman.
Purificación Teotihuacan
Mounted like that of San Juan in a gateway chapel or posa of the barrio church of Purificación, noted for its iconic image of La Candelaria, this exceptionally tall, cylindrical cross, although not truly foliated, is an interesting variant of the Evangelista cross.

Although prolifically carved with familar Passion symbols, the most striking is the sensitively sculpted, luxuriantly coiffed head of Christ at the crossing—clearly related to that at nearby Acolman. 
   A spray of three crossed Nails appears above Christ’s head and a small, wreath style Crown is carved below. Blood from spreading Wounds oozes down in uneven gouts on either side from the upper arms.
Ladder-like bands wrap both arms, suggestive of vines but more likely representing a priest’s stole as at Atzacoalco. 
The other reliefs are evenly spaced in no particular sequence around the long shaft and stubby neck. One notable example is an elongated Corn plant apparently grasped by a mailed hand. A small, tightly wound INRI scroll heads the cross.
text and images © 2020 Richard D. Perry
all rights reserved.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Tlaxcala: San Juan Totolac

For the last in our present series on Tlaxcala, we look at the hilltop church of San Juan Totolac.
San Juan Bautista Totolac
Place of the Waterfowl
The fortress like church of San Juan Totolac sits atop a promontory reached by a long, stone stairway. The church is girded by a large, raised atrium, enclosed by walls with scalloped crenelations. This is the cemetery and is noted for its carved gravestones, some dating back to the early 1700s.
San Juan Totolac, the church front as restored
Although there was originally a modest Franciscan ermita here, founded as early as the mid 1500s, the imposing present church dates from the later 1700s. After an earthquake in 2014, the cracked church front was repaired and restored, and the unsightly clock tower removed!
Set against passages of Pueblan tile work and carved from the local warm hued limestone, the dramatic neostyle facade contrasts pairs of freestanding, fluted classical Corinthian columns with a variety of ornate, moorish inspired openings and curvaceous baroque ornament. An unusual hybrid.
A sinuous, scalloped arch above the entry bears the Latin inscription, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world” —words spoken by John the Baptist immediately before the baptism of Christ.
The facade is free of figural imagery aside from the diminutive Hapsburg Imperial two headed eagle above the barbed quatrefoil choir window and a diminutive relief of the patron saint, John the Baptist, in the gable.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry.  photography © Niccolò Brooker with thanks

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Tlaxcala. Santa Isabel Xiloxoxtla: The Miracle of the Spring

The church of Santa Isabel Xiloxoxtla and its sculpted cross *
According to one tradition, in 1541 the Virgin of Ocotlan first appeared to an ailing, indigenous resident of Xiloxoxtla, one Juan Diego Bernardino, a recent convert and Franciscan acolyte.  She led him to a spring with healing waters beside an ocote (pine) tree, and after drinking, he miraculously recovered.
   Juan Diego reported this miracle to the local friars, who hurried to the pine grove, which burst into flame. However, they found a carved image of the Virgin, unharmed, in one of the trees. 
Sanctuary of Our Lady of Ocotlan  © Miguel Corchado
This spot became the site of a shrine to the Virgin, and in time the spectacular hilltop basilica that is the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Ocotlan—the crown jewel of the ornate Tlaxcalan baroque.
Santa Isabel Xiloxoxtla, the chapel of San Diego

Back in Xiloxoxtla, this event is memorialized in an elegant side chapel of the church of Santa Isabel, sumptuously vaulted in red and gold. Filling one end of the chapel is an equally ornate gilded altar, which houses the newly restored 1766 painting that records the appearance of the richly robed Virgin of Ocotlan to a kneeling Juan Diego.

The similarity of this miracle to the better known story of the apparitions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, even to the name of the indigenous protagonist, is striking, and perhaps not coincidental.
     Such a parallel event, occurring not long after the Guadalupe appearances, would have seemed justly fortuitous and perhaps to be anticipated in Tlaxcala, the first, proudly native province of colonial Mexico. 
   The story of healing waters for the diseased is again appropriate for our times.

* Please see our earlier post on the atrium cross of Xiloxoxtla. 
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos: Tepeyanco; Zacatelco; San José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by Eleanor Wake and Ernesto Peñaloza

Friday, June 5, 2020

Tlaxcala: Santo Toribio Xicotzinco 2.

Although the church interior at Santo Toribio Xicotzinco suffered a neoclassical makeover in the 19th century, two fine, late baroque altarpieces have survived in the transepts. 
   Both are designed in an exceptionally bold Churrigueresque style with prominent, freestanding estípite columns and sharply pointed “prow” cornices. 
One retablo is dedicated to the patron saint, Santo Toribio, whose figure occupies the center niche. He is accompanied by other statues of saints including the perennial Franciscan favorite St. Christopher.
Sto Toribio and St Christopher
The other retablo showcases the Virgin of Guadalupe, combining statuary and paintings.
Other original furnishings include the extraordinary sculpted stone pulpit.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and others.
see our posts on other Tlaxcalan retablos of note: Tepeyanco; Zacatelco; San José de TlaxcalaSanta Cruz de Tlaxcala; Apetatitlan;

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Tlaxcala. Santo Toribio Xicohtzinco 1.

This is the first of two posts on the historic church of Santo Toribio Xicotzinco in the state of Tlaxcala.
   Turibius of Astorga (Santo Toribio) a 5th century bishop and early Christian saint from the province of Asturias in northwestern Spain, is little known or celebrated outside this region, let alone in the New World. However the saint did exert some influence in early colonial Mexico, an effect largely attributable to the eminent Franciscan missionary Fray Toribio de Motolinia, a native of Asturias, who took the name of the former Bishop of Astorga and adopted him as his patron. 
   A leading figure in the evangelization of Tlaxcala, Motolinia was drafted by the then bishop, Julian Garcés, to plan and lay out the new city of Puebla—in honor of the angels, in accordance with the bishop’s mystical vision or dream.  Motolinia was thus the moving spirit in the founding of the City of Puebla, originally located around the hillside site of the grand Franciscan monastery and its precincts—which were dedicated, no doubt intentionally, on the feast day of Santo Toribio, April 16th 1531.
   While Santo Toribio’s name does not otherwise feature in the great Pueblan church of San Francisco de Los Cinco Llagas, his rarity as a patron saint of churches in Mexico, suggests that, although there is as yet no firm documentary support for the claim, the founding of the nearby Tlaxcalan mission of Santo Toribio Xicotzinco, just across the present Puebla state line, may also be ascribed to Fray Toribio de Motolinia.
Originally founded as a mid-16th century visita of the Franciscan convento at Tepeyanco, the present present parish church of Xicotzinco (Under the Beehives) was rebuilt starting in the late 1700s.  
The front is distinguished by its two dramatically tall towers–late colonial additions, and a brilliant tiled facade in the Pueblan style, faced with red ladrillo brick inset with glossy azulejo tiles, some fashioned into colorful panels depicting archangels; these complement the folkloric painted statuary that includes archangels as well as the figure of the patron saint, Santo Toribio–a unique portrayal to our knowledge.
gable statue of Santo Toribio
facade statuary
tiled panels of archangels
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolo Brooker and others.