Sunday, August 30, 2020

Guanajuato. Celaya: El Carmen

Once past Celaya’s unprepossessing industrial outskirts, the visitor finds a spaciously laid out historic center of parks and plazas, fronted by many elegant colonial buildings. Although the monastic churches of San Francisco and San Agustín date back to the 1600s, Celaya’s main architectural heritage belongs to the neoclassical tradition of the late colonial years, in particular the work of its native son, Francisco Eduardo Tresguerras (1759-1833). 
    Tresguerras was among the best known exponents of the neoclassical style in Mexico. A painter and musician as well as an architect and sculptor, he was also a polemicist, whose vilification of the Mexican Baroque, and especially the practitioners of the Churrigueresque, precipitated the mutilation of many colonial buildings and the destruction of their magnificent baroque altarpieces.
     Ironically, his architecture is now viewed as more a hybrid style, in which neoclassical forms blend with many of the very baroque elements he so vigorously attacked.
Nuestra Señora del Carmen
This imposing structure, designed and built by Tresguerras, is his best known building and a major landmark in Celaya. 
    Rebuilt atop an earlier 17th century Carmelite conventual church gutted by fire in 1802, the church was rapidly completed in 1807, and is considered to be his finest work. But far from being a model of the neoclassical style, it is eclectic, which lends it considerable native charm and confirms its truly Mexican character.
A single central tower surmounts the Greek entry portico and narthex, a common Carmelite feature. Reputedly based on James Gibbs’ church of St. Mary-le-Strand in London, this idiosyncratic tower, with its giant scrolls and broken pediments, remains more baroque than correctly classical. 
   Similarly, despite its zigzag decoration in yellow tile, the high dome recalls Michelangelo’s design for St. Peter’s in Rome. 
The south porch too, arrayed with stepped columns, an interrupted pediment and curving balustrade, pays greater homage to the Italian high baroque than to the classical canons of antiquity.
The vast white and gold interior, lined with colonnaded marble altars, appears at first glance to follow neoclassical edicts more faithfully, but even here scrolls and broken pediments intrude, testifying to the irrepressible influence of the baroque.    Tresguerras also painted the striking frescoes of the Last Judgement and the Raising of Lazarus in the adjacent Capilla del Juicio.
In addition to his masterpiece, the church of El Carmen, Tresguerras' work can be seen in many other Celaya churches. He also designed the Independence monument in the main Plaza de Armas, and a bridge over the nearby Río Laja.
text © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
graphic by the author
color images © catedrales e iglesias 

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Guanajuato. Acámbaro: the royal hospital

Before the Spanish conquest, when it bordered the banks of an ancient lake, Acámbaro was a key link in the chain of garrison towns protecting the eastern flank of the Tarascan empire.  Later, under Spanish domination, it became one of the first missionary towns in the area, settled with Otomís, Tarascans and even a sprinkling of Chichimec tribesmen.
   Early chronicles tell us that the friars erected a wooden cross and a rude chapel with a belfry. To inaugurate the mission, a formal mass was celebrated here on September 1526, with processions and great ceremony to impress the Indians.
At the heart of town, surrounded by spacious plazas and parks—once part of a vast atrium—the Franciscan monastery is the most ambitious and architecturally original religious complex in the region. 
 A wonderful 16th century fountain, known locally as La Fuente Taurina, sparkles under the trees. It was reputedly installed to celebrate the first bullfight held in Acámbaro, and is carved in tequitqui style with scenes of the corrida, playful reliefs of fish, seashells, grotesque masks and even an Aztec speech scroll. We described this fountain and others in Acámbaro in an earlier post.

The Royal Hospital
The hospital dates from 1532, the year in which the convento was founded, and its chapel remains the oldest surviving structure in the group. The restored facade, carved from the warm local graystone, is its most picturesque feature. A triumph of the mudéjar-influenced ”Pidgin Plateresque” style, it recalls the Michoacán church fronts of Santiago Angahuan and La Guatapera Chapel in Uruapan.

The porch contains the most accomplished stone carving. Stylized busts of Saints Peter and Paul, encased in wreathed medallions, are emblazoned on its wide door jambs, alongside winged cherubs and ornamental cords with stylized tassels and birdshead knots. 
St. Peter relief
Similar medallions, enclosing the Five Wounds of Christ, are linked by a grapevine with sharply undercut leaves and fruit that undulates around the arch of the doorway. The archway is outlined by the Franciscan knotted cord and a thorn-and-ribbon molding in high relief.

Another cord, flanked by complex rosettes, frames the stone cross above the doorway. Wooden doors, carved with reliefs of saints and angels, complement the sculpted porch. A great alfiz fringed with Isabelline pearls frames the entire upper facade, including the star-spangled attic and choir window. 
   The carved stone facade is nicely set off by the whitewashed chapel front, whose only other features are a north tower, notable for its sheared off belfry and archaic ajímez, or divided window. The simple chapel interior houses a full complement of local santos, including at least one gruesome cristo de caña with gaping wounds and a fearsome crown of thorns.
   Two low archways beside the chapel are all that remain of the former “pilgrims’ portico,” or hospital entrance. Unfortunately, too, the interior patio has been altered beyond recognition.
Sunrise behind the chapel, February 2020 (Courtesy Robert Jackson)

Text © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and Niccolo Brooker

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Guanajuato. Dolores Hidalgo: La Casa de Visitas

Most visitors to the historic pueblo of Dolores Hidalgo, north of San Miguel de Allende, go to see the magnificent baroque parish church (see our previous post) or the former town house of Miguel Hidalgo, the father of Mexican Independence, now a museum.
   However another outstanding monument in Dolores is its late colonial Casa de Visitas.
La Casa de Visitas
This arcaded former mansion for visiting royal officials, also known as La Casa del Subdelegado, is one of the most elegant civil buildings in the region. Constructed from the same roseate stone as the church, the palace was completed in 1786 according to a plaque above the center archway. Stylistically, its long front favors the geometrical mode of the late baroque Churrigueresque—although less exuberant than the church. 
   Six lobed arches spring from square piers to form the street level arcade. On the second level, five large French windows, each capped by an ornate scrolled pediment, are placed over the piers, opening onto handsome corbelled balconies with lambrequin pendants.
A prominent beaded cornice, punctuated by hooded cartouches, runs the length of the building, sweeping upwards into a highly ornate mixtilinear gable over the center window. A balustrade of omega-shaped banisters supports the surmounting parapet. 
By contrast, the interior patio of plain arcades and classical doorway is rather modest.
text and images © 2020 Richard D. Perry

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Guanajuato. Dolores Hidalgo: the parish church

Guanajuato has been in the news recently because of internecine cartel violence, further discouraging visitors to the state. Here and in forthcoming posts we offer armchair travelers an insight into some of its outstanding colonial monuments.
   On September 16 1810 Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla made the first call for Mexican Independence from the steps of the parish church of our Lady of Sorrows in Dolores Hidalgo, Known as the Grito de Dolores, it is reenacted every year by Mexico’s President from the balcony of the National Palace in Mexico City.
The parish church dominates the plaza and the town. So it is easy to understand why Father Hidalgo, then the parish priest, chose its elevated porch for his momentous proclamation.
   Founded in 1712 by Alvaro de Ocio y Ocampo, one of Hidalgo’s predecessors, the church was not completed until 1780. In its dizzying verticality, this handsome structure perfectly exemplifies the 18th century Mexican church, and represents one of the high points of the Churrigueresque or barroco estípite style in Mexico. 
   The imposing facade rises at the head of a broad flight of steps, flanked by blank towers with ornate triple-tiered belfries—the tallest and most complete in this region of unfinished towers. 
   Although its designer is unknown, stylistically it has been linked to Francisco Bruno de Ureña, a scion of the eminent family of Mexican designers and architects*
The exuberantly carved facade is fashioned from cantera rosada, a locally quarried, fine-grained brownstone. Narrow estípites, outflanked by larger ones, frame the scalloped porch. All the decorative architectural elements—scrollwork, lambrequins, cut cornices and capitals—are carefully modeled and intricately layered. Curves predominate over geometrical lines in a proliferation of sinuous relief sculptures, cherubs and curling foliage. 
Projecting from their twisting shell canopies, the figure sculptures are disappointingly lackluster. Exceptions are the statue of the Virgin of Sorrows in the upper facade, splendid in her triangular gown with puffed sleeves and elaborate flared skirt, and the truncated figure of Christ Crucified set in a cross-shaped frame at the apex of the facade—a regional motif also seen at San Agustín in Salamanca, San José in Irapuato and San Agustín in Querétaro.
The Retablos
The interior follows the classic cruciform plan, with its crossing and transepts illuminated by a lofty dome. Although the main altarpiece was later replaced by a neoclassical altar, the two magnificent original retablos in the transepts have fortunately survived. 
The altarpiece of Guadalupe in the left transept is especially opulent. Estípites of exaggerated proportions enclose niche-pilasters richly hung with lambrequins and divided scrolls. But the most complex ornament is reserved for the center pavilion that carries through both tiers of the retablo with multi-layered swags, volutes and spirals.  
   Despite its rococo extravagance, the apparent decorative excess of the retablo is nevertheless carefully controlled, the power of the whole successfully withstanding the seductive profusion of luxuriant detail.
The unfinished retablo of San José, opposite, is somewhat more restrained. Complex niche-pilasters again dominate the design, emerging from decorative estípites on either side. But the overall effect, although still dazzling, seems less voluptuous, partly because of the absence of paint and gilding—perhaps omitted for lack of funds. 
   However, this lapse allows us the unique opportunity to appreciate the high quality of the original wood carving. The seasoned cedar wood retains its own special texture and lingering fragrance after more than two centuries. (see an earlier post for another example)

 to see our other Ureña related posts search our blog with this name.
text © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Puebla. Huatlatlauca: The church of Santa Maria de Los Reyes

Huatatlauca, from the Relaciones Geográficas (16th century)
Located in the Atlixco valley of southern Puebla state, this ancient community, whose name means "Place of the Red Eagle", is the site of a little known but fascinating 16th century monastery, noted for its rich tequitqui carving.
Founded around 1550 by the Franciscan Order, who began work on the church, the monastery was later ceded to the Augustinians, who added the convento, with its colorful murals, in the 1570s—the only convento of the Order in the region. 
    The church of Santa Maria de Los Reyes is flanked on the left by the great archway of the open chapel, currently blocked up, and on the right, the convento is fronted by a long, low arcade.
Although the tower is a later colonial addition, the church front is typical of early monastery churches, its ornament being confined to a carved, colonnaded doorframe and surmounting choir window.
   Although no facade statuary remains, the triple arcade around the choir window, is framed by a sinuous Moorish inspired arcade trimmed with bands of relief medallions, that may symbolize or may once have contained figures of the Three Kings.
But the principal treasure of the church is its 16th century wooden artesonado ceilings. Spanning the underchoir and part of the nave, these intricate coffered ceilings are richly decorated in red, gold and silver, and inset with a variety of motifs that bear a marked pre-hispanic flavor.

Other examples of early carving in the church are two baptismal fonts, probably dating from the Franciscan era, whose ornately carved basins still bear traces of paint.
   text © 2005 & 2020  Richard D. Perry
photography by the author, N. Brooker and Robert Jackson

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Puebla. Atlixco: The Third Order Chapel of St. Francis 3: the paintings

In our earlier post on the main altarpiece of the Third Order chapel, we noted that it contains only sculptures. However there are also several colonial paintings of interest inside the church,
   Mounted on the walls to either side of the main altarpiece are four large painted panels by the prolific 18th century Pueblan artist Lorenzo Zendejas, illustrating key scenes from the life of St. Francis: 

    1. Baptism of St Francis   2. Death of St Francis
3. Birth of St Francis; Francis before the bishop   
4. Stigmatization of St Francis
Pictures of the Zendejas paintings by Tacho Juárez Herrera (click images to enlarge) 
image by Niccolò Brooker
Florid paintings of lesser known archangels, including Reginel and Esriel (above) hang in the transepts, possibly part of another dismantled altarpiece.
El Carmen retablo © Niccolò Brooker
In addition to the main altarpiece, a single tier side retablo, dedicated to the Virgin of El Carmen, is crafted in a later baroque style, framed by complex estípite pilasters heavily encrusted with gilded rococo ornament.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry.    images © as noted

Monday, August 10, 2020

Puebla. San Francisco: Talavera painting

In a previous posts we noted paintings by members of a prominent family of poblano artists, los Talavera, some of whom also worked in Oaxaca The painter Cristóbal de Talavera, who seems to have been the patriarch of this dynasty, specialized in large scale narrative paintings.
   Probably his best known work is an ambitious and highly detailed Spiritual Lineage of St Francis, still to be found in the  city of Puebla, hung in the chapel of S. Sebastián de Aparicio.
Dated 1731, the year of the artist's death, this vast canvas employs a traditional Tree of Jesse format portraying Saint Francis at the bottom from whom the tree trunk springs. Row after row of Franciscan saints and martyrs, men and women, densely crowd the spreading branches, each with an identifying scroll.
The Virgin Mary, enfolded in a windblown blue robe, appears in the middle with Christ on the Cross above.
Text © 2020 Richard D Perry
images courtesy of ELTB
see our other posts on Mexican Tree of Jesse imagery: Zinacantepec; Cuernavaca

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Puebla. La Magdalena Quecholac: the convento

In a previous post we described the basilican church of La Magdalena in Quecholac. We noted that the added later forecourt serves to shield the original church front as well as what remains of the now abandoned Franciscan convento on the south side of the church.
The old convento front, with entry portal and open chapel
Our friend Niccolò Brooker recently ventured into the ruined convento. His pictures reveal several surviving details, including the entry doorway and the gaping open chapel, both formerly located behind an arcaded portico of which only a single column still stands.
The monastery entrance with scalloped archway and remnant cloister colonnade
Much of the cloister has been demolished except for a few columns and this surviving stone cross with reliefs of a crown of thorns and three bleeding wounds with spikes.
text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images © 2018 Niccolo Brooker. All rights reserved

Monday, August 3, 2020

The tiled Churches of Puebla: San Francisco Acatepec

Described by noted Mexican art historian Manuel Toussaint as a "porcelain temple," San Francisco Acatepec displays the most spectacular and sophisticated of the Cholula area tiled church fronts. 
© Carolyn Brown
Constructed starting in the 1650s and complete by 1750, the retablo style facade is a blaze of red, yellow and blue azulejo tiles, that outline and infill every surface. Supposedly created to order for the facade, the tiles articulate its varied columns, the moorish inspired arches and openings, and even its crowning scrolls and flame finials.
the tower  © Carolyn Brown
Richly encrusted surfaces and sculpted cornices frame the single south tower, which is also striped with bands of blue and yellow tile. 
St Francis © Carolyn Brown
Statues of Franciscan saints occupy the sculpture niches, with the patron, St Francis, within the star shaped upper niche.
Text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and © Carolyn Brown
see our earlier series on the tiled churches of Puebla