Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Jalisco. The fountain at El Cabezón

 Closing out our posts for Hispanic Heritage month, we offer a final post in our current series on Jalisco.

El Cabezón, the hacienda chapel 

In an earlier post on Jalisco we looked at the historic hacienda of El Cabezón and its remarkable altarpiece
In this post we showcase its unusual “fish” fountain, located in front of the hacienda chapel and adjacent portales.
The circular fountain is ringed by overlapping scales of different sizes with carved fish serving as spouts.

text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
images courtesy of Jim Cook.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Jalisco. Lagos de Moreno: Las Capuchinas

Following up our previous post on the cathedral of Lagos de Moreno, we look briefly at another late colonial monument in that city.

Abutting the old city wall beside the river are the remnants of the rambling former Franciscan convent of Las Capuchinas, the only other colonial church in Lagos de Moreno, which now serves as an arts and cultural center. 
courtesy of Niccolo Brooker
A few old stone doorways have been incorporated into the new brick walls of the present complex, and the nuns’ washhouse still stands in the rear patio.
But the best preserved part of the convent is its former nave front, dating from the mid-1700s, divided by hexagonal buttresses, which flank the traditional double portal of a nun’s church—in this case a pair of austere mannerist doorways. The front is capped by an apron cornice topped by simple belfries and a few headless statues.
The nave reveals a neoclassical makeover, probably some time in the early 1800s.
text ©1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Jalisco. Lagos de Moreno: the Cathedral

Set beside the San Juan river, in colonial times the provincial town of Lagos de Moreno in the Los Altos region of northeastern Jalisco prospered as a way station on the rich silver route to Zacatecas. The town was known as the "Athens of the Bajio" for its fine mansions and cultural pretensions.
   The town is also home to one of the most spectacular late baroque churches in Mexico, another building attributed to Francisco Bruno de Ureña, a prominent member of the illustrious and ubiquitous Ureña family of architects and retablistas and the preeminent architect of the Bajío region.
The "Cathedral" 
The grand parish church of The Assumption, known to residents simply as the "Cathedral," was built in the late 1700s to house the shrine of San Hermion (Hermes?), an obscure early Christian martyr whose purported relics were brought here from Rome. Set on a rise, the site of a former mission, and reputedly, a pre-hispanic temple before that, the Cathedral dominates the main plaza, its soaring twin towers visible for miles from the surrounding plain.(pic)
 Designed c.1765 by Francisco Bruno, the church is an inventive and flamboyant example of the terminal Mexican baroque, harmoniously conceived and richly detailed both inside and out in accordance with the "total design" canon in the felipense tradition. 

   The elongated, concave facade is richly encrusted with ornate architectural sculpture, replete with statuary, decorative niches and rococo flourishes - all delicately fashioned from pink marble. Sharply angled niche-pilasters with freestanding statuary frame the grotto-like front, recalling Francisco Bruno's facade of San Diego de Alcalá (Guanajuato) The neo-moorish openings - doorway, window, sculpture niches - diminish as they rise, accentuating the dynamic verticality of this design, which is crowned by an sinuously scrolled gable (pic) in the felipense style. 
The lateral doorways are in the same vein, and even more decorative, featuring elaborately framed busts of popular saints like St. Barbara and John the Baptist. Note too the ornate sacristy doorway on the south side, surmounted by a complex relief in popular style praising the Holy Trinity (pic). 
The interior is also a sumptuous and eclectic feast. The nave is prominently divided by clustered pilasters and projecting running cornices with corbel-like drum capitals. Rounded sausage-like arches, with torus moldings richly incised with zig-zag decoration, frame the bays which are covered by ribbed vaults that borrow from Gothic traditions as well as Serliesque classicism (pic).

Although more richly detailed, the interior also recalls San Diego de Alcalá (Guanajuato) as well as Felipe de Ureña's interior of the church of La Guadalupe in Aguascalientes.
   Unfortunately the predominantly banal neoclassic cut of the many altars strike a jarring note—making the viewer regret the loss or non completion of the splendid gilded altarpieces that were surely once planned for the church.
The cathedral was dedicated in 1790 and the towers were the last elements to be added c. 1795.
   Each tower rises like a wedding cake, its diminishing tiers encrusted with massed columns and projecting cornices - an early statement of the emerging "neostyle" fashion and contemporary with the almost identical towers at nearby San Juan de Los Lagos. (see)
   For some, the cathedral at Lagos de Moreno may present the very picture of late baroque excess, but to the open-minded viewer, it has great charm and undeniable charisma - an outstanding Spanish architectural monument of the ornamental terminal baroque, so soon to be swept away by the puritanical tsunami of neoclassicism. 

text, graphics and B/W images © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Jalisco. San Juan de Los Lagos: El Santuario

As followers of this blog know, we often feature works by the eminent baroque architect and designer Felipe de Ureña* and his family.
In this post we look at the contributions by at least two of the family members to El Santuario, a famous pilgrimage church in the town of San Juan de los Lagos in the Los Altos region of Jalisco.    
   Here Felipe, together with his son-in-law Juan García de Castañeda, designed and fabricated the sumptuous main altarpiece, now sadly lost, for the celebrated basilica of the miracle working image of Our Lady of San Juan.   
   Architecturally, the rebuilt basilica, or Santuario as it is known, is somewhat eclectic although it may broadly be termed “neostyle", a terminal phase of the Mexican baroque that heralds and transitions into neoclassicism.     
   Begun in the 1750s and attributed to the metropolitan architect Juan Rodríguez de Estrada, it was unfinished at his death in 1769, and was only completed and finally dedicated in the 1790s.  
   Noting then, that the towers—customarily the last building phase of any church front—display a strong affinity to Francisco Bruno’s almost contemporary towers at nearby Lagos de Moreno, and given the earlier connection of the Santuario with Felipe and Juan Garcia de Castañeda, it is probable that Felipe's son Francisco Bruno de Ureña may have had a role in their final design and completion.

Towers: San Juan de Los Lagos (l)            - Lagos de Moreno (r)  © Richard Perry

The Lost Altarpiece
On April 8th 1758, Juan García de Castañeda signed a contract for the design, creation and assembly of a sumptuous main altarpiece for the newly completed basilica to house the image of the Virgin of San Juan de Los Lagos—a major commission that would mark the high point and the ultimate work of his artistic career.
   Working out of his Aguascalientes workshop, in conjunction with Felipe de Ureña, Castañeda produced a detailed design, that unlike the retablo itself, has fortunately survived in the diocesan archives.

    The design, with its iconography, was approved and work went forward. The structural members and carved ornament were preformed at the Ureña Aguascalientes workshop and transported to the site of the still unfinished Basilica. Then, in 1763, five years after the project was initiated and the altarpiece well along in construction, Castaneda suddenly died.  

    At that point Felipe de Ureña contracted to finish the retablo, and it is thought that he completed the task two years later in 1765 before he left for Oaxaca the next year.  (As it turned out, this magnificent altarpiece was not installed in the Basilica until 1769, four years later.

   Based on the preserved Castañeda design, the altarpiece, although grand in scale and sumptuous in ornament, was structurally relatively conventional in the classic late baroque estipite style popularized by the Ureñas and others in the Bajio region. 

   The retablo is divided into four horizontal tiers with five vertical calles. Narrow estípite pilasters incorporating relief medallions frame the more expansive interestípites, or niche-pilasters in the lower tiers. All the niches contain statues of saints—12 in all including those in the more prominent center spaces. 

   In the felipense tradition, the central pavilion of the retablo is wider, especially in the grand main tier, designed for more effective display of the principal image of Our Lady of San Juan and the patron John the Baptist above. (for details of the iconography see the key below)

Statue of St Anne;                                           Fragment of sculpture niches with statuary;
Estipite fragments
   Although the altarpiece was later disassembled to make way for a neoclassical substitute and most of its constituents lost, a few fragments—statuary and structural pieces—have survived and are lodged in the Diocesan museum there.

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text © 2020 Richard D. Perry
basbased on "Juan García de Castañeda, Felipe de Ureña y el proyecto del retablo mayor para el Santuario de Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos" JOSÉ ARMANDO HERNÁNDEZ SOUBERVIELLE & OMAR LÓPEZ PADILLA. Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas V xxxvi #105, 2014

Monday, September 14, 2020

San Miguel de Allende: the church of San Francisco

In an earlier post we described the parish church of Dolores, whose designer has also been associated with the ornate Churrigueresque façade of the city church of San Francisco in San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende
In 1542, Fray Juan de San Miguel, the "Apostle of Michoacan," arrived to evangelize this former outpost of the Tarascan empire. Fray Juan gathered Tarascan and Otomi Indians into a settlement here, which he named San Miguel de Los Chichimecas, and erected a primitive mission.
   Although this first tiny mission was abandoned because of Chichimec raids, Spanish colonists and native settlers from Tlaxcala arrived soon after, swelling the size of the fledgling community. In 1555 the town was relocated and renamed San Miguel el Grande. By the close of the 16th century, San Miguel was securely established as a center for the growing woollen industry, as well as an important way station on the silver route to Zacatecas in the north. 
   In the mid-1600s the rude, pole-and-thatch chapel had been replaced by a sturdy stone church and the friars took up residence in their newly completed convento. This simple mission, formerly known as San Antonio and now associated with the lay Franciscan Third Order, still stands beside the later, even grander church of San Francisco. A timeworn relief of St. Joseph is mounted below the picturesque espadaña or wall belfry.
The Church
In 1779, work began on the monumental church of San Francisco—the last major colonial building to be erected in San Miguel. Neatly framed by a well-maintained alameda with a stone fountain, the dazzling Churrigueresque facade is far and away the most accomplished example of 18th century architecture in San Miguel, and is associated with Francisco Bruno de Ureña, son of the eminent designer/architect Felipe de Ureña.
   The facade bears a strong family resemblance to the parish church at Dolores Hidalgo, also attributed to Francisco Bruno de Ureña, as well as to Felipe de Ureña's basilica of La Compañia in Guanajuato. Beautifully carved from fine-grained roseate stone, the facade shows great clarity and harmony of design. 
 The main focus is on pairs of giant estipites, which enclose ornamental niche-pilasters of similar weight and emphasis. In keeping with the Guanajuatan Churrigueresque style, special attention was devoted to architectural and decorative reliefs, especially the finely detailed figure sculptures.
Atop the estipites, for example, expressive busts of kings, saints and prelates emerge on each side of bulging cartouches, while simple, elegantly posed statues of Franciscan saints fill the niches. The elongated figure of St. Francis of Assisi, in particular, seems to radiate a sorrowful spirituality.
   A sculpted crucifix much like that at Dolores Hidalgo, encased in a cruciform frame at the apex, is flanked by the mourning figures of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist. A large oval relief of La Inmaculada, enmeshed in a welter of mixtilinear and bescrolled ornament above the lobed doorway, reminiscent of Francisco Bruno’s center façade of San Diego de Alcalá, in Guanajuato, lifts the eye to the upper level.
A second statue of St. Francis surmounts the facade.
The soaring tower—a project funded, according to local lore, by receipts from bullfights—was the final addition to the church. This is another work by Eduardo Tresguerras, whose work we saw in Celaya and is considered one of his noblest designs. Boldly projecting double columns at the corners of each tier compel the eye skywards to the crowning, octagonal cupola. 
© Dick Schmitt
   The bright interior was also remodeled by Tresguerras, and is an agreeable, if rather cool, exercise in neoclassical taste. It is dominated by a huge colonnaded tabernacle, complemented by nine stone altars around the nave—each fashioned from rose-colored limestone.

text © 1997 & 2020 Richard D. Perry
color images and graphic by the author except where noted. all rights reserved

Monday, September 7, 2020

Mexico City fire: The Santa Veracruz Monastery,

Last week fire engulfed the historic church of Santa Veracruz, facing the Alameda park in the historic center of Mexico City.

One of the oldest religious establishments in Mexico City, it was established by a monastic brotherhood founded by Hernán Cortés. The original church was built in 1586, but later subsided into the lake bed and was replaced in the 18th century by the one standing today. The former monastery building and hospital now house the Franz Mayer Museum.  

   Construction on the new and current buildings began in 1759 and were finished in 1776, when the towers and the side facade were completed. Saint Blas was declared the patron saint of both the church and the Brotherhood that sponsored it.

The tower after the 2017 quake

   During construction, in 1768, there was a major earthquake in Mexico City, when the church's atrium was used for a mass funeral site.  In addition, much damage was incurred during the recent 2017 ‘quake, and repairs were scheduled by the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, with the installation of wooden scaffolding before the recent fire, which may have fed the flames, apparently started by homeless squatters.

The building has facades on the west, south and east sides. These handsome facades are traditionally faced in reddish/brown volcanic tezontle with elaborately carved Mexican Baroque portals cut from fine gray chiluca stone.

the main entry and facade

The main facade has two levels, the grand entrance flanked by pilasters with elongated estipites. The upper level has two pairs of estipites, with a simple cross, a large choir window, and three pyramidal pinnacles. Atop the facade is a statue of Saint Joseph. 

The side portal is also richly ornamented. The rounded entry here is flanked by two estipite pilasters decorated with plants, cherubs and the faces of saints, and capped by two angels carrying flowers.  A dated inscription records completion of the towers and the portal.

   The upper level is also framed by estipite pilasters, flanking a decorated niche with an image of Saint Blas, the patron. Above this is a medallion with a cross, and above that a statue of the Archangel Michael.

Text © 2020 Richard D. Perry, 

images with acknowledgment to Wikipedia,

Friday, September 4, 2020

Guanajuato. San Francisco church

Followers of our blog know our interest in the works of Felipe de Ureña the pre-eminent 18th century architect, designer and retablista and his extended family.
   The city and state of Guanajuato are particular rich in baroque monuments designed by family members, most notably the former Jesuit church of La Compañía in the city.
   In this final post on Guanajuato we look at another city building attributed to Felipe de Ureña: the church of San Francisco.
   Formerly known as San Juan Bautista, this church was erected in one of the city parishes and originally dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water—a central factor in the city’s history and development and a constant source of concern because of flooding.    
   Although we have no firm documentation for the completion of the church, most of the construction took place in the 1780s. 
The Facade
Clearly derived from La Compañía and relatively restrained in ornament, the facade takes the form of a triumphal arch set on pairs of prominent but slender estípites, intricately layered with felipense style geometrical forms, including his signature “winged circle” motifs. 

estipite pilaster with winged circle relief.
The intervening niche-pilasters are framed with multiple scrolls and layered lambrequins. Rocaille scrolls decorate the jambs and profuse, cornucopia-like relief foliage fills the elevated spandrels of the rounded entry—possibly later additions by son Francisco Bruno.
   Above the doorway, a large ornamental lambrequin in the form of an inverted triangle bears a medallion of Christ in Majesty and provides a visual link to the upper level. Here, the estipites are much less substantial, enclosing feathery, layered corbels instead of niches to support the statuary. There is no gable of consequence, just a surmounting cornice. 
    The facade seems to just peter out instead of cresting with a flourish, although it may be that later alterations, notably the addition of the towers and the overhead clock, may have reduced it.
facade detail with statue of St Paul
Some of the upper facade statuary—the Franciscan saints Francis, Clare and Anthony of Padua—date from the mid-1800s, although the figures of Sts Peter and Paul below may be original. Likewise, the interior was also changed with the Franciscan reoccupation in the later 1800s, when the gilded estípite retablos were replaced by the present stone and stucco neoclassical altars.
upper facade with statuary
text and images © 2020 Richard D. Perry
See our pages on other Ureña works: Rayas ChapelAguascalientesCataLa ValencianaSaltillo/Monclova;