Saturday, February 27, 2021

Mexico. Magdalena de Las Salinas

Santa Maria Magdalena de Las Salinas
Magdalena de Las Salinas, church front
A unique atrium cross, incorporating Aztec relics, stands precariously on a street corner opposite the gateway to the modest church of Magdalena de Las Salinas, located at the heart of a poor neighborhood not far from the Basilica of Guadalupe.
In spite of its worn and fragmentary state, the Magdalena cross is an interesting oddity. The original crosspiece is missing, long ago replaced by a now crumbling cement block. But most of the black basalt shaft remains, carved on all sides with eroded but still identifiable Instruments of the Passion: a stumpy Column with a cockeyed Rooster, above what appears to be the Host on the front of the cross. 

Ladder;                                              Crossed bones

Reliefs of a Ladder and a Corn stalk growing from a Ewer or vessel are carved on the sides, and on the reverse, two crossed objects—either Crossbones or the Reed and Lance—are carved beneath what may be a splashy Wound. No INRI inscription or finials survive, and the head of the cross appears plain except for a vestigial rounded cap. 
But the most intriguing feature of the present cross is its placement atop a pyramidal base in which is embedded a large Aztec ring stone, possibly a ballcourt marker, whose recessed center continues to be used for offerings of candles and flowers.
Inside the church a notable survival is the main altarpiece, fashioned in early 18th century style with spiral columns and gilded foliated relief throughout.
   The retablo includes paintings as well as statuary, with a focus on female saints, notably the patron Mary Magdalene in the center niche.
The Holy Trinity occupies the niche in the surmounting gable.

Text & b/w images © 2021 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Robert Jackson

Friday, February 19, 2021

Guanajuato. San Francisco Comonfort

In this post we highlight the 17th century church and convento of San Francisco Comonfort.
The complex dates from the early 1600s. The tower is the principal feature of the front, constructed in three tiers and capped by a ladrillo tiled dome. Otherwise the facade is framed in sober mannerist style, the entry flanked by Doric pilasters and the upper niche containing a statue of the patron St Francis.
   The former convento lies to the southwest of the church, accessed by a double arcaded porteria.
While the main retablo and several of side retablos are neoclassical in style, the main glory of the church interior is the group of gilded altarpieces lining the transepts, fashioned in the highly ornate late baroque anástilo manner, variously featuring painted panels and statuary of Franciscan and other prominent saints.
Along the nave stands a large painting of Las Animas, (Souls in Purgatory) with the Virgin Mary, archangels and Franciscan saints.
text © 2021 Richard D Perry
images © ELTB
for more on this painting.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Oaxaca. Santo Domingo Yanhuitlan: The Descent from the Cross

In our ongoing series on the art works at the great Dominican Priory of Yanhuitlan, here we focus on the theme of the Deposition or Descent from the Cross.
Two outstanding illustrations of this theme are found at Yanhuitlan, the first a painted alabaster relief in the Sagrario chapel adjoining the main church. Originally of untreated stone possibly with gold accents, it was overpainted in bright colors probably in the mid 1600s or later.
The crowded scene is notable for participants wearing moorish costumes including turbans.
Another related relief can be seen at SS Pedro y Pablo Teposcolula in the priory church, where it occupies a focal position in the main altarpiece.

The second depiction at Yanhuitlan is in the main altarpiece and is a painting documented as by the eminent Sevillian artist Andrés de Concha - one of five in the altarpiece.
   Here the Descent from the Cross depicts Jesus’s followers Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus taking his dead body down from the cross. The body of Jesus is stiff and his rigid arms remain straight even after removal from the cross
beam. Below, female followers hold Jesus’ feet, and Mary, overwhelmed with grief, collapses in the foreground. 
   The composition is characterized by a high placement of the crossbeam and by diagonals created by the lateral ladders.
   Recently restored it is the crowning painting in the altarpiece, underlining with its companion, its importance in the Easter rituals at Yanhuitlan.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry
with acknowledgments to Alessia Frassani 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Oaxaca. SANTO DOMINGO YANHUITLÁN , the colonial organ

In an earlier series of posts we described the early Dominican priory of Santo Domingo and various constituents. In this post we look at its magnificent early pipe organ.
the organ before restoration
Located atop a high balcony on the north side of the church this splendid early organ occupies one of the most imposing visual and acoustical spaces in the Americas, the church of Santo Domingo Yanhuitlán. 
the organ as restored
Even though the name of its builder remains unknown, it is estimated that the organ was built in Oaxaca around the year 1700, since its case profile, with the characteristic Oaxacan “hips” on the sides, and its sumptuous frontal decoration closely resembles that of the organ (1686) located in the city church of la Basílica de la Soledad.
Especially striking are the swirling designs painted on the front of the case, the richly gilded 
foliated carving, and the grotesque faces painted on the facade pipes. Also this is the only organ in Oaxaca decorated with Dominican symbols: the black and white cross and the dog carrying a torch. 
A statue of Saint John the Baptist stands atop the organ.

The organ was restored between 1996 and 1998 with the support of Fomento Cultural Banamex A.C—more a reconstruction rather than a restoration, since many of the pipes and the interior wooden components were badly deteriorated and had to be replaced. The project was directed by the French organ builder Pascal Quoirin.
   The restorers inherited an instrument that had been substantially changed during the 19th century (the keyboard is dated 1886). The most damaged pieces were replaced, including the rank of horizontal trumpets, many of the interior pipes, the bellows, the windchest, and various components of the action, with the goal in mind of recovering as far as possible the original character of the organ. 
   Fortunately the original façade pipes with their painted faces and floral decoration could be restored. The background color of the case decoration was originally green, typical of Oaxacan organs of the period, but at some point it turned copper brown, which is the color we see now.

Listen to a recent (2020) recital on the organ.

text © 2021 Richard D. Perry (based on an description by IOHIO)
color images by the author, Rosalind Perry, and courtesy of Felipe Falcón

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Michoacán. La Candelaria de Los Alzati

February 2 is the feast of La Candelaria—Candlemass— celebrated across Mexico as marking the end of the Christmas season. We mark this day with a visit to the little chapel of La Candelaria in San Felipe de Los Alzati in eastern Michoacan.
   In an earlier post we looked at the carved atrium crosses in this colonial religious complex, here we look in some detail at the modest chapel and its altarpiece.
While the chapel front is unassuming— its sober classical entry dominates the square facade and a simple detached bell tower in the regional tradition adjoins the north side—the severe interior is of interest largely for its beamed roof and the retablo at the east end.

Simply framed by gilded spiral columns and pilasters, the statues on the lower tier as well as the paintings on the upper tier represent different images of the Virgin Mary, although only the central figure below appears to show La Candelaria.
Sts Luke; Gregory; Jerome and Mark.
Ambrose; John the Evangelist; St. Matthew and St. Augustine
Of special note are the paintings in the predella at the base of the retablo, which represent variously the Four Evangelists, and the Doctors of the Latin Church: on the left, Ambrose; John the Evangelist; Matthew and Augustine, and on the right Sts Luke; Gregory; Jerome and Mark.
text © 2021 Richard D Perry
color photography © Niccolo Brooker with thanks