The earliest surviving work of art in the church of Santo Domingo in the city of Oaxaca is the spectacular painted relief of the Genealogy of St. Dominic adorning the under choir (sotocoro).
Based on the medieval motif of the Tree of Jesse, it spreads out across the vault in the form of a multi-branched vine. Springing from the inconspicuous reclining figure of Don Felix de Guzmán, the patriarch of the family, it traces the earthly lineage of the founder of the Dominican Order. Members of his noble family, real and imaginary, emerge like blossoms from buds set among the tendrils and bunches of grapes.
These diminutive, fresh-faced figures exude a charm and directness that establish this ceiling as one of the earliest masterpieces of Mexican popular art. The Virgin Mary relief is a later addition, placed like a Christmas ornament at the top of the tree.
text © 2005/2020 Richard D. Perry
color photography by Felipe Falcón.