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Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: La Magdalena

Although little of the 16th century Franciscan monastery of Magdalena Quecholac now remains, it was once one of the largest in Mexico, faced by an enormous atrium.
   Built in the 1560s and '70s to replace a primitive earlier mission, the church was designed in basilical form with three aisles—modeled on, or possibly a model for, the great roofless basilica that we saw at nearby Tecali.

Today, all that is left of the original church is its mutilated but still grand facade, faced with triple entries of dark basaltic stone fashioned in starkly elegant purista Renaissance style. (The towers are later additions)
The main entry of the basilica
The 18th century facade
The present cruciform church, much reduced in size from the original and set well back from the old front, was rebuilt in the 1700s within the original nave walls. 
   Beyond its idiosyncratic colonnaded front, the now single nave is home to several gilded altarpieces preserved in good condition.

Although the altarpieces come in a variety of sizes, almost all are designed in early 18th century baroque style deploying ornate spiral "solomonic" columns densely wreathed with vines, and sculpture niches framed by foliated arabesque panels. 
  
Retablo of the Archangels (left)                     Retablo of Rosario (right)
  
All display fine, original sculptural detailing.   
  
Two altarpieces of special interest include the side retablo of Las Animas, its large center panel depicting Souls in Purgatory with the Archangel Michael. At its foot is a depiction of the Mass for the Dead—among the best preserved of the relatively few such examples in colonial art. (see another example at Suchixtlahuaca)
Mass for the Dead, detail
The other is an ungilded retablo, whose ornate twisting columns incorporate expressive caryatids beneath jutting capitals.
The untreated cedar gives a viewer a rare insight—and occasional scent—into the exquisite craftsmanship of the colonial woodcarver's art at its most intricate.
In addition to the 18th century altarpieces, two remnant items from the earlier 16th century mission survive: the monolithic stone fonts.
   The larger and more decorative—ringed by a chain like vine relief with alternating leaves and flowers and set on a carved, footed base—still serves as the principal baptismal font in the church.
   A smaller, much plainer, and possibly older basin currently stands in a forecourt between the original basilican front and the later church. Surprisingly, neither is carved with the knotted cord, usually a standard feature of Franciscan baptismal fonts. 
text © 2017  Richard D. Perry.  color images by ELTB
enhorabuena enrique!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Churches of Quecholac: La Merced

The picturesque town of Quecholac, located some 60 kms south east of the city of Puebla beside the Mexico—Veracruz toll road, is home to several colonial churches of interest. 
   These include the roofless temple of La Merced, the partly rebuilt Franciscan basilica of Santa María Magdalena, and the folk baroque churches of San Agustín and San Simón.
   In our four part series on the Quecholac churches we look first at the temple of La Merced, illustrated here by several classic pictures taken after the 1999 earthquake that damaged many colonial buildings in the region.
La Merced
Even in its present condition, the roofless temple of La Merced remains one of the most decorative churches in the state of Puebla.
   Its 18th century facade and standing triple gateway are densely sculpted in stone and stucco relief—a exceptionally ornate example of the popular barroco poblano style. 
La Merced, the gateway frames the church front
Both the facade and the gateway display an eclectic architectural mix: classical friezes jostle with vine clad spiral columns and relief panels, enveloping lobed Moorish arches and hexagonal openings, all framed with bands of arabesque and foliated ornament.
The gateway gable
The surfaces are alive with sculpted reliefs and statuary of angels and archangels, some set in decorative niches and others emblazoned above the archways or standing above the columns.
The Virgin of Mercy occupies the center niche.
  

The Spanish royal arms and those of the Mercedarian order flank an elaborate shell niche in the upper facade, once doubtless also occupied by the Virgin of Mercy but now empty. Decapitated statues of saints occupy the lower niches
Facade: headless saints
  
The lone tower sets precariously on its cracked base, which still retains a primitive relief of St. Barbara.
text and photography © 2000 & 2017 Richard D. Perry

Friday, January 6, 2017

La Conchita restoration: the altarpiece

In our first post on La Conchita we reported on the history and recently completed restoration of this little chapel, located in the Mexico City barrio of Coyoacán. In this second post we look at the unusual main altarpiece of the chapel. 
The Main Altarpiece
During the wholesale destruction and dismantling of gilded baroque altarpieces at various times—during the neoclassic revival of the late 1700s, the Reform of the mid 1800s and the Revolution of the past century—some sections of the earlier retablos were preserved and warehoused.  
   On a few occasions these disparate pieces were later cobbled together to create new, impressive, but iconographically incoherent assemblages to create what is known as a retablo fragmentario.
varied sources for the altarpiece (González Galván)
The newly cleaned main altarpiece at La Conchita is one outstanding example in the city of such an assemblage. While the large center section (A) appears to have come from a single retablo, the surrounding elements may come from as many as seven other sources, none of which have been currently identified.  
   Although the various elements show differences in design and ornament, stylistically all appear to date from the early to mid 1700s.  And while all of the statuary is recent, most of the paintings date from late colonial times.
Retablo mayor, center section 
While the overall iconology is inconsistent, as might be expected from the piecemeal reassemblage, the portraits of Jesuit saints and martyrs in the most complete center section point to its origin in a Jesuit church, probably dating from just before or after the Jesuit expulsions from Mexico in the 1760s.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
information & diagram source © Manuel González Galván

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

La Conchita restoration: the facade

In a December 2016 ceremony, the keys to the newly restored chapel of La Conchita were handed to Franciscan authorities by an official of the federal Secretariat of Culture (Conaculta).  
  This event marked the culmination of many years of concern regarding the rapid deterioration of the chapel, its delayed repair and conservation and finally, restoration of this significant historic monument and artistic jewel in the busy Mexico City suburb of Coyoacán.
   Reputedly built on the site of a pre Aztec temple from the tenth century, the first Christian chapel, or ermita, here was founded by order of the conquistador Hernán Cortés, and dedicated to the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (familiarly La Conchita) in 1525.
   Few traces remain however of the 16th century chapel, which was rebuilt in the mid 1700s. By 2011 however, this historic later building was in serious danger of collapse and was closed for repair, which involved partial sealing and strengthening of the walls and dome together with the badly cracked facade. 
 
Discovery of multiple burials beneath the nave in 2013 further delayed the restoration until its completion at the end of 2016. 
La Conchita is now open to the public once more.
The Facade
Anchored by modest twin towers, the 18th century front is a study in popular baroque style. While ornate estípite pilasters frame the doorway and upper niche, the various Moorish style openings—doorway, niche and windows—evince a retro, neo-mudéjar taste. 
Likewise, all the intervening wall spaces are crowded with foliated relief in carved stone and stucco, creating an intense, tapestry like effect.  Above the doorway, the sun, moon and a crowned Marian monogram occupy the alfiz like space. 


text © 2017 Richard D. Perry

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Books of 2016

Several new and recent books  have come across my desk this year that touch on different aspects of Mexican art, history and culture.  Although varied in their topics and style, I found all of them of interest and think they might also find an audience among some  of my readers. (click covers for publishers' details)  
Enjoy.

Mexican Kaleidoscope  by Tony Burton


The Teabo Manuscript  by Mark Z. Christensen


Birdman of Assisi  by Jaime Lara



The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire   by Catherine Mayo

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Yucatán. San Román Chancenote: Then and Now

For the final post in our year end series on Yucatán we go to the remote north eastern corner of the peninsula to look at the imposing ruin of San Román Chancenote.  In our first visit here thirty years ago we photographed the church in what was, and sadly largely still is, its advanced state of neglect.
     Chancenote was among the furthest outposts of the Franciscan evangelical effort in the 16th century, founded in the 1570s as an outlying visita of their great monastery at Tizimín. But the primitive mission almost immediately came under the control of the diocesan clergy, who constructed the present grand church some 200 years later in the mid 1700s.
   The church looms above the atrium, which resembles a primitive oilfield—dotted with wells that tap into the vast underlying cenote
San Román Chancenote in 1985
At dawn on February 10, 1848, two thousand Maya rebels swarmed into San Román Chancenote. The defenders of the town fought their way to the atrium and then retreated into the church, but to no avail. They were all cut down and slaughtered, except for a handful hidden on the church roof—the only surviving witnesses to these bloody events. The church was stripped of its altarpieces and other furnishings, which were put to the torch. All the wells were filled in and the settlement abandoned for almost a hundred years. 
Chancenote in 2010
Although the handsome detailing of the facade is still evident, the imposing 18th century church is dilapidated. Gaps have opened in the delicate Moorish parapets and the great barrel vault is ominously cracked and in danger of falling
   In August 2010 the lone south tower of the church of San Román, already weakened and damaged from long years of neglect and frequent lightning strikes, finally succumbed to one more, and almost entirely collapsed. 
  
1985 photographs
1985 photograph
Charred carved wooden beams that once supported the choir loft, together with the broad shell arches above the doors and windows, hint at its former elegance. The altar niches along the stripped nave are now occupied by rustic folk santos and crucifixes. 
The large, arcaded camarín behind the altar, which formerly housed an image of the Virgin, is now empty and in ruins.
 
santos in 1985
Colorful fragments of a colonial fresco portraying the Archangel Michael cling to the wall of the sacristy, and in the nave a substantial stone font is the sole remaining artifact at Chancenote to have outlasted the depredations of time and turmoil.
 
please review our earlier posts on Yucatán, Then and Now: 
UmánYaxcabáTicuchNohcacab; San Francisco de Mérida
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry. 
color images by the author ©1985.   all rights reserved

Monday, December 19, 2016

Mexican Murals. Dzidzantún 3: The Cloister murals

This, the third and last in our series on the Dzidzantún murals, focuses on the cloister. 
  
Two murals by the entry from the church portray saints Peter and Paul in orange robes against an azure background framed by painted Plateresque niches.
In contrast to the painted apse of the church, most of the cloister walls at Dzidzantún are now bare, aside from several intriguing ceiling motifs and colorful friezes fringed by the Franciscan cord. 
  
Swirling vines with bird, animal and angel heads employ the customary red and blue hues, with added turquoise and orange tones.
   The most intriguing of the ceiling motifs is that of an apparent jaguar hunt, in which the tethered feline is attacked by hunting dogs—to our knowledge a unique portrayal in early mural art.
  
Apart from the friezes, an extraordinary group of painted Calvary crosses adorn the corner spaces, framed by decorative, foliated archways and painted in faded blue and orange tones. 
Dzidzantún, the apsidal Calvary cross
Like the partial mural in the apse, each cross is accompanied by the Arma Christi, although here portrayed in a variety of combinations, colors and detail.

  
text © 2016 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Robert Jackson

see our other posts on Mexican Murals:  CuautinchánXometlaCulhuacánZacualpan
OzumbaTlalmanalcoIxmilquilpanMama;  IzucarTree muralsTepeapulcoTulaEpazoyucanZempoalaYecapixtla;
  
Planning to visit Yucatán?  Take our guidebooks along