Sunday, January 21, 2018

San Juan Teitipac. Our Lady of the Rosary

In our previous post we considered the processional murals on the south wall of the portería vestibule at Teitipac. 
The east wall, with the Virgin of the Rosary (l) and the Deposition (r) 
In this post we look at the other fresco on the east wall, beside the Descent from the Cross. 
Note: this fresco is thematically linked to the north wall murals and should be viewed as part of that cycle, which we treat in our next post. 
Adoration of The Virgin of the Rosary
The best preserved of the cycle, the subject of this mural is the Presentation of the Rosary by the Virgin Mary to St. Dominic, or Adoration of the Virgin of the Rosary.
St Dominic and his dog
Here, the partially effaced figure of Our Lady of the Rosary is raised on a crescent moon amid swirling celestial clouds. Large, dark rosary beads descend on either side. 
   Below are the kneeling figures of St. Dominic on the left, holding the rosary and accompanied by his red collared Dominican dog, and to the right, a Dominican nun in the same posture—probably St. Catherine of Siena.
St Catherine of Siena
As with the north wall murals, a plaque representing the foliated Dominican cross lies beside the saint, below the feet of the Virgin.
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color photography © Niccolo Brooker

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

San Juan Teitipac: the Processional murals

In the 1570s, San Juan Teitipac was the dominant Dominican mission in Oaxaca's Tlacolula Valley, with four resident friars. Built atop an ancient Zapotec cemetery*, its vast atrium, with four corner posas, fronted the large cruciform church—a rarity in rural Oaxaca—and an imposing convento.
  While there are colonial treasures in the church, Teitipac’s chief claim to fame for visitors and scholars alike is the 16th century frescoes in the convento. This is the first of three posts on these early murals.
San Juan Teitipac
The Processional Murals
An arched portería on the south side of the church marks the entrance to the once substantial convento, of which little now remains. However, the two-story vestibule just inside the entry is a gallery of frescoes that include a dramatic sequence of processional murals in two tiers. These frescoes, which represent a reenactment of Holy Week ceremonies, were almost certainly sponsored by a local cofradía or religious brotherhood of the Santo Entierro, or Holy Sepulcher. 
view of the porteria and murals
Processional murals are exceedingly rare in Mexico—the only other examples being those in the church at Huejotzingo and the upper cloister at Huaquechula—both in Puebla and also painted at the behest of a local cofradía
   Recently partially restored, the Teitipac frescoes are painted in somber hues, predominantly cool black and earth colors with some red accents. 
The east wall of the porteria
Their position here in the convento entry—unique among the placement of such murals in Mexico—together with their depiction of actual doorways, suggest that the portería itself played a key role in early colonial ceremonies at Teitipac.
Descent from the Cross - detail
The sequence starts from a large, fairly well preserved Descent from the Cross, painted above the inner doorway on the east wall. Dominican friars, an unorthodox depiction for this scene, lower Christ’s body from the cross—painted bright red along with the accompanying ladders.
Virgin Mary and St. John;       Deposition from the Cross, engraving by Marcantonio Raimondi  (c. 1470 - c. 1527)
A poorly preserved Virgin of Sorrows and St. John the Evangelist look on from the sidelines. The overall composition is adapted from a popular print by the Italian engraver Marcantonio Raimundi.
south wall

Two tiers of processional scenes unfold along the south wall. 
south wall. lower tier
Below, a funeral cortege of Dominican friars proceeds westwards from a faux painted doorway, solemnly bearing aloft the body of Christ, accompanied by Mary Magdalene and assorted Spanish dignitaries and indigenous women. All the participants are boldly and realistically drawn with special attention to costume and facial expression. 
painted doorways: lower tier;  upper tier
south wall. upper tier (detail)
Along the upper tier, ghostly, hooded penitents in long, trailing robes walk in the opposite direction, holding candles, banners and various instruments of the Crucifixion, heading east 
towards another painted entry/exit. 
The recently cleaned murals on the north wall of the portería revolve around the Virgin Mary, the best preserved of which depicts the figure of Our Lady of the Rosary, a popular Dominican devotion, on the east wall—the subject of our next post.
* It is tempting to speculate that the obvious importance of this cofradía, a native brotherhood dedicated to the Holy Sepulcher, may be linked in some way to the prehispanic history of the site. 
text © 2018 Richard D. Perry
images by the author, Niccolò Brooker and Felipe Falcón

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Colonial Mexican Murals

This month we mark the first anniversary of our specialized blog devoted to colonial Mexican mural art.
In addition to this past year's 51 posts (see sidebar) here are links to several earlier mural posts that appeared on our sister site:

Dzidzantún (Yucatán) 1 of 3
Epazoyucan (Hidalgo)
Metztitlan (Hidalgo)
Tepeji (Hidalgo)
Tepeapulco (Hidalgo)
Tlalmanalco (Edomex)
Tula (Hidalgo)
Tzintzuntzan (Michoacán)
Yecapixtla (Morelos)
Zempoala (Hidalgo)

Enjoy!  Richard Perry

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ixmiquilpan. The Church Murals 2: The Battle frescoes

In our first post on the church murals of Ixmiquilpan we described the colorful murals in the narthex and apse, focusing on the eagles and jaguars portrayed and their possible significance in relation to the "battle" frescoes along the nave.
shouting warriors armed with bow, arrow, shield, macana sword and trophy head
The Battle Murals
In this post we attempt a description and survey of opinion on the so-called Battle frescoes that line the nave in an originally continuous frieze.
   More than in any other colonial Mexican church, the painted nave of Ixmiquilpan allows us to glimpse the dynamic imagination and skill of indigenous artists at a rare moment when their traditional mode of visual expression was least restricted by European artistic canons. 
   The later 1500s were uncertain times for the residents of lxmiquilpan. Expansion of Spanish settlement and the development of the silver mines north of Mexico City brought the colonists and Otomí villagers of the region into sharp conflict with the nomadic Chichimec tribes of the northern mountains.
   In the Chichimeca Wars, the colonial authorities made a concerted effort to eradicate these last pockets of resistance to Spanish rule. During the hostilities, mission towns were frequently targets of guerrilla raids and the fortress monasteries truly served a defensive purpose. 

   Even fifty years after the Conquest, conflict with marauding native warriors was still an immediate concern rather than a distant memory. Ixmiquilpan itself was attacked by fierce mounted tribesmen as late as 1569—an assault successfully repulsed by the Otomí in a celebrated local victory. These events, compounded by the acute problems of evangelization, must have preoccupied the Augustinian friars as well as the settled native people. 
   The battle scenes along the nave at Ixmiquilpan are indeed unique, all the more remarkable for their frankly prehispanic appearance; in their imagery, color and pictorial style the murals bear an uncanny resemblance to ancient temple decorations and codicesClearly they are the work of a talented group of tlacuilos, or elite native artists, who were allowed unprecedented freedom of expression by the Augustinian friars.
Hidden for centuries beneath layers of yellow paint, these spectacular murals only came to light in the 1960s.  The figures are drawn in a vivid graphic style and enhanced with red, brown and ocher passages. The foliage is blue-green against a rich apricot background. The use of flat color washes have a modern look, reminding some observers of the work of Picasso! 
north wall of nave (after Wake) >

<  south wall of nave (after Wake)
Starting from the narthex or underchoir, these large-scale murals proceed eastward towards the sanctuary along both sides of the nave. The solitary first figure on the south wall shouts and sounds a huehuetl drum, perhaps to start the battle.
Narthex mural, south wall.  figure with drum
The unfolding pattern is that of an antique grotesque style frieze, with urns, medallions and fantastic beings set amid continuous, undulating, turquoise acanthus foliage. 
   Although the battle scenes have a strongly stylized and ritualistic tone, they are also very animated; one can almost hear the clash of arms, the war whoops and the cries of the dying. In fact it has been suggested that the entire sequence is a pictorial analogy to Aztec war songs and chants.

The friezes graphically portray intense hand-to-hand combat between native warriors and various mythological and fantastic supernaturals as well as naked Chichimecs, complete with battle cries. 
Chichichimec warriors
The combatants are two-dimensional, presented in outline with no modeling. Except for the eyes, anatomical details are shown in profile, and there are numerous authentic items of indigenous dress and gesture—speech scrolls, spotted jaguar robes and huaraches (native sandals) worn by centaurs.
On the south wall, jaguar and coyote warriors outfitted with shields (chimalli) and obsidian-edged native swords (macanas) do furious battle with centaurs and dragon-like hippogriffs that emerge like obscene growths from the giant tendrils.  
white centaur with copilli, bow, arrows and war shield
crested yellow dragon with copilli and bow
The giant foliage in these friezes works both pictorially, as a device to integrate the forms and figures of the design, and thematically, as a sinister intrusion of the netherworld into the land of the living.  This phytomorphic motif extends to the warriors themselves, who wear foliated skirts and whose copilli and speech scrolls also terminate in leaves. 
   Along the north frieze, plumed warriors subdue apparently pregnant women, who also emerge from giant acanthus buds. These bizarre figures may represent the cihuateteo—souls of women who died in child-birth—sent by the Aztec earth goddess, Cihuacoatl, to harass mortals and tempt them into sin. In fact the red and turquoise sky bands bordering the frescoes suggest that that celestial battles are being portrayed.
Interpretations *
It is challenging to interpret these puzzling murals satisfactorily, although several explanations have been proposed.
   For the friars they may have embodied the perennial Christian struggle between good and evil, between damnation and salvation—an obsession of the Augustinians during the turbulent 1570s.
   The largely prehispanic imagery indicates that the murals were intended primarily for a native audience. While on one hand they may commemorate an historic, regional triumph of the Otomís over the invading Chichimecs, on a more covert level the murals may also have been viewed as celebrating the supremacy, both physical and spiritual, of the imperial Aztecs over their traditional enemies. 
   In fact, in 1482, Tizoc, the newly elected lord of Aztec Tenochtitlan, employed Otomi warriors from Actopan, Atotonilco, and Ixmiquilpan to mount a campaign against the independent city-state of nearby Metztitlan, in order to obtain sacrificial victims for his investiture.
The "battle" frieze at Cacaxtla (detail)
The Ixmiquilpan frieze too, is startlingly reminiscent of the Maya influenced battle mural at Cacaxtla (Tlaxcala) dating from the late 7th century.
ABEL-TURBY, Mickey, “The New World Augustinians and Franciscans in Philosophical Opposition: The Visual Statement”, Colonial Latin American Review, 1996, vol. 5: 1
  ALBORNOZ BUENO, Alicia, La memoria del olvido. Glifos y murales de la iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel Ixmiquilpan Hidalgo: Teopan dedicado a Tezcatlipoca, Pachuca, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, 1994. 
  BALLESTEROS, Víctor, La iglesia y el convento de San Miguel Arcángel de Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, México, unam, 2000. 
  CARRILLO Y GARIEL, Abelardo, Ixmiquilpan, México, Dirección de Monumentos Coloniales/INAH, 1961. 
  ESTRADA DE GERLERO, Elena, “El friso monumental de Itzmiquilpan”Actes du XLII Congrès International des Américanistes, Paris, 2-9 September, 1976.
  FRASER, Valerie, “Ixmiquilpan: from European ornament to Mexican picto- graph”, Altars and Idols: the life of the dead in Mexico, M.A. Gallery Studies catalogue, University of Essex, 1991, 
  GUERRERO GUERRERO, Raúl,  Murales de Ixmiquilpan, Hidalgo, Gobierno del Estado de Hidalgo, 1992. 
JACKSON, Robert H., Conflict and Conversion in Sixteenth Century Central Mexico: The Augustinian War on and Beyond the Chichimeca Frontier, European History and Culture E-Books Online, Collection 2013
  NYE, Harriet, “The Talking Murals of Ixmiquilpan”Mexico Quarterly Re- view, 1968, vol. 3: 2,
  PIERCE, Donna L., “Identification of the Warriors in the Frescoes of Ixmiquilpan”Research Center for the Arts and Humanities Review, 1981, vol. 4: 4, October, p. 1-8.
  VERGARA HERNANDEZ, Arturo, Las pinturas del templo de Ixmiquilpan. ¿Evangelización, reivindicación indígena o propaganda de guerra? Hidalgo,  Unam, 2010.
text & commentary © 2018 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and Niccolo Brooker

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Ixmiquilpan: A Bagpiper at the Nativity

In previous posts on the Ixmiquilpan convento murals we have looked at several of the superb sacristy frescoes, including the unique Noli me Tangere scene, as well as an incomplete Last Judgment in the lower cloister.
   In this seasonal post we describe another unique mural in the cloister, that of the Nativity or Adoration of the Shepherds. Mary and Joseph are conventionally posed in the foreground; one well dressed shepherd kneels on the left, while another plays the bagpipe on the right.
The infant Christ gestures from the manger, flanked by a sheep and a fiercely horned bull. Above, the star of Bethlehem appears over a city on the right and a celestial choir of angels rejoices at left. 
Like several others at Ixmiquilpan, this mural contains rare or even unique elements, in this case the presence of the bagpiper at the Nativity—found nowhere else in early Mexican mural art, although it is depicted in an 18th century painting by Cristóbal de Villalpando at Cuautinchan.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. photography by the author and Niccolò Brooker

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ixmiquilpan. The Church Murals 1: Eagles and Jaguars

Our previous posts on the Ixmiquilpan murals were focused on those of the convento, notably the superb sacristy frescoes, including the unique Noli me Tangere scene, as well as an incomplete Last Judgment in the lower cloister.
   In this post, the first of two, we look at the famous and unique church murals, which have been the subject of much interest and speculation since their uncovering in the 1950s. *
   For the native peoples of Mexico, the eagle and the jaguar symbolized opposing forces in a multi-faceted cosmic conflict: between the celestial and the terrestrial, light and darkness, life and death, good and evil. 
   This ancient psychodrama, as enacted by the military orders of the Eagle and the Jaguar, was integral to the Aztec cosmology and, after the Conquest, was often appropriated by the evangelizing friars to dramatize related themes in Christian doctrine. Usually confined to colorful theatrical presentations, staged outdoors on festive occasions, such themes rarely found their way into the permanent arts of the church or convento.

   One notable exception is the spectacular church murals at the great Augustinian priory of San Miguel Ixmiquilpan, especially the unique Battle frescoes that surround the nave.
   Our focus in this post is on one critical group of the murals, those located beneath the choir, which, together with two facade reliefs and a panel in the apse, may provide an introduction and key to the main Battle friezes. 
The rose and lavender west front of San Miguel Ixmiquilpan, distinguished by its triumphal arch, is a classic statement of architectural elegance in the Augustinian Renaissance tradition. 
   However, the escutcheons (escudos) that project on either side of the choir window sound a quite different note. Apart from the European heraldic framing, their imagery is entirely prehispanic, without reference to Spanish or Christian symbols, and thus foreshadowing the extraordinary murals inside the church. 
The relief to the left (north) of the choir window shows an eagle perched on a cactus sprouting from a rock above flowing water, the traditional glyph of ancient Tenochtitlan, adopted by the Aztecs as their imperial symbol and now the emblem of modern Mexico. 
   Significantly, the eagle is costumed as a warrior with a plumed headdress (copilli) unfurling his war banner (pantli) or spear. Eroded jaguar figures, also with war bonnets, crouch to either side carrying native war shields (chimalli). Speech scrolls suggest that a conversation seems to be taking place.
The related relief on the right (south) shows what appear to be hybrid eagle and jaguar figures on either side of a stylized pathway with footprints, again with water flowing beneath. Both wear plumed crests and carry chimalli, and again, comma-like speech scrolls curl from their mouths, indicating a dialogue.
The Narthex Murals
Inside the church, these facade "dialogues" continue in the large, curving lunette murals that extend up to the vaults beneath the choir, where two facing frescoes create dynamic tableaux in bright colors—red, blue, black, orange and yellow. 

   These two frescoes introduce the battle themes that are enacted in the outsize friezes that stretch along the nave on both sides to the apse at the east end of the church.
The more complete south side mural amplifies the themes of the right hand facade relief. Here an eagle with spread wings is flanked by two jaguars sitting on rocks or stylized mountains, who roar "flower-song" speech scrolls in his direction. The jaguar on the right wears a war headdress and carries a bow and arrow.
The codex-style footpath reappears below, this time set across a conventionalized "water mountain"—a place glyph that may reference Ixmiquilpan, or possibly even Aztec Tenochtitlan itself.
The partially erased lunette mural on the north wall echoes the left hand escudo of the facade: here, the eagle, wings outstretched, again perches on a now largely erased place glyph. Speech or arrow scrolls issue from his beak towards the two now faceless jaguars with plumed headdresses standing to either side, along with prominent candelabra cactus. The battle unfolds beneath.
The Apsidal Eagle
Of special interest is a third, smaller scale image of an eagle warrior almost lost in the rib vault above the apsidal arch.  Apparently overlooking the battle raging along the walls below, 
the warrior is again extravagantly plumed and in full battle regalia, with breast plate and banner, standing atop another place glyph and vigorously calling down in a variety of powerful speech. 
   While for the friars, if they were aware of it, this figure might symbolize the Archangel Michael—patron saint of Ixmiquilpan, whose image appears nowhere else in the church—leading the heavenly host in their victory over Satan's forces, for the native audience however, it might rather have commemorated the military triumphs and splendor of the lost Aztec empire, of which Ixmiquilpan was an important tributary outpost and ally.
   In our next post we will consider the celebrated battle friezes themselves.

* ABEL-TURBY, Mickey, “The New World Augustinians and Franciscans in Philosophical Opposition: The Visual Statement”, Colonial Latin American Review, 1996, vol. 5: 1
ALBORNOZ BUENO, Alicia, La memoria del olvido. Glifos y murales de la iglesia de San Miguel Arcángel Ixmiquilpan Hidalgo: Teopan dedicado a Tezcatlipoca, Pachuca, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo, 1994. 
ESTRADA DE GERLERO, Elena, “El friso monumental de Itzmiquilpan”, Actes du XLII Congrès International des Américanistes, Paris, 2-9 September, 1976.
FRASER, Valerie, “Ixmiquilpan: from European ornament to Mexican pictograph”, Altars and Idols: the life of the dead in Mexico, M.A. Gallery Studies catalogue, University of Essex, 1991, 
NYE, Harriet, “The Talking Murals of Ixmiquilpan”, Mexico Quarterly Re- view, 1968, vol. 3: 2,
PIERCE, Donna L., “Identification of the Warriors in the Frescoes of Ixmiquilpan”, Research Center for the Arts and Humanities Review, 1981, vol. 4: 4, October, p. 1-8.
text and graphics © 1992 & 2017 Richard D. Perry.
color photography by the author and Niccolo Brooker. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

Ixmiquilpan. The Sacristy murals 2

In our previous post on the Passion murals of Ixmiquilpan, we noted the unusual number of rare, post Resurrection scenes in the sacristy, focusing on the unique fresco of the Noli Me Tangere biblical episode.
    On this page we look at three other post-Resurrection events illustrated in the sacristy mural cycle: The Ascension; Pentecost, and Christ's appearance to the Apostles (Doubting Thomas.) All three frescoes, drawn from Flemish prints, are skillfully delineated in warm monochrome, accented with turquoise and burgundy tinted details.
The Incredulity of Thomas
Christ's appearance to the Apostles (#10)
Shortly after Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles after the Resurrection, when Thomas joined the group he expressed skepticism about Christ's appearance, refusing to believe until he could actually see and touch the wounds received on the cross.
   According to tradition, Thomas then touched the wound on Jesus' side and became a believer. This episode, infrequently illustrated, contains a cautionary message. In Jesus' words, " Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: but blessed are they that have not seen, and still believe".
   The wide eyed figures are compressed into a narrow frame, which heightens the sense of drama. The distinctive regional geological feature of Los Frailes appears in the landscape. 
  Apart from a partial depiction at Tepetlaoxtoc, portrayal of this scene at Ixmiquilpan is thought to be unique among surviving early Mexican monastic murals.
The Ascension of Christ (details)
The Ascension (#11)
This more commonly portrayed event, which took place 40 days following the Resurrection, marked the transition of Jesus from the earthly realm to that of God. 
   In these literal details from the mural, the Virgin Mary kneels in prayer among the gathered Apostles to witness the physical ascension. Christ's footprints are imprinted on the hillside behind and his lower body can be glimpsed as he rises into the celestial clouds.
Pentecost (#12)
Taking place fifty days after Easter, this biblical episode commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles while they were in Jerusalem for the Jewish feast of Pentecost, believed to signify the beginning of evangelical Christianity.
Once again the Mother of Jesus occupies center stage as the rays of the Holy Spirit descend upon the awed group of bearded Apostles.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and courtesy of Niccolò Brooker