Monday, February 27, 2017

Jalapa del Marqués, the rescued murals

Jalapa del Marqués, February 2017: dry lake and Dominican mission of Asunción.
A recent post on our sister blog reported on the sudden re-emergence, after half a century, of this early Dominican mission from man made Lake Presa Juárez in southern Oaxaca. Because of prolonged, severe drought in the region, lake water levels have recently lowered dramatically to the point of being almost dry.
   When the Presa dam was planned in the early 1960s, there was a laudable attempt to preserve as much as possible of the interior decoration of the church and adjacent convento in advance of the rising waters.  Aside from full documentation, several mural fragments were physically removed for safe storage, conservation and later, display in museums and other locales.

While most of the rescued mural pieces came from ornamental friezes, dadoes and frames around openings, the larger preserved frescoes were those saved from the once lavishly painted Sala de Profundis in the convento, notably a painted wall retablo at one end. 
The Sala de Profundis mural in situ before removal

The mural consisted mainly of two large portraits of saints on either side of a large center niche, with a surmounting lunette extending into the vault. 
   Framed by wide foliated borders, the two surviving frescoes portray, on the left, the martyr St. Lawrence, posing with his grill beneath a painted curtain. Although not a Dominican, the fleur de lis cross of the Order hangs in front of him.

Composed in the same style, the better preserved second panel shows John the Baptist in his sheepskin skirt standing in a wilderness landscape. The saint’s customary lamb rests on the hillside behind him. The choice of these two saints for a major mural, neither of them Dominican, seems unusual.
However, the outlines of two kneeling, now headless, Dominicans flanking the lunette above are more conventional. These figures probably represent St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena adoring the Virgin of the Rosary, who may have been portrayed in the center panel of the retablo.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
 images adapted from and text based on the thesis by Martha Lis Garrido Cardona, Los Fragmentos de pintura mural del convento de Jalapa del Marqués, Oaxaca

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