Friday, February 17, 2017

Metztitlan: The Portería murals

The Convento and Its Murals
The varied and unusual subject matter of the Metztitlan murals and their placement in the monastery tell us much about the function of 16th century religious art. 
   Location was important. The murals in the entry portería and, to some extent, the lower cloister were directed primarily at lay viewers—mostly Indian neophytes—and emphasized the principal pillars of the Church and the Augustinian Order. 

The Portería murals 
Supported on robust, paneled piers and set atop a flight of steps, the portería arcade frames a broad vista of the surrounding canyon with moon-shaped Lake Metztitlan beyond. 
The round lake, or perhaps the reflection of the full moon upon its calm waters, gave Metztitlan its aboriginal name, and the man-in-the-moon motif that appears throughout the monastery is a visible reminder of this poetic origin.
Ornamental lettered borders and grotesque friezes line the portería walls beneath painted ribbed vaulting with rosettes. 
   Two important early murals are found in the eastern end of the portería:
Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
The smaller of the two frescoes, framed by an ornamental painted niche on the north wall, depicts the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception (La Purísima). 
The elongated figure of the Virgin stands on a crescent moon, elegantly robed in blue and surrounded by several objects mentioned in her litany, including the Tower of David, the Gate of Heaven, the Morning Star and the Mirror of Justice, each identified by a lettered banner. 
A fearsome demon writhes defiantly beneath her feet. 
Although the print is monochrome. the native artist has deployed an unusually broad palette of colors: blue, green, purple and a range of reds, browns and ochers.
While there many sources for images of La Purísima, the Metztitlan  mural is fairly close to an almost contemporary version by the 16th century Flemish artist/engraver Hieronymus Wierix.
The Tree of Redemption
A complex fresco of the Tree of Redemption fills the entire east wall of the porteria arcade. Although partially erased, the central image of the Crucifixion is intact along with other essential pictorial elements.  

The blood of the Redeemer flows into the Fountain of Grace below, where an elite baptism is witnessed by an assembly of well-dressed worshippers. Inscribed with the specific date of November 6 1577, this mural may commemorate a particular baptism.
Branches spread out from the foot of the cross, heavy with grapevines linked to medallions picturing the Seven Sacraments. The entire scene is placed in a stylized landscape with houses, hillsides and rocky outcroppings, laced with Latin inscriptions.
courtesy of Pessca
Dated November 6, 1577, this allegorical mural is faithfully based on an engraving by the 16th century Italian artist Bartolomeo da Brescia.  Although Christ's streaming blood is omitted from the mural, the Latin biblical quotation remains. (This is the blood that Our Lord shed for you...) 
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and Niccolò Brooker

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