Friday, February 24, 2017

Metztitlan: The Thebaida mural

Finally, one of the most intriguing, if poorly preserved murals at Metztitlan is its depiction of the so called "Thebaida," or Allegory of the Eremitical Life—a favored theme of the Order found in other Augustinian monasteries like Actopan and Culhuacan. The underlying theme of Augustine origins in the hermitages of the Egyptian desert, has here been visually transferred to the New World and to the Metztitlan region in particular.

Located in the lunette above the entry to the refectory on the east side of the cloister, this remarkable mural has a powerful penitential flavor. Six friars, some barefoot and carrying scourges and open books, kneel before a partially erased Crucifixion flanked by the sun and moon. 

This ritual scene is clearly located in the Metztitlan region, as evidence local landmarks like mountains, caves, hermitages and woodland, as well as portrayals of colonial structures including the priory of Los Santos Reyes itself, its predecessor, the convento of La Comunidad, as well as the native tecpan, the building known as La Tercena.
In addition, a strong indigenous influence is seen in the portrayal by a different hand * of native flora and fauna, including birds, rabbits, deer, a jaguar and, most prominently, a cross shaped cactus from which water flows into rows of orange balls, thought to represent chalchihuites—prehispanic motifs associated with water and blood sacrifice—thus echoing the symbolism of the Crucifixion using native imagery. 
   (Although turquoise is the color usually associated with the chalchihuite, the use of reddish/orange here is probably intended to highlight the sacred nature of the object, as with other elements in the mural.)

* quite possibly the native illustrator(s) of the well known 1579 Relación geograficá map of Metztitlan (detail). 
text & selected images © 2017 Richard D. Perry
analysis & pictorial details adapted from MARTÍN OLMEDO MUÑOZ, 
"La visión del mundo agustino en Meztitlán" (Anales de I.I.E. UNAM 2009) 

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