Monday, February 6, 2017

San Francisco Tepeaca, the nave murals

In our previous post we looked at the colorful, restored church front at Tepeaca. But as with other early Franciscan churches, the nave and apsidal walls were probably lined with frescoes, later to be whitewashed and then covered by wooden altarpieces.
   Many of the altarpieces have now also gone and vestiges of painted dadoes and friezes have reappeared along the nave, including the remnants of a previous painted wall retablo in one former side niche, as at Cuautinchan. 
This unusual mural, painted in oils, takes the form of a retablo articulated with classical pilasters, and illustrates miracles from the life of St. Francis set in colorful landscapes of red, rust and aquamarine, some complete with identifying inscriptions. 
   Probably dating from the 1560s, it may be the only known surviving documented work in Mexico of Spanish painter Francisco de Morales. Possibly completed in collaboration with the noted Flemish artist Simón Pereyns*, the mural may thus be of even greater historic and artistic value and worthy of full and much needed restoration.

It is anticipated that more early murals remain to be discovered beneath whitewash in the apse and possibly the upper nave walls.
*The two artists famously fell out and were opponents in a trial in which Morales accused Pereyns of advocating concubinage, a mortal sin.

Another, later, colonial painting of interest at Tepeaca is mounted in the former refectory of the convento. The expansive Last Supper scene in the lower rectangle is artfully composed, with the focus on Christ at the center of the scene. Gaily costumed in red, blue and green shades, the Apostles and other figures are vividly portrayed  with their various attitudes and gestures.
   The base inscription, dedicated to Fr. José Guaras, a Franciscan Guardian of Tepeaca, is dated 1798—one of several posted dates from the late 1700s when major work was done in the monastery.
   The Last Supper is surmounted by a semicircular panel depicting the Virgin of Carmen? offering her hands to suffering souls in Purgatory.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker and Diana Roberts

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