Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Miguel Tlaltizapan: lions, boars, dogs, birds and dolphins, oh my!

San Miguel Tlaltizapan, a battlemented Dominican church and convento, is located in the tropical sugar country of southern Morelos near Temimilcingo.
While much of the original decoration has been erased or whitewashed in the cloister and lower sections of the convento, several mural passages survive in the friezes and ceilings of the upper rooms, where faded geometrical artesonado designs in reds and blues decorate the walls and ceilings interposed with Dominican insignia. 
   Along the walls inventive, swagged and grotesque style friezes, predominantly colored in red oxide, showcase a variety of animals, real and imagined. Birds, dolphins, lions, deer, even wild boar make an appearance, intermingled with baskets and swaths of luxuriant vegetation.
Giant swags with lion’s head 
lunette with Dominican cross and dogs
Swag with boar’s head
Floral frieze with birds, dolphins and rattlesnakes
The crowned eagle escutcheon of St. Michael, the patron saint of the mission.

text © 2017 and mural images © 1987 Richard D. Perry. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 20, 2017

San Gabriel Cholula The Fiery Chariot

In previous posts we featured selected murals in the lower cloister at San Gabriel portraying key scenes from the life of St. Francis. Here we showcase one more large scale mural in the series, a rare and dramatic portrayal of St. Francis and the fiery chariot.
This illustrates a vision, reported by a group of Franciscans, of St. Francis riding in a celestial chariot of fire, an event echoing the biblical account of the prophet Elijah’s ascent to Heaven in the same mode.
Derived from the famous but much more restrained fresco by Giotto in the Basilica at Assisi, the saint is carried heavenward in a fiery chariot, this time vividly accented with blues, greens and leaping red flames around the wheels. 
 
Four prancing horses with flowing tails and reined with pre hispanic slipknots, draw the enormous vehicle. Although the figure of the saint is now partly obliterated, we can see part of his habit and the knotted cord of the Franciscan order.
 
Huejotzingo, portrait of St. Francis with scenes of his life
This scene, more commonly portrayed in Andean colonial art, is rarely seen in Mexico. The only other representation we know of there is an inconspicuous detail in a mural of St. Francis at the neighboring Pueblan convento of Huejotzingo.
© Edward McCain
There is also this more folkloric, but even more fiery version in the choir loft of San Xavier del Bac in Arizona.
Complex, fragmentary friezes overhead—a colorful later overpainting—show garlands, cornucopia, and muscular youths disporting with birds, snakes and mythical beasts emerging from twisting foliage.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. color photography by Robert Jackson except where noted

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

San Gabriel Cholula. Francis disrobes

In a previous post we looked at two cloister murals at San Gabriel depicting key scenes from the life of St. Francis: his conversion, and the presentation of the Franciscan Rule to the Pope. 
third, closely related fresco in the sequence portrays Francis disrobing before Bishop Guido of Assisi, as his well dressed parents look on in evident shock.  
   With miter and episcopal crook, the sympathetic Bishop is seated on a sumptuous throne with a “song scroll” arm—a pose almost identical to the Presentation scene.  
   Although the mural is dated 1530, it was almost certainly completed later. 
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. color image courtesy of Robert Jackson

Friday, March 10, 2017

San Gabriel Cholula, two cloister frescoes

In our previous post on the open chapel mural at Cuernavaca, we looked at a combined portrayal of two key scenes from the life of St. Francis: his presentation of the primitive Franciscan Rule to the reformist Pope Innocent lll, and his vision of Christ Crucified telling him to rebuild the ruined chapel of St. Damian, near Assisi.
cloister image by Patrick Kavanaugh
These two scenes are also depicted, in this case separately, in the lower cloister of the great Franciscan monastery complex at San Gabriel Cholula.
In the first scene, a large mural set in a wild landscape of clouds and swaying grasses, Francis is again shown fashionably dressed as a secular young noble. He contemplates the Crucifixion in awe and hears the words of Christ on the cross, “Go, Francis and repair my church,” inscribed in Latin on a banderole. 
The sepia toned monochrome of the mural is only relieved by the red blood of Christ’s wounds.
The second panel, also in warm monochrome, depicts the barefoot Francis kneeling to present the Rule of his new Order to the Pope Innocent lll seated on a sumptuous throne flanked by cardinals. 
   This is a less crowded composition than that at Cuernavaca, with only a single friar accompanying Francis. The Pope gestures in benediction and there is no inscription of approval.
Although set in a palace, flowers bloom in front of the saint.
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. color images courtesy of Robert Jackson

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Cuernavaca, the open chapel fresco

The venerable Franciscan mission of San Francisco, now serving as the cathedral of Cuernavaca, is noted for its artistic and architectural innovations. In particular, an especially broad range of colonial era murals is on display throughout the church, from the conventional to the highly exotic.
San Francisco Cuernavaca, the open chapel
In this post we focus on a specific, two part mural to be found in the open chapel, the architectural high point of the monastery.
Located above the entry to the chapel from the cloister, the main panel of this panoramic mural portrays St. Francis presenting the Rule of his new Order to Pope Innocent lll in 1209—to our knowledge the most detailed fresco on this subject in Mexico (the only other major mural on this theme is that at San Gabriel Cholula.)
Francis kneels barefoot in the center offering up his Rule to the pope, seated on a throne surrounded by his cardinals on the left.  An inscribed banderole quotes the pope’s approval of the Rule.  
 Eleven tonsured Franciscan friars kneel behind Francis making up an apostolic twelve. 
 
The second key historical scene, that of the conversion of St Francis in a vision, is compressed into a rectangular alfiz above the triangular pediment, framed by the Franciscan knotted cord. 
In another Latin inscription, Christ on the cross urges Francis to rebuild his ruined church of St. Damian, near Assisi :  Francisce vade, et repara domum meam quae, ut cernis, tota destruitur.  (Francis, go and rebuild my house, which has been totally destroyed) 
  
Francis, dressed as a friar and holding his Rule, seems to be edging out of the frame to the left, presumably to pursue his calling, while the luxuriously robed, kneeling figure to the right, to whom Christ's appeal is directed, may depict St. Francis in the moment of his conversion. 
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by Niccolo Brooker and Benjamin Arredondo