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

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