Monday, April 17, 2017

San Mateo Atlatlahucan: the murals

In previous posts we looked at early murals of interest in the state of Morelos, notably at Cuernavaca, Tlaquiltenango, Oaxtepec and Tlaltizapan.
   In a recent post on our main blog, we looked at the fortress style architecture of the Augustinian monastic complex at San Mateo Atlatlahucan, in northern Morelos. But for a priory of the size and importance of Atlatlahucan, surprisingly few important murals have survived. 
However, many of the walls and ceilings are still covered with brightly painted artesonado patterns and Augustinian insignia with friezes of entwined birds, vines and fruits.
image by Eleanor Wake
The Open Chapel.
Inside the chapel the colorful ceiling is aglow with sun, moon, stars and whimsical cherubs caught in a web of red and gold mudéjar strapwork shimmering against the azure vault.
The Porteria
Inside the convento entry, sinuous arabesques, similar to those of the open chapel, weave like golden threads through the coffered ceiling
image courtesy of Robert Jackson
Only one important narrative fresco of interest remains, that of Spiritual Genealogy of St. Augustine in the portería.
   Illustrated, often mythical, genealogies of the founders of the mendicant orders were a favorite theme in many early monasteries, most commonly portrayed in the form of large murals in the conventual precincts. While there are some Franciscan and Dominican examples, Augustinian versions are more numerous. There are examples at Copándaro, and at Charo which includes those of St. Monica and St. Augustine. 
   Spread across the south wall of the Atlatlahucan porteria, this faded polychrome early fresco is detailed in a variety of muted reds, blues and earth hues against a celestial azure background.
The use of the “family tree” form derives from the medieval Tree of Jesse motif.  The recumbent saint clutches his bishops crozier and, with his left hand, supports the Church from which the tree actually springs.  
  A ribbon like Latin inscription, although largely erased, quotes the first line from Augustine’s Confessions: 
"Magnus es, domine, et laudabilis valde. Magna virtus tua et sapientiae tuae non est numerus...".  
Between the curving branches, prelates, saints and martyrs of the Order float on little clouds, resembling rubber dinghies. A more realistic Crucifixion is placed at the top.

Although no narrative murals seem to have survived in the cloister,  again, colorful friezes and artesonado ceiling decoration remain in good condition.
Sala De Profundis
The best preserved convento murals are found in the friars' chapel, where opposing lunettes with colorful figures still survive in fair condition beneath a magenta ceiling crisscrossed by blue moorish strap work. A portrayal of the resurrected Christ adorns one end.

The Church
At one time the lofty nave walls, now blank, were adorned with murals. The only surviving fragments reside in the vaulted apse, which is lined with large faux archways draped with swags and probably dating from the 19th century. A Last Supper with a seven branch menorah appears above the sanctuary arch.
Patrice Schmitz
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry.  color images by the author and Niccolò Brooker except where noted

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