Wednesday, June 14, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: the Convento murals

This is the second of three posts on the 16th century murals of Huejotzingo
The Convento
Numbers of murals in varying styles and stages of conservation are found within the convento; these range from the mostly fragmentary polychrome frescoes in the portería and cloister, to the amply restored monochrome frescoes in the Sala de Profundis.
The Portería murals
Beyond its exquisitely carved double archway, little of the once rich portería mural program now survives. Entering, we encounter vestiges of two large narrative murals. 
The first, on the north wall and framed by the Franciscan knotted cord, displays a rectangular Calvary or Descent scene with friars.  
   Like that in the church it appears highly detailed in black outline, and although partially erased and over painted, it is accented with red, blue and green washes.
An even more enigmatic fresco can be made out above the ogival entry to the convento itself. This mural seems to show a prominent central person—perhaps a Protector like figure—in a landscape with groups of praying figures. The partly decipherable Latin inscription below appears to refer to this personage (Lawgiver… Father of All), a possible reference to St. Bonaventure or  Bernardino of Siena.
In the vestibule beyond the entry (anteporteria) a spectacular Annunciation scene is boldly drawn over the cloister doorway in sepia toned monochrome. 
Above the archway, the praying Virgin is ensconced in an elaborately colonnaded throne, flanked by the Archangel Gabriel on the left and a militant St. Michael on the right.

The Cloister murals
Above an archway in the northwest corner of the cloister, a pair of angels holds up a medallion containing the Arms of Christ—the cross surrounded by the Instruments of the Passion. 
   While most of the other cloister murals have been erased, traces of polychrome scenes and friezes remain in niches at the end of the walks, including a red painted, draped cross with the sudarium or verónica, imprinted with the face of Christ.
cloister niche mural with Sts Peter & Paul
draped cross with verónica
But the mural of greatest interest in the cloister, and the best preserved, is the complex, monochrome triptych of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception with her proponents/opponents painted above a doorway in the northeast corner. 
   At center, the black-and-white portrait of La Purísima is densely surrounded by her traditional biblical attributes, each one carefully captioned in Latin. 
   She is flanked by two saints, identified as St. Thomas Aquinas, the Dominican schoolman, and the Franciscan theologian Duns Scotus, wearing his ecclesiastical biretta. These medieval scholars were seen as the principals in a dispute concerning the doctrine of her Immaculate Conception—a belief long championed by the Franciscan Order.
Our third post will look at the murals in the Sala de Profundis.  
text and graphics © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images by the author, Niccolo Brooker and Robert Jackson

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