Friday, July 21, 2017

El Llanito: The Last Judgment

In a previous post we reviewed the 18th century paintings in the historic church of El Llanito, just outside Dolores Hidalgo—the only other known examples to have been executed by Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, the noted muralist of the nearby Santuario de Atotonilco
Two other mural sequences by the artist are found in adjacent locations: the entry portería to the casa cural and the Loreto Chapel. In this post we focus on the murals that cover the vault and side walls of the portería. 
Large fragments survive of these murals, currently in poor condition because of neglect and exposure. While the overall sequence of the murals and their source are unclear, although unsigned they are believed to be the work of Pocasangre, probably dating from the same period as the Atotonilco murals or possibly a little earlier (c. 1770).  
Painted along the quadripartite vaults, the panels illustrate the End of Days or Last Judgment in dramatic and often bloodcurdling detail. A cautionary display greeting the believer about to enter the building.
They include vivid scenes of burning buildings, sword wielding angels and horned devils herding tormented sinners into the embrace of serpents and the flames of Hell. Animated, bug eyed figures are vividly colored in red, orange and brown hues.

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
Last Judgment images by Robert Jackson and Niccolò Brooker. 
thank you Robert for bringing these murals to my attention
see some of our earlier posts on Mexican Murals:  CuautinchánXometlaCulhuacánZacualpanOzumbaTlalmanalcoIxmilquilpanMama;  IzucarTree muralsTepeapulcoTulaEpazoyucanZempoalaYecapixtla;

Sunday, July 16, 2017

El Señor de El Llanito

This is one of three posts on the murals and paintings of the historic church of El Llanito, Guanajuato, by the noted colonial mestizo artist Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre.
The venerable church of El Llanito, just outside Dolores Hidalgo, is one of the earliest temples in the region and the shrine of El Señor del Llanito (aka San Salvador de los Afligidos)a miracle working crucifix with a large following among the indigenous Otomí of the areawhose feast day on August is widely celebrated in the region.
   This scarred, 16th century cristo de cañamost likely created in Michoacán, was probably brought to the area by the early missionaries.
El Señor del Llanito, detail
According to legend, in 1559 a passing bullion train heard cries and the muleteers discovered the crucifix beneath a mesquite tree by the river. They took it to the historic local Hacienda de la Erre, where it was placed in the hacienda chapel.
   After it went missing on several occasions, only to be found under the same tree, the hacendado, the Mariscal de Castilla, donated the miraculous object to the villagers where it was kept in a primitive chapel duly erected on the spot. Much later it was installed in the current riverside shrine, built in the 1770s, where the image now rests on a special altar.
  The 1559 event is memorialized in one of several large paintings mounted along the nave, now attributable to the regional painter Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, who also executed the murals in the entry porteria and the adjacent Loreto chapel.
Other paintings in the nave—all in need of conservation—include a Deposition and a Last Supper.
The Deposition
The Last Supper
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
color images courtesy of Niccolò Brooker

Monday, July 10, 2017

El Santuario de Atotonilco, The Battle of Lepanto

This is the first in a series of posts on selected murals and paintings by the gifted 18th century mestizo artist Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre. All are located in the San Miguel de Allende—Dolores Hidalgo corridor of Guanajuato, starting with the famous Santuario de Atotonilco. 
El Santuario de Atotonilco
This rambling pilgrimage church and monastery, located north of San Miguel de Allende, was founded in 1740 as the site of a religious sanctuary for the Oratorian Fathers, under the activist priest Fray Felipe Néri de Alfaro (Padre Alfaro), a leading if somewhat eccentric figure in the religious life of San Miguel.
   The complex was under construction from the 1740s until the end of the century, although “assembled” might be a better term, because of the constant addition of chapels and conventual rooms. However, the main church or Sanctuary, which is dedicated to Jesus the Nazarene, was built and decorated in a sustained burst of creative energy  between 1746 and 1748.
Beyond the carved and painted entry doors lies the densely painted interior, aptly described as a “polychrome grotto” by the Mexican art critic Francisco de la Maza. Many of these murals, hidden beneath coats of whitewash, were uncovered in the mid 1900s and have been the subject of much study and more recent restoration.
   Using the conventions of late baroque painting as a point of departure, the floor-to-ceiling murals are rendered in a colorful, popular but idiosyncratic style.  The dramatic narrative scenes and painted reliefs are integrated with multiple texts composed by the founder Padre Alfaro and exert considerable psychological power. 
   In addition, their special interest for us is that they were executed in large part by Miguel Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre, probably the best known indigenous muralist of the late colonial period. 
The Rosary Chapel
In this post we focus on what is in our view the most distinctive and indeed unique* mural at Atotonilco, which unfolds across the vault of the diminutive Rosary Chapel, at the eastern end of the nave. 
This heroic four part fresco depicts in two sections the naval battle of Lepanto. This famous 1571 victory, in which a coalition of Christian naval forces routed the Turkish fleet off the coast of Sicily, proved a decisive blow against the advance of Islam in the Mediterranean. 
Curiously, the ships portrayed are galleons rather than galleys with oars that constituted the greater part of the battle fleets on both sides.
The opposing quadrants of the mural refer to the Virgin of the Rosary, to whom the chapel is dedicated. The Christian victory was attributed to her timely intervention, invoked through praying the Rosary.
   October 7th was declared the Feast Day of Our Lady of the Rosary by Pope Pius V on the anniversary of the battle, which explains the exterior and interior views of St. Peter's basilica in Rome.
*To our knowledge, the only other Mexican mural depiction of this battle is part of a portrait of Pope Pius V on one of the pendentives in the church of Santo Domingo in Sombrerete,  Zacatecas:
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
mural views by Niccolò Brooker

Monday, July 3, 2017

San Martin Huaquechula: the cloister murals

This is the second of three posts on the monastery church of San Martín Huaquechula. 
Perched on the southern slopes of the volcano Popocatépetl, San Martín Huaquechula was one of the earliest Franciscan monasteries in the Puebla region.

The Murals
All the surviving early murals of consequence at Huaquechula are found in the upper cloister, located in and around a sequence of deep, painted cells or niches cut into the massive south wall of the church.

The most striking, although incomplete, fresco shows a penitential procession very similar to that in the church at Huejotzingo—the only other known early mural on the subject. Like the Huejotzingo mural, it probably reflected the activities of, and may have been commissioned by, a local cofradía.
Beneath the painted archway, hooded flagellants in alternating black and white robes walk along a stone path, some carrying crosses and Instruments of the Passion, indicating a Lenten or Easter procession. 

Saints Peter and Paul, prominently featured in the north doorway of the church, appear again in two other painted niches with wooded grottoes and native plants


St. Paul on the Road to Damascus 
Delicately outlined and painted in a range of reds, blues and earth colors, both life-size portraits of the saints are flanked by detailed, miniature scenes from their lives.
The beheading of St Paul
niche of St Peter

St Peter released from prison by an angel

text © 2017 Richard D. Perry. 

color images by the author and Niccolò Brooker

Monday, June 26, 2017

San Francisco Atlixco: the convento frescoes

In previous posts on this early Franciscan monastery in Puebla, we looked at the splendid main altarpiece of La Asunción in the churchas well as some old stone fontsIn this post we look at some of the few surviving colonial murals in the convento.
Passion mural fragment
In the cloister, a once fine cycle of Passion scenes is, sadly, now largely obliterated.  Finely drafted on a large scale in classic 16th century Flemish style, they were outlined in warm gray, with burnt orange and blue accents, and framed by grotesque borders and the Franciscan cord. The remaining fragmentary episodes include a Christ at the Column and a melancholy Agony in the Garden. 
As we have seen with other early murals, background landscapes include local topographical features, while the friezes include a veritable compendium of local flora and fruits. 
St Francis and St Anthony of Padua
Two frescoes in the former refectory are better preserved. Drafted and colored in the same style as the cloister murals, they portray pairs of Franciscan saints kneeling in prayer before a crucifix.
St. Bonaventure and St. Louis, Bishop of Toulouse?
In the corners of the upper cloister are large, attractive urban scenes in a wider range of color—blue, burgundy and ocher. One portrays a medieval townscape with bridges and fortified buildings, and another is a classical architectural study with a decorated doorway and arcades, with views of distant landscapes (possibly intended as views of Assisi?) 
   The significance of these architectural frescoes is unclear although they are of a later date than the other murals and may have served as backdrops to statuary.
Doorway and arcades with landscape views
A third corner fresco shows a rose colored Jerusalem style cross against a blue landscape, framed by decorative panels of similar crosses—a motif which is also emblazoned along the exterior parapets of the church.

text © 2017 by Richard D. Perry
color images by the author and courtesy of INAH and Robert Jackson

See our other pages on Atlixco churches: Third Order chapel; La Merced;

Monday, June 19, 2017

San Miguel Huejotzingo: the Sala murals

In the third and last of our posts on the Huejotzingo murals, we describe the most complete and best preserved sequence in the convento.
The Sala de Profundis 
This friars' chapel was at the heart of religious life in the convento. As such, it was the most profusely decorated, its walls filled with large, inspirational murals illustrating the history and luminaries of the Franciscan Order and its mission in the New World.
The Franciscan knotted cord frames the outer doorway to the chamber, flanked by ornate escutcheons of the Stigmata accented in red. St. Michael, the warrior patron saint of Huejotzingo, reappears above the entry, here shown with fearsome spiked wings and posed in a landscape with hills, trees and buildings. He is flanked by two barefoot archangels, St. Raphael on the left, who gestures to Tobias standing in the river holding a large fish, and on the right, the archangel Gabriel with a banderole of the Annunciation message wound around his staff.
Inside the room, an extraordinary series of 16th century murals flows around the walls and over the doorways, framed by complex, foliated friezes and grotesque panels. 
   Remarkably complete and in excellent condition following restoration, like the other convento murals they are painted entirely in warm gray tones with no added color.
The most celebrated fresco, stretched above the inner doorway, portrays the first Franciscans to arrive in New Spain, the Apostolic Twelve. The friars kneel humbly before the cross, with their names inscribed in Spanish above their heads. The details and date of their historic arrival are recounted overhead:
"Estos muy dichosos y bienaventurados doce religiosos fueron los primeros fundadores de la fe en esta Nueva Iglesia. Salieron de España año de 1524 día de la conversión de S. Pablo y llegaron a esta tierra viernes de vigilia vigiliæ de Pentecostés del mismo año 4."
Like the related Arrival frescoes at Ozumba, this impressive mural is a unique historical as well as artistic document. 
Along the west wall, prominent Franciscan saints are enshrined in painted, architectural niches. St. Francis is prominently portrayed along with four key events from his life: his Conversion; the Stigmatization; the Flaming Chariot and Preaching to the birds and fishes.
St. Bonaventure;                             St Anthony of Padua
Francis is accompanied by two eminent, richly robed Franciscans, St. Bonaventure and St. Anthony of Padua.
St Clare;   St. Helen
Also present on the side walls are full length portraits of female saints: St. Clare and St. Helen, and the martyrs St. Barbara with St. Catherine of Alexandria, all prominently shown with their classic attributes.
St. Catherine of Alexandria;                              St. Barbara

In another pairing, St. Peter (partly obliterated) and St. Paul uphold the Church, of which they are traditional founders.
Above a canopied water stoup on the east wall, Christ washes the feet of the Apostles, one of the few depictions of this pre Passion event in mural art (other partial murals of this scene are found at Cuilapan and Malinalco)
This concludes our series on the murals of Huejotzingo. Enjoy!
text © 2017 Richard D. Perry
photography by the author and courtesy of Robert Jackson.