RECONSTRUCTING THE LOST RETABLO
© James B. Kiracofe
[This is an unpublished manuscript that was written to summarize field work
on retablo art related to 16th century urbanization in Teposcolula
1988 and 1995]
Posted: 27 September 2000:
Additional images illustrating the text will be posted
the next few days.
Art and the Sacramental Imagination
European sacred art was the instrument of transformation of the
indigenous sacramental imagination from perception based on Pre-Colombian
religious and mythological symbol systems to
a visualization of spiritual life in Christian terms. Music and visual arts had
long featured prominently in Pre-Colombian religious observances, but with the
coming of Catholic Christianity altar pieces in the Spanish tradition, known as retablos,
became the new focus of
religious instruction, contemplation and devotion.1
These spectacular shimmering retablos filled the apse or open chapel with a
towering edifice of golden columns and paintings presenting didactic narrative
pictorials of scriptural themes. These were interlaced with niches from which
the sculptural evocation of the company of heaven looked out over the gathered
congregation of the faithful as they experienced miraculous contact with the
divine in regular celebrations of the Eucharist.
Archival evidence in Mexico shows that such a retablo was under
construction in Teposcolula in 1565, while other documents link Andrés Concha
and Simon Pereyns, two well documented European artists active in Mexico, with
another elaborate but no longer extant retablo built in Teposcolula in the year
1578. Even though that retablo no longer exists, the comparative study of
retablos in central Mexico and elsewhere in the Mixteca Alta provides a
methodology leading to a plausible reconstruction of the iconographic themes of
the lost retablo of Teposcolula presented at the conclusion of this chapter.
Because of the perishable nature of this art form, only a few intact
examples of sixteenth-century retablos survive,
all found in Central Mexico. They are the retablos found in the
Franciscan Conventos at Huejotzingo, Xochimilco, Cuauhtinchán, Tecali and
I have used the Spanish word convento to refer to the residential
precinct of the mendicant establishments. This might be translated by the
English word monastery, except that the residents in the Mexican case were not,
strictly speaking, monks living in contemplative, cloistered seclusion. Rather,
the inhabitants of these structures were missionary friars, whose mission was
precisely to live among the indigenous peoples in the largest population
centers. Rather than leading cloistered, secluded lives, they were very much
involved with the day to day events of their communities. For this reason I have
chosen to use the Spanish word convento, in
common use in Mexico even today, to refer to these special religious houses. I
intend, thereby, to distinguish these Mexican conventos of
missionary friars from monasateries of contemplative monks. This may seem
at first to be spliting hairs, but I believe it is a more accurate usage than
the standard English translation would be. Fortunately, the original contracts
for construction of one of them--at Huejotzingo--have survived. These identify
the artists and specific programmatic requirements. A brief discussion of these
examples, together with some
biographical notes concerning the artists who created them, will provide a general background for an investigation
of retablo art in the Mixteca.
Unfortunately, in the Mixteca Alta there are no known examples of
sixteenth-century main altar pieces surviving in original condition. There are,
however, some scattered documentary records which permit
the re-construction of a chronological framework, and actually identify
specific artists whose works are known in the surviving example at Huejotzingo
and elsewhere. There are also several seventeenth- and eighteenth-century
retablos in which significant elements of their sixteenth-century predecessors
From these documents and
surviving elements a context will be developed
within which some fragmentary artifacts of early retablo art in Teposcolula may be approximately located and analyzed. The
early development of Christian spirituality in local religious practice in the
Mixteca will be partially reconstructed by examining these surviving artifacts
and documentary evidence from the 16th century. Interpreting these artifacts and
documents is important because through them we can open a window into the
thought-world of the contact period, an opportunity not everywhere available in
Mexico. Furthermore, this approach helps build up our general understanding of
the process of cultural transmission and transformation through comparative
study with surviving fragments of the contact era found elsewhere.
What follows, then, is an exploration of 16th-century religious art in
Mexico beginning with a biographical note on an important Flemish retablo maker
followed by a general overview of content and technique of a well known and well
documented example his work among
others, before focusing more narrowly on examples in Dominican churches in the
Mixteca. After tabulating and analyzing the results of this survey we will turn
finally to consider the specific case of Teposcolula. Drawing on the surviving
evidence on site and on the patterns of iconographic themes emerging from the
tabulation a plausible reconstruction of the lost retablo of Teposcolula will be
proposed. This discussion, then, will
examine the local iconographic and devotional program initiated by the Dominican
friars in Teposcolula as a matrix for Christian meditation and devotion within
the principal locus of ritual performance in the new urban environment.
Pereyns: A Flemish Artist in the New World
The altarpiece of Huejotzingo, which has many similarities to that of
Xochimilco, was executed in 1586 by the Flemish artist Simón Pereyns who in the
contracts inserted a provision permitting collaboration by Andrés
Concha. As we will see,
these two artists had by this time
already worked together in Teposcolula and perhaps elsewhere in the Mixteca.
Moreover, it even appears that they had married related women.3
Simón Pereyns was among the greatest retablo makers of his day, and the
contracts for Huejotzingo suggest the scale and complexity of his artistic
enterprise. Indeed, his work set the standard for excellence in his age. He was
at the pinnacle of patronage in Spain before embarking on a New World career
demonstrateing that the
transmission of form culture from Spain into the New World was not always
haphazard, but often a direct result of royal and viceregal choice and
patronage. The high art of the 16th-century Mexico had direct roots in the royal
court of Spain, traceable through the life of Simón Pereyns, among others.
Most of what we know concerning the life of Simón Pereyns before his
arrival in Mexico emerged from a hearing before the Inquisition in 1568.4
He was born in Amberes at an uncertain date, where he began to study art.
His parents apparently held a minor claim to "hijodalgo" status. He
left Amberes in 1558 for Lisboa in an era of flourishing artistic exchange
between Portugal and Flanders. There he studied nine months with an unknown
painter before leaving for Toledo where the Spanish court was established. He
was seen in the presence of the king, whose portrait he painted along with
portraits of other members of the royal family. In the luminous constellation of
artists attracted to the Spanish court at that time were Antonio Moro, the
famous portraitist; el Mudo--Juan Fernández de Navarrete, who received numerous
commissions from Felipe II for the Escorial; Gaspar Becerra, a sculptor who also
painted; the remarkable Alonzo Berruguete, who had worked with Michelangelo in
Italy; Luis de Morales, el Divino; and Alonso Sánchez Coello, Portuguese by
birth and education, but Spanish by style, established at court since 1557.
Clearly then, Simón Pereyns worked among the elite artists of his era.
In Toledo Pereyns was a portrait painter rather than a painter of
religious art. He later lived in Seville where he was among the leading painters
working in the Mannerist style. In Madrid he met the Marqués de Falces, don
Gastón de Peralta, who was about to leave for New Spain to become Viceroy. The
Marqués offered to take Pereyns along, an offer Pereyns accepted. Thus Simón
Pereyns arrived in New Spain on 17 September 1566 in the immediate entourage of
the new Viceroy. The political problems stirred up by Martín Cortes were not
long over when Peralta took power, and he soon fell victim to the dangerous
factional infighting. He began his brief administration by decorating the palace
with the good taste for which he
was known. Pereyns was his painter,
creating scenes of war with as many as 30,000 soldiers. While in México Pereyns
stayed in the house of Claudio de Arciniega, the famous architect of the
metropolitan cathedral. And again, Pereyns was to be found in the company of the
leading artists of the realm.
When Peralta returned to Spain in March 1568, Pereyns wanted to return
with him but Peralta ordered him to stay to finish a retablo that he was making
for the Augustinian house at Malinalco. However, enemies of Peralta and a rival
colonial artist, Francisco de Morales, perhaps fearful of competition from an
artist of Pereyns' stature, apparently in an example of personal vengeance
implemented through the Tribunal de la Fe, denounced him to the precursor of the
Inquisition whose officer was the
vicar of the Archbishop. Pereyns was accused of believing men and women living
together out of wedlock was not so bad, of not wishing to paint saints,
and of having a father who was Lutheran. Evidently Pereyns was a bachelor
who spoke Spanish poorly and at times did not even understand the proceedings.
Surviving works by Pereyns include six paintings for the principal
retablo of Mexico City Cathedral, 1584; the Retablo Mayor of Huejotzingo, 1587;
and a panel with San Cristóbal in the Mexico City Cathedral, 1588. Toussaint
notes that in the case of Huejotzingo the paintings are uneven in quality, and
he points out that the great painters had collaborators whose works were not the
equal of the maestro; the lower
paintings, those most easily seen by the viewers, were the best.
Devotional Art to Refurnish the Imagination
Elizabeth Wilder Weisman remarked on their similarity of form, technique
and presence of the saintly bishops portrayed in the 16th-century retablos of
Huejotzingo and Xochimilco, and
noted that this is indicative of the traditionalism of the retablo workshops in
Mexico of that period. She also showed that their importance is more than merely
have character as well as splendor: they come from the time of Humanism, when it
was not enough for a saint to be robed and haloed--he must have personality as
well. So the retable is a congregation of holy figures, grave, good and
Looking at the two bishops carved in wood then gessoed, painted and
gilded in the second half of the 16th century, their strikingly lifelike quality
still comes through, even in a photograph. These were not neutral, standardized
caricatures, but engagingly human portraits, lost in time, looking out with a
concerned and kindly benevolence from their stations beside the altar, amid the
wafting incense and cascade of gilt, luminous in the shimmering light of
candles. To the student of art in the 20th century these examples of religious
expression remain impressive and evocative, retaining their individuality even
after four centuries. If this is so for a professional who has examined with a
critical eye hundreds of other such pieces, how would these friendly figures
affect the imagination of the Indian parishioners of the 16th century?
How different would the experience have been for those who came to know
these holy men and all their companions high on the radiant altar over a
lifetime, from the day of their arrival in the church? These saintly figures
became the focus of religious instruction as friars introduced them to
parishoners and as parents introduced children and passed devotional
relationships from one generation to the next. The particular web of intimacy
between the communicant and the family of saints represented in a given altar
formed the basis of distinctive local variations of Catholic Christian practice.
Through these special relationships the faithful sought entrance into the realm
of the miraculous.
Weisman explained that this kind of art was the work of Spanish masters
who worked in large shops, directing teams of specialized artisans organized
according to task and assisted by apprentices and general laborers. The entrance
to apprenticeship was tightly controlled by a guild system, jealous of its
monopoly on this all important and quite lucrative industry of ecclesiastic art.
It was here, after all, at the vortex of the Spanish cultural forces, that the
arts made their most important contribution to the daily life of the population.
The creation and installation of these altar pieces was rigorously
"supervised by a small group
of Europeans in the capital." Thus, according to Weisman, "retable
making continued traditional, and extraordinarily high in quality, throughout
the three colonial centuries, regardless of changes in style."
Manuel Toussaint described the regulations concerning these guilds, which
included ordinances from as early as 1568, with others being added in 1589.
These outline exactly what an "escultor" was required to know, as well
as the responsibilities of an "entallador." For sculptors the examination included
nude figure, and another clothed, giving satisfaction in its construction, in
regard both to drawing and to style, and then to make it in the round, well
proportioned and graceful, and if they know how to do this, they are to be given
their certificate and present to the Cabildo. 6
Wood carvers were required to
how to carve a capital or column decorated with carving and foliage, a cherub, a
bird, and know how to cut wood well, and to execute the background, and should
know how to draw everything, and if they know this, they should be given their
certificate in the form prescribed.7
adds "The Indians were not bound by these ordinances and
could freely pursue their crafts; but it was against the law for any Spaniard,
even a master of the guild, to buy work from them to be resold in his
Thus, a town like Xochimilco could have Indian craftsmen known for their Santos.
Weisman stated that Vetancurt's comment that "...they are makers of santos
which here are celebrated" "raises the question of whether the retable
might be local work."9
Toussaint went on to draw the distinction between those who carved wood
"en Blanco" and those others who applied the finishes and details,
that is the "estofado" and "encarnación" which referred to
the drapery of clothing and the flesh and included any necessary gilt work.10
Those who performed this work were called "doradores" and had a
carefully defined craft. Many of these also practiced picture painting.11
A Summary of the Iconography
Monica Herrerias de la Fuente wrote a valuable study of the retablo of
San Bernardino de Sienna in the Franciscan mission church of Xochimilco.12
She provided a schematically illustrated discussion of the several
aspects of this retablo, including detailed discussions of its history,
construction technique, and iconography. Her work, partially summarized
below, demonstrated the way in which such an altar piece was planned,
executed and installed and how it was intended to edify the faithful.
She noted that no retablos from 16th century New Spain are known to have
had Old Testament scenes depicted.13
Perhaps there was concern that some of the contents of the Old Testament
might confuse those new converts, themselves just coming from a sacrificial
religion. She showed with a series of diagrams that the scheme of arrangement of
the iconography was not by hazard, but rather according to a traditional pattern
of hierarchy, with the Eternal Father always in the highest position.
At Xochimilco there are in all 34 personalities represented in sculpture
and eight large canvases depicting important
narrative scenes from the New Testament, perhaps by Baltazar de Echave
The diagrams following this discussion have been reproduced from de la
Fuente and illustrate the arrangement of the composition.15
In general terms, this composition conforms to a grid, or matrix of horizontal
sections, called "cuerpos," and vertical sections called "calles."
At Xochimilco there are four cuerpos surmounted by the "remates" and
seven calles. The cuerpos are separated by "entablomentes" composed of
"frisos" and in this case "frontons"
over the niches in the odd numbered calles. The calles are separated by
columns. The central calle included the "zocolo" at its bottom and God
the Father on the top. At Xochimilco there is a door in the zocolo behind a
curtain which gives hidden access for the officiants to other areas of the
building, such as the sacristy. Flanking the central calle are calles of niches
with life sized statues that are flanked by calles of large oil paintings with
devotional scenes from the New Testament, these in turn flanked by the outer
most calles, again niches for sculpture. Beneath the cuerpos is a pediment band,
called the "predela" or sometimes the "banco."
From the nave the retablo set in the apse is concave in appearance. The
central calle and its flanking niches form the back wall, and the outer calles
on each side, including the large oil paintings and the last calle of niches
with sculpture on each side, form wings turned at an angle, thus creating the
concave appearance. Behind the retablo in
a back stage area seen only by the priests and sacristans are large timbers let
into the stone wall of the apse which are tied into the structural framing of
the retablo itself. In this way the whole edifice, weighing thousands of pounds,
is stabilized and secured to the rest of the building.
Forming the foundation of the retablo, symbolically reflecting their role
in the history of the church, are the apostles and the evangelists who first
spread the faith and broadened the base of the faithful. They are carved in high
relief, almost 3/4 height, and make up the predela or banco. Included in this
bottom band of ornament are the identifying emblematic shields of the Franciscan
order, the crossed arms and the Five Wounds of Christ. In the next cuerpo above
these, flanking the zocolo are, from left to right, the four Fathers of the
Latin Church, Saints Ambrosio, who brought hymn singing from Syria, Gregorio,
Jeronimo, and Agustin. Above these in the next cuerpo are saints of the church
from a slightly later period who have associations with preaching and
establishment of the orders: Luis de Tolosa, Santo Domingo de Guzman, San
Francisco and San Antonio de Padua. Above them in the next cuerpo
is a row of martyr saints: San Lorenzo, San Sebastian, San Juan Bautista,
and San Esteban. The martyr saints were significant because as
Francisco de la Maza pointed out:
is indispensable for the life and development of a religion...to give one's self
up to death for a new life...since without martyrdom as an offering there is no
persistence in the Faith...Martyrdom and renunciation also attract, like
theology and active example, thousands of persons and complement Christianity.16
on the Cross was originally set in the highest cuerpo,
flanked by paintings of the Ascension and the Assumption, and by Saint
Catalina and a fourth figure, but
today this space is actually
occupied by the Virgin of Xochimilco.17
Above this cuerpo, flanked by Maria Egipiaca, Maria Magdalena and Hope
and Faith is God the Father. Schematically the attention is always drawn to the
pinnacle of the symbolic overlapping triangles, which is Christ Crucified.
this manner is integrated a doctrinal body organized logically to represent the
principal personalities who over time participated with their lives and works in
the program of the salvation and redemption of human kind, following the path
shown by Christ; by this, all the triangles, that is to say, all the ideological
contents, is made reality in the Son of the Creator, Jesus Christ, and in Him
should converge the symbolism expressed in this retablo; thus also the image of
the Virgin would be out of place, since she occupies the site which corresponds
to her Son, in whom culminates all the work of the Father, who contemplates his
creation from on high. 18
eight paintings included depict The Annunciation, the Adoration by the
shepherds, the Circumcision, Pentecost, the Resurrection, the Assumption, and
the Ascension. The two Marys at the top do not appear integrated within the
symbolic grouping, but as de la Fuente suggests, this can be taken to show that
they were penitent and their sacrifice of pleasure which they abandoned in order
to follow the path of Christ. 19
The Virgin Mary today in the place originally intended for the Christ
Crucified, that is in the top cuerpo in the central calle, dates, according to
Weisman, from the 16th century.20
The role of images in Catholic Christianity is an issue to be approached
with some delicacy, particularly when discussing 16th century practices in
Mexico. Weisman shared some valuable insights in her notes on this topic. She
quoted Grijalva who wrote in 1592
the cult and reverence of the images they are extremists...and it is well known
that an Indian who has not the will to spend two reales for his clothes or food,
spends with great generosity a
thousand on an image.
added that even the Council of Trent had to give the matter special attention,
and concluded that "the tendency to idolatry was not Indian but
human." Indian religious practice before the conquest involved the worship
of idols, substituting Christian images was a challenging, but necessary, part
of the process, and one which no doubt made the evangelization easier, if not,
Religious buildings were under way in the 1530's at Xochimilco. Laws regulating the practice of the artistic trades were in
place as early as 1568, suggesting that there were enough European tradesmen
facing competition by enough Indian free lance workers to seek this kind of
protection. Geronimo de Mendieta was Guardian at Xochimilco in 1576 and was
having side altars built.21
Weisman noted that this "does not necessarily date the retable
principal earlier. A high altar was presumably provided first, but it might well
have been replaced later when it seemed old fashioned and inferior to the
collateral altarpieces." Diego Angulo
Iñiguez attributed the present main retablo and paintings to Baltazar de Echave
Retablo at Tecali
In the parrish church of Tecali stands the splendid retablo mayor
originally built for the adjacent and now ruined circa 1569 convento. Guillerrmo
Tovar de Teresa tentatively attributes the work, at least in part, to the well known architect Claudio de Arciniega or his
The predella features four paintings depicting the Doctors of the Church:
Saints Ambrosio, Gregorio, Jeronimo, and Agustin, above these there are five
major narrative scenes in three cuerpos begining on the bottom with the
Annunciación and Visitación. In the center cuerpo are the Adoración de los
Pastores on the left and the Adoración de los Reyes on the right, and in the
top cuerpo in the center is the Bautismo. There
are two vertical rows of three niches each, on the left from the bottom are
sculptural representations of San Francisco, Santa Clara, and San Esteban, on
the right Santo Domingo, Santa Catalina, and San Lorenzo. Flanking the Bautismo
are symbolic representsations of Hope and Faith, and at the top, the Padre
Eterno. In the central niche is a representation of Santiago, the patron saint
of the convento church, as a pilgrim, with the characteristic shell at his left
sholder, a pouch at his waist, and his right arm posed to hold the now missing
pilgrim's staff. In addition to the
emphasis on the early life of Christ in the narratives, the Baptism and
depiction of Santiago with his shell allude to water symbolism, an important
concern in any agrarian society.
Retablo at Cuauhtinchan
This is probably the oldest Retablo de testero in America.24
It was made circa 1570 for the main altar of church of San Francisco de Puebla,
later Juan de Arrúe acquired it as part payment for other work. He sold it to
the pueblo of Tehuacán. An earthquake damaged the church in Tehuacan before it
could be installed, so to protect it from deterioration, the retablo was sold to
the people of Cuauhtinchan for their church dedicated to San Juan Bautista
Cuauhtinchan where it arrived
in 1601. According to Guillermo Tovar de Teresa, the spectacular and
recently restored retablo was originally created by Nicolás Tejeda de Guzmán,
painter, and Pedro de Brizuela, sculptor. The narrative program is
arranged as shown in the diagram below.
On the sides are guardapolvos, or "dust protectors" seen
on early retablos in Spain.25
On the the left or Evangelio side are from bottom to top the following saints:
Catarina de Alejandría, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo de Guzman, San Bernardino de
Siena, San Juan Bautista, and San Buenaventura. On the right side, or Epistola,
from botom to top are: Santa María Magdelena, San
Lorenzo, San Agust:in, San Luis de Anjou, San Miguel Arcangél and San
Antonio de Padua. All are looking
toward the center of the retablo. In the Praedella, symbolically representing
the foundation of the churchare the Apostoles, in this case oddly includeing
Judas Iscariote without halo, but with the bag of money with a large bent noze
symbolizing his moral deformity.26
Left to right they are:Judas Tadeo, Santiago Menor, Bartolomé, Mateo, Tomás,
Pedro, Juan, Andrés, Santiago Mayor, Felipe, Simón, and Judas Iscariote. The
central niche probably originally had a San Francisco in it, but this was
changed for Tehuacan, whose advocation was the Inmaculada.
This brief overview of the surviving central Mexican sixteenth-century
retablos and the artists who made them has provided a background of technical
information, biographical notes, and thematic patterns which will contribute to
the reconstruction of the lost Teposcolula retablo created by Andrés Concha
in1578. But before proposing a probable reconstruction for Teposcolula, a brief
biographical sketch of the principal
artist and a review of three large retablos in the Dominican Churches in the
Mixteca at Yanhuitlán, Tamazulapan and Coixtlahuaca will add a useful
chronological, iconographic and stylistic background for a comprehensive
comparative tabulation and analysis.
Concha and the Retablo at Yanhuitlán
According to Martín Soria, documentary evidence in Seville suggests that
Andrés Concha entered a contract
with Gonzalo de las Casas, encomendero of Yanhuitlán, in the years 1568-1570,
which resulted in a retablo in the apse of the Dominican church there, though if
the current Retablo is the original, then the original columns have been
replaced with Salamonic columns of a later era.27
Another document in México mentions the construction of a sumptuous retablo
there in 1579.28
Therefore paintings in the retablo in place today may be safely dated to this
time as an example of Andrés Concha's work, however Toussaint felt that the
rest of the retablo was of seventeenth-century construction.29
There are nine large canvases
arranged in three calles and sixteen
sculpted Santos arranged in four cuerpos with four Santos in each cuerpo.30
The lower cuerpo is obscured today by modern drapery, and the paintings are
darkened with time and difficult to make out, but the paintings as they are now
arranged may be read roughly from the bottom to the top, as shown in the table
The elaborately polychromed santos ranged in four calles include what
appear to be four Apostles in the first cuerpo, the Four Evangelists in the
second cuerpo, the Four Doctors of the
Church in the third cuerpo, the four Founders of the Religious orders in the
of Paintings at Cuauhtinchan
La Asunción de María
La Ascención de Cristo
Adoration Kings Niche
of Paintings at Yanhuitlán
Retablo at Coixtlahuaca
At Coixtlahuaca the structure of the existing retablo is a late
confection in the Estipite Baroque style but which includes architectural and
artistic elements from an earlier mid sixteenth-century retablo,
such as plateresque fluted Ionic columns with garlands and monstrous
Toussaint noted that the paintings in the retablo of Coixtlahuaca were said to
be by Concha but later than those of Yanhuitlán which apparently influenced the
work at Coixtlahuaca.34
Although they are generally similar, the Coixtlahuaca group are less serene and
exhibit more movement and excitement. In composition and theme there are notable
similarities especially in the two sets of Adorations. Toussaint and others have
remarked on the influence of the Yanhuitlán paintings on the artist of those at
Coixtlahuaca and some have attributed the work to Simón Pereyns. If not by
Pereyns, then perhaps they are the work of a student of his or of Concha.35
The themes and arrangement of the paintings as they are to day are shown in the
Richard Perry notes that these paintings have been attributed to Andrés
Concha, and points out that the composition and animated figures are in the
style of Tintoretto. He adds that the palette tends to cool colors of blues,
greens and violets.36
The engaging life-like naturalism seen in the Coixtlahuaca Adoration captures a
moment in time as one of the shepherds is taking his hat off as he approaches
the Christ Child. The theme of the Adoration by the Shepherds is seen repeatedly
juxtaposed to the Adoration by the Three Kings in retablo art of this era,
perhaps to demonstrate the inclusiveness of the new religion, where the
significance of human dignity in devotion to Christ is not limited by social
station. Another important scene from the life of Christ frequently portrayed in
retablo art of the sixteenth century is the Presentation in the Temple, seen
here vividly depicted at Coixtlahuaca.
Layout of paintings at Coixtlahuaca
en el templo
Layout of Santos at Coixtlahuaca
Bearded Santo with book, red-brown cloak
San Gregorio (?)
Santo w Book
Santo with Papal Tiara & and
up to hold latígo?
San Juan Bautista
pointing to lamb
Santo Tomás de Aquino
in Hooded Habit with Book
Santo in hooded black habit with book and church
Long Beard preaching,
hand up, keys?
r. hand up, sword?
The bottom pair, Pedro and Pablo, are the most richly ornamented and
lively, each holding a book in one hand and apparently their now missing
attribute; keys and sword, with the other. They wear golden halos and
gorgeously made robes displaying elaborate estofado work.37 Their highly individual
and expressive faces are quite similarly made with a distinctive raised V
pattern clearly visible in their brows, perhaps suggesting the intensity of
their preaching, or concentration on the books they are intently reading. None
of the other faces have this distinctive feature. Pedro and Pablo appear to have
been made simultaneously by the same hands. I am inclined to think that these
two and perhaps next pair, the two friars above them, though somewhat less
dramatic in their poses,were made by the same hands at the time the new Estipite
Baroque retablo was installed, in the mid18th century. They are richly
ornamented with a more subdued estofado treatment of their darker habits. The
third pair, the doctors, are draped in copes more subdued yet, showing, except
for Gregory's tiara, little or no gilt work in the estofado, but nonetheless
displaying a baroque flair for movement accented by asymmetrical diagonal folds.
They appear to be slightly smaller than the friars, and show just slightly less
finesse in the treatment of the drapery. They may also be by the same maker as
The top pair are hard to see, but show care in shaping the dynamic
drapery, and have a little sparkle in the estofado.
The santo in red seems a little large for his niche, and the seated santo
is tilted back, his niche having come loose from its frame. San Juan Bautista in
the center holds a book on which is the Lamb he points to with the other hand.
His red and white mantle shows some deterioration, but was richly decorated with
elaborate patterns in the estofado. His posture is more balanced or static than
the others, perhaps appropriate for his position in the center. He is noticeably
smaller than Pedro and Pablo, and somewhat smaller than the friars. His niche
suits him well, though, as do those of the friars and the evangelists,
suggesting that if he does date from an earlier retablo, his place in the new
one was custom fitted for him. I am inclined to think that San Juan and perhaps
the unidentified saints on the top are earlier than the friars and the
evangelists. Richard Perry notes that "Simón Pereyns, the Flemish master
who collaborated with De la Concha at Yanhuitlan and created the Huejotzingo
altar piece, may have carved several of the figure sculptures at Coixtlahuaca."38
If this is so, then San Juan, the Doctors, and the unidentified saints at the
top are the likely candidates for this distinction. It appears that the
evangelists and friars were made at the time the retablo was rebuilt with the
estipite columns, but perhaps the faces of these last two groups were by
different hands, Pedro and Pablo in the most easily viewed and prominent
position on the bottom by the master, the friars, higher up, by apprentices.
The Retablo at Tamazulapan:
Concerning the beginnings of Christian religious life in Tamazulapan , we
know that a license was issued in 1542 for the people of that town to cut wood
in the mountains of Taxquiaco [modern Tlaxiaco] to build a church and "casa
Later in 1585 the Cacique of Tamazulapan gave a piece of land to the
monastery, perhaps as an endowment.40
In 1587 Andrés Concha, referred to as "pintor del monasterio e iglesia de
Tamasulapam" entered a contract with the people of Tamazulapan for work on
But beyond these fragments of information surviving in the documentary record,
little is known with certainty concerning this splendid church. Indeed, as
Francisco de la Maza wrote:
in the north of the State of Oaxaca, is an interesting example of confusion.
Remnants of an important retablo of the Sixteenth Century with paintings by Andrés
de la Concha now out of place and
entering a forced combination with paintings and sculptures and niches of the
Eighteenth Century that seek only to fill a space without any
teleological preocupation .42
in the fifteen major canvases all involve women, indeed the retablo, except for
Pedro and Pablo, seems mostly about women in family life. The following
photograph and table shows the arrangement.
of Paintings at Tamazulapan
Virgen de Guadalupe
Decendimiento Santo Entierro
As de la Maza noted, these paintings appear to be by several hands and
from more than one period. Some of them, such as the two smaller works in the
top outside positions (not indicated in the scheme of 16th-century paintings
above) appear to be late 18th or 19th century pieces, judging by the clothing
styles. But the Circuncisión, shown here, repeats a theme seen in Andrés
Concha's work at Yanhuitlan and bears some similarity to the composition and
palette used at Coixtlahuaca, so it is likely that this is one of the paintings
done by Concha for the original
retablo at Tamazulapan.
While it is true that most of the santos in their niches are not
identifiable by any attribute, there are in the outermost niches of the bottom
cuerpo two sculptural pieces worthy of note for the striking and distinctive
similarity they bear to Pedro and Pablo at Coixtlahuaca. They also appear to be
Pedro, still preaching and missing his keys but with his hand held as if they
were there, and Pablo, still preaching and missing his sword but with his hand
held as if it were there. Their garments are made and ornamented in a remarkably
similar fashion. Their faces are similarly rendered:
Pedro with his short beard; Pablo with his flowing dark beard; and the
telltale raised V in their brow is identical to those of Coixtlahuaca. It is
quite likely that they came from the same shop at about the same time. Between
them are a man dressed in rich clothing which does not appear to be clerical,
one on knee with a hand over his heart, and the other outstretched, and a woman
also richly dressed, and not in a nun's habit. This couple bear no identifiable
iconographic attributes, and they are not as finely made as Pedro and Pablo and
appear to be the work of another hand. Clara
Bargellini has identified them as San Joachim and Santa Ana.43
The other figures filling up the niches are notable only for their blank,
emotionless faces, their oddly outstretched hands and uniformly non-descript
attire. They manifest no identifiable saintly attributes; and, as de la Maza
says, appear only to fill up their spaces.
brief survey of 16th century retablos including the works by or attributed to
Simón Pereyns and Andrés Concha for the Dominicans in the Mixteca and for the
Franciscans in the Puebla area permits a comprehensive tabulation of themes
represented in the narrative paintings of sixteenth-century Mexico. A clear
pattern of iconographic emphasis may be seen in the following table of narrative
themes in the known surviving 16th-century main altarpieces and fragments.44
Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca?, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Cuauhtinchán,
Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco,
Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán, Acolman, Tecali, Zinacontepec [Huaquechula]
Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco,
Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán, Acolman, Tecali, Epazoyucan [Huaquechula]
Yanhuitlan, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo
a Egipto?: Tamazulapan
en el huerta
Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán
Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo,
OF TABULATION OF ICONOGRAPHIC
The tabulation shows that in every case of a surviving complete
set of retablo paintings considered
narrative paintings depicting the Adoration by the Shepherds were always
coupled with paintings of the Adoration by the Kings, demonstrating a crucial
linkage of these two themes from the beginning of Christ's life on Earth. The
only other narrative theme present in all such cases, except Tecali,
was the Ascension, the miracle closing Christ's earthly ministry. Further
analysis of the tabulation confirms the emphasis on the early life of Christ:
Indeed, the only other theme present in all three Mixtec cases was the
Annunciation. Furthermore, of the sixty canvases tabulated, including
fragmentary survivals of other now lost retablos,
thirty-six of them deal with themes from the early life of Christ. Of the
other twenty-four narratives,
eight focus on events from
the end of Christ's life, eleven
treat the miracles of the Resurrection and Ascension, while three depict
the Pentecost, and
one each the Last Judgment and the Assumption of the Virgin.
The main themes then, are the Annunciation, the Adoration by the
Shepherds, the Adoration by the Kings, the Resurrection and the Ascension.
Gertrude Schiller's monumental opus Iconography of Christian Art provides
some helpful insights on these themes. Keeping
in mind that these Mexican retablos were intended for audiences new
to the complexities of Christian doctrine, the story of the Annunciation
is important because it tells how the miracle of Virgin Birth occurred, and how
this direct divine intervention was related to Mary. This narrative sets the
stage for the birth and death of Christ and
emphasizes the importance of Mary as chosen by God
to bear the Savior of mankind. As has been often noted, early Mexican
retablos were devoid of references to the Old Testament, but as Schiller points
The fact that the text took up the thread of the Old Testament
prophecies, particularly that of Isaiah 7, 14, "Behold, a virgin shall
conceive, and bear a son, and shall be call his name Immanuel," provided a
reason for regarding the Annunciation as one of the events of the life and
sufferings of Christ and related to the salvation of man.45
The feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25, appropriately
at the beginning of Spring.
Certainly there is a finite body of Christian iconographic themes and a
certain amount of repetition is to be expected in any set of retablos. Yet a
comparison of the surviving 16th-century Mexican retablos with those of Spain at
the same time underscores the
unusual emphasis placed on the always juxtaposed Adorations of the Shepherds and
Kings in the Mexican examples. While undoubtedly these were themes common enough
in Spain, they did not always occur in every retablo and when they did appear
they were not always paired.46
It is worth looking a little closer for a possible explanation.
Concerning the theme of the
Shepherds associated with the Feast of the Nativity celebrated on December 25,
Schiller noted that :
The Adoration of the Shepherds entered the artistic cannon under the
influence of Franciscan piety. In the eyes of Francis of Assisi the poor men of
the people were the privileged ones, for it was they to whom the glad tidings
were first announced, who first saw, adored and loved the Child born in poverty.47
Of course, the early
Mexican Dominicans shared the Franciscan attitude toward poverty, in keeping
with the notion of the imitation of Christ, who was born and lived in poverty.
Moreover, the majority of people to whom the friars ministered were poor, and
narrative paintings demonstrating the importance of Christ to poor shepherds
to reinforce precisely this message: That Christ was born into the world
for their personal and individual salvation. Juxtaposed to the Adoration by the
Kings, the egalitarian universality of Christ's mission was also clearly
But considering the theme of the Adoration by the Kings, associated with
the Feast of Epiphany, celebrated on
January 6, their rich raiment and jewelry may have rivaled that of the Mixtec
Caciques, well known for the splendor of their dress. The Kings of the East,
often depicted by Europeans as people of color, came to worship the Christ
Child, and offer their symbolic gifts. However , there may be more intended by
the repeated use of this theme in 16th-century Mexican retablos.
Indeed, as Schiller points out::
The feast of the Epiphany was not introduced into the west until the end
of the fourth century when it was used to celebrate the manifestation of the
Lord to the heathen who paid homage to the divine Child, the event which
represented Christian fulfillment of all ancient man's hopes for a savior.
Augustine thought of the Wise Men of the Orient, who recognized that the savior
of the world had been born at the rising of a new star, as the first-born of the
heathen to whom God had revealed himself, their adoration as their recognition
of the Son of the Highest manifest in the Child.48
While the story of the Shepherds may have carried a special message to
the narrative of the Kings may also have had an intended target. Just as other
wise kings from outside the Holy Land recognized Christ as the Savior of the
World, so too ought the wise kings of the Mixteca to accept Jesus as their
Another theme from the early life of Christ present in four out of six
cases considered is The Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.
Indeed, this theme is present in the retablos at Yanhuitlán, 1570 and
Tamazulapan, 1587, both by Andrés Concha.
Schiller explains the significance of this theme as follows:
Circumcision was practiced as an initiation rite by many ancient
peoples. However, among Israel's neighbors, it clearly had no place with the
Assyrians, the Babylonians, or the Philistines. The Israelites regarded male
circumcision as an act of purification from sin and of acceptance of the child
as a member of the nation of Israel. In later times the law prescribed that the
child should be circumcised and named on the eight day after birth and the
ceremony was a symbol of God's covenant with Israel and a necessary preliminary
to participation in religious services.50
The possible importance attached to this theme by 16th-century friars
may have had to do with the notions of purification and inclusion of gentiles.
It is worth pointing out that these two canvases by Concha were done before and
after his work in Teposcolula.
Cultural Transformation in Teposcolula
The transformation of the sacramental imagination of the people of
Teposcolula from aboriginal beliefs and visualizations to those of Catholic
Christianity did not occur instantaneously in the moment of first contact with
European missionary friars. Rather, it was the gradual result of an ongoing
process which continued to evolve with a growing complexity of understanding and
implementation (or experience and expression) through several generations. The
physical evidence of this process is the body of fragmentary survivals of
Christian sacred art from the decades between 1530 and 1580 maintained today in
the town's convento and church. Understanding the nature and chronological
relationships of this small body of artifacts is important because it
contributes to a reconstruction of the pattern or process of transformation in
Teposcolula which can also be used for broader comparative purposes both within
the region of the Mixteca Alta, and generally within the Spanish Colonial world.
Generally, the pattern at Teposcolula may be characterized by pacific
initial contact and evangelization followed by willing engagement and
participation in the construction of the minimal basic architectural components
necessary for Christian ritual performance and introductory catechism. This was
followed by increasingly elaborate architectural and artistic expressions of
Christian devotion and lifestyle not only in individual buildings such as the
Convento complex, but also in the organization of the new built environment
generally. In Teposcolula adjoining the spectacular open chapel dedicated to San
Juan Bautista the people built the church San Pedro y San Pablo. The selection
of these particular saints are symbolically significan. John the Baptist was the precursor of the Mesiah who preached confession of
sins and baptism with water as demonstrations of spiritual transformation in
preparation for the entrance into the kingdom of heaven he believed to be at
hand. His obvious association with water imagery would also have been important
in an agrarian society whose traditional religion had been focused on their
principal supernatural, Dzahui, who was associated with rain,
water, and storms. Peter the fisherman was the rock on which the early church
was founded, the begining of the chain of apostolic succession transmitting
papal leadership of the Catholic Church. Peter was also the keeper of the keys
of the heavenly kingdom, or paradise. Paul,
the self-proclaimed Apostle to the Gentiles, was an appropriate role model for
the friars themselves, and a pedagogically important symbol of the church's all
inclusive catholicity. John's feast days marked his nativity on June 24 and his
martyrdom on August 29. The feast of Peter and Paul falls on June 29. Thus the
people of Teposcolula built a new ceremonial center commemorating the lives of
the last of the prophets and the evangelical founders of the primitive Church.
In the shadow of these special places, the very loci of sacred ritual
performance and Eucharistic contact
with the divine, they also built their homes. The increasing complexity of
Christian imagery, iconography, and meaning suffused throughout the built
environment gave new meanings also to the sacred landscape.
The linking of place names with Christian association with the
traditional place names played an important role in shaping the nascent
Christian consciousness of the inhabitants of those places. Descriptive place
names expressed orally and depicted graphically in place glyphs seen on the
pre-Hispanic screenfold pictorials and in the early colonial lienzos demonstrate
that the Mixtecs viewed their landscape as composed of an interlocking network
of discrete places, each with their own special identity. Consider just a few
places in the district of Teposcolula for examples of this process of naming and
renaming in the scheme of early colonial urbanization: Soyaltepec, hill(top)
place of the palm became San Bartolo, traditionally viewed as the first of the
apostols to preach outsider the Holy Land; Nduayaco, place of the cooked palm
became San José de Gracia, perhaps a reference to Saint Joseph's role as patron
of the indigenous people; Tejupan, pueblo of the Blue (royal) color became
Santiago, Patron Saint of Spain, and of the Reconquista;
Nicananduta, place from which the water flows became San Sebastián, the
youthful member of Diocletian's guard who, according to tradition, suffered
martyrdom for his Christian faith;51
Nuducandu, place of abundant cactus became San Pedro; Nundo, place of the adobes
became Santo Domingo; Tamazulapan, in the river of toads became Santa María;
Tonaltepec, place of the mountain of the sun became Santo Domingo; and finally
Teposcolula, in Náhuatl the place
of the twisted metal, or known in Mixtec as Yucu Ndaa,
on the summit of the mountain, became San Pedro y San Pedro.52
MODEL OF SYNCRETISM CONSIDERED
An important breakthrough in Nancy Farriss's study of the colonial Maya
was her refinment of the concept of syncretism and Maya response to
She presents a comparative analysis of Late Post-Classic Maya and Late Medieval
Mediterranean Catholicism, and shows that both systems operated at three levels,
individual, community, and cosmic. Describing the nature of the Christianity
that made its way to Mesoamerica, she said:
...the uncompromising monotheism of the Old and New testaments had
become tempered in their Mediterranean version of popular Catholicism by the
incorporation of a rich variety of sacred beings. Angels, saints, the Prince of
Darkness and his minions, and a host of lesser spirits accompanied and aided or
sometimes sought to foil the will of the supreme godhead. For most of the
Spanish culture-bearers, the Christian cosmos was as densely populated as that
of the Maya.54
She found that at the intermediate level form and meaning were
negotiable, and that mutual exchange and selective adaptation and inclusion
occurred as seen in the adaptation and metamorphoses of the Mediterranean cult
of saints who replaced the former Maya tutelary deities as the focii of
corporate differentiation and identity. This three level analytic model showing
horizontal exchanges on corresponding levels was an innovative breakthrough,
making an advance on previous models of conversion or suprimposition. As she
Both Spanish Christianity and Mesoamerican paganisam, then, represented
richly complex, multilayered systems instead of any one pure type. Only if we
recognize that they confronted each other as total systems and interacted at a
variety of levels can we begin to make some sense of postconquest religious
change not as a shift from one type to another (the standard model of
conversion), nor even necessarily from one level to another (the modified
"emergence" model) nor as the superimposition of Christianity on a
pagan base (a common syncretistic model applied to Latin America), but as a set
of horizontal, mutual exchanges across comparable levels.55
Furthermore, she showed
that in the Maya case, the isolation suffered under the colonial regime lead to
an emphasizing of the local saints/deities while diminishing awareness of or
concern for a supreme being, though to some extent this role may have been given
to the Christian God. I would argue that the case of the Mixtecs of Teposcolula
was quite different from the Mayas she describes because rather than becoming
more impoverished and isolated in the colonial regime, the Mixtecs actually
became far more connected with a wider world through international commerce and
the wealth it brought. The archival record for Teposcolula shows that a wide
variety of new types of imported merchandise was routinely available in the
town's market place during the mid and later sixteenth century, and offerred for
sale by Mixtecs as well as Spaniards. Nevertheless, there are important aspects
of Farriss's argument which warrent further investigation in the case of
Teposcolula. According to Farris, we need to view:
... the effects of evangelization on Maya religious beliefs and rituals,
not as a process of conversion but as an interchange on three levels, dealing
with three types of sacred beings: private negotiation with lesser spirits;
corporate support of tutelary deity-saints; and a more or less elaborate cult of
homage to a supreme being. Mutually adaptable at the second level, Maya religion
and Christianity merged into a syncretistic cult of the saints, which enabled
the Maya elite, through the development of cofradias (parish confraternities)
and the annual round of village fiestas, to recapture their control of public
ritual and thus validate their continued control of wealth and power.56
There is much to suggest that many of the practices Farriss identified
in the Maya case alsotook place in the Mixtec case. The personal private
negotiation with lesser spirits continued, perhaps into our own time, as
suggested by private and public devotional shrines encountered among unusual
natural rock outcroppings near Teposcolula.57
The corporate identification with local Christian patron saints continues in
Teposcolula and elsewhere in the Mixteca, as seen in the celebrations and
fiestas of villages and towns in which relatives living away, often at great
distances, return annually to participate in Christian religious activities that
reaffirm their bonds and identity as a member of
those communities. Nowhere in Mexico was a more elaborate stage built on
which to celebrate homage to the supreme God of the Christian cult than in
Teposcolula. Thus Farriss's model offers a useful approach for further research.
Unfortunately, the records of the sixteenth-century cofradías in Teposcolula
are missing, and this is not the place to speculate on cacique involvement in
religious brotherhoods, but Farriss's work is certainly illuminating and
suggestive, and points to a direction for important future research.
Generally then, the program of urbanization in Teposcolula, willingly
embarked on after 1537, had as a
central goal the creation of a new kind of town in which Christian life could
take root and grow. This is not to say that all earlier forms of belief and
representation ceased at contact. To the contrary, what is quite special about
Teposcolula is that surviving physical evidence shows a flowering of Late Post
Classic Mixtec art and architecture concurrent with the implantation of
Christian form culture. Indeed, in this extraordinary, experimental transitional
time marking the beginning of a new era, there is an intertwining of form and
meaning calling to mind Kubler's notion of fibrous bundles.58
Teposcolula became, before the terrible epidemic and famine of the
1576-8, a flourishing economic center engaged in new forms of international
commerce made possible through the Colonial system. The Dominican friars
reorganized for greater production and efficiency the traditional cultivation of
the powerful dye cochineal and introduced the cultivation of mulberry trees and
silkworms for the production of raw silk. The production and export of these two
commodities, much in demand in the booming European textile industry, resulted
in the spectacular wealth enjoyed in Teposcolula in the first generations after
of Christianization in Teposcolula
The process and progress of Christianization of the sacramental
imagination in Teposcolula during the first fifty years after contact left a
residue of artifacts and documents which suggest a three stage periodization
delineated by significant architectural or artistic events bearing on religious
instruction. The first stage of Initial Contact occurred in the years before
1540 when a small band of friars established themselves among the people of
Teposcolula and persuaded them to move their principal settlement from its hill
top location to a new site in the valley in which they would build a new kind of
town around a new ceremonial center.60
During this period the friars probably relied on printed graphic art of European
origin as primary teaching aids for religious instruction. Other than those
skills possessed by the friars themselves, there was probably little if any
assistance available from other European or European trained specialists in
building or religious arts. However, by 1540 Teposcolula had become the first
major center of the Mixteca to actively and, according to Betanzos's letter,
willingly move toward and participate in Christian life.61
Construction of a primitive open chapel may have been completed and may have
aroused the curiosity of the many people who Betanzos said came from all over
the Mixteca to see and learn about the new religion. Some Christian religious
art may have been attempted by members of the local population, perhaps
including the bust of the Virgin (or perhaps an angel) now set in the buttress
in the cloister garden.62
The second period might be referred to as the First Campaign which,
perhaps with some overlap of the first period of Initial Contact, occurred
between 1540 and 1548. During these years construction of the existing church
and convento was under way and a more elaborate open chapel was completed,
featuring a late Mexican flowering of the medieval European tradition of
historiated capitals often seen along pilgrimage routes.63published
in: Ronald Spores and Miguel Saldaña. Documentos
para la etnohistoria del estado de Oaxaca, Indice del Ramo de Mercedes del
Archivo General de la Nación, México. Nashville:
Vanderbilt University Publications in Anthropology No. 5, 1973, p. 102, no. 947
At Teposcolula the capitals showed angels holding Instruments of the Passion incorporated in the Open Chapel,
the new form, to foster pilgrimage
in the New World. The surviving evidence in Teposcolula and elsewhere points to
an emphasis of the Passion of Christ in the iconographic program of this period.
It is likely that during this period the importation of specialized crews of
Indians trained in Valley of Mexico began, some perhaps from Chalco, whose place
glyph appears in the Porteria.64
The third period, 1549-79, may be referred to as the Major Campaign which
began with Fray Francisco Marín's return from Coixtlahuaca where he had
launched a massive construction program of a church dedicated to San Juan
Bautista which included an elegant Open Chapel.65
The period ended in the aftermath of the terrible epidemic of 1576-78, with the
suspension of construction at the Dominican complex when the workers were
assigned to another private project. But in 1549 Fray Marín was back at
Teposcolula, with a now more experienced and sophisticated labor force. He had
the old Open Chapel torn down to prepare for his greatest achievement in the
spectacular fusion of Gothic rib vaulting in a hexagon dome with the bold
implementation of the Classical tradition in the double colonnades of the
magnificent masterpiece that survives today, the Chapel of San Juan Bautista.66
Yet it appears that while this new project was under way earlier local
transitional art persisted,
overlapping the newer classicizing forms.
For example, the carving of the large santos for facade was probably in
progress, perhaps by local artisans already at work on Christian projects for
It is difficult today to identify the various figures in the niches, however in
the central niche at the top of the facade are Sts. Dominic and Francis, perhaps
in a reference to their meeting in Rome. In the lower left a winged figure may
be the Dominican St. Vincent Ferrar,
the Angel of Judgement a famous preacher to Moors and Jews in Spain; on the
upper right might be St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor founder of the
Dominican scholastic Tradition; and on the lower right migtht be St. Anthony of
Padua, the great Franciscan preacher.68
There was too a recombination of elements of earlier periods in the new Church/convento
edifice, such as the capitals from earlier open chapel placed beneath the santos
in the church facade. The fountain placed in the cloister garden may be the work
of artists who remembered pre-Columbian ornamental details,
such as the distinctive disk frieze along the top. This fountain has some
surviving polychrome and faces similar to that of the Madonna/angel now in the
By 1550 a road, presumably suitable for use by those on foot, on
horseback, or in carts or wagons, had been completed linking Tamazulapan,
Teposcolula and Achiutla, three polities whose pre-Columbian and colonial
histories were intimately intertwined.69
By 1561 enough of the Dominican complex had been completed to permit Teposcolula
to host the Chapter meeting of the Order, suggesting that substantial portions
of the convento were ready for occupancy, meals and meetings and at least a
chapel sufficient to celebrate Mass for the assembled leaders of the Dominican
Province of Santiago de Mexico.
RETABLO OF 1565
Other significant architectural events of this period include the
installation in 1564 of a bell made under contract by Simón de Buena Ventura
for Teposcolula, suggesting the completion of a sufficient portion of the
building to warrant this investment.70
In the following year, 1565, the
people of Teposcolula petitioned the Audiencia for assistance in paying 1,100
pesos for the completion of what must have been an elaborate retablo then in
progress, suggesting again that in 1564-65 a significant component of the
religious infrastructure was sufficiently complete to require a retablo71.
Documentation naming the artist responsible for this expensive retablo has been
lost. However from what is known, the
two European artists well known for their work in the Mixteca, Simón Pereyns
and Andrés Concha, arrived in
Mexico in 1566 and 1568, evidently,
therefore, some other unknown but well paid artist, must have been at work in
Teposcolula in 1565. As might be expected in the second generation of
evangelization, more complex iconographic themes were introduced into the
program of religious art. The evidence for this greater complexity consists of
the remaining group of Santos from an early retablo, discussed in detail below,
and surviving documents linking Simón Pereyns and Andrés Concha to work in
SANTOS AT TEPOSCOLULA
The current altarpiece in the apse is neo-classical, probably from
early 20th century. Displayed on the right is a sculptural representation
of San Pablo with his sword and on the left San Pedro with his book and keys.
They retain what appears to be original finishes and are half height[?].
Obscured by flowers and difficult of access high on the wall, I have not yet
been able to inspect them as closely as I would wish. However, these two appear,
like the three off the kitchen at Teposcolula, to be closer in style and
technique to those in the altars at Tamazulapan and Coixtlahuaca than to the
group found off the cloister in Teposcolula, described below.
RETABLO SCULPTURE OFF CLOISTER
1-7 are all approximately 5 feet tall, or life size, and figures 1-6 are
identically scooped out from behind with a large wrought iron nail with
butterfly shaped head at top of the hollow area, probably used for fastening,
indicating intended use in a retablo rather than as free standing processional
figures. This is probably also the case for figure 7, although I did not inspect
it from behind in 1988. Figures 8 and 9 are approximately 3 1/2 feet tall, or
roughly half size. All of these figures except 7 are now displayed in rooms off
the cloister show none of their original finishes, and have been heavily
repainted at least once, without finesse, using paints with flat, non
In a room off the former kitchen there are three other santos, one about
3/4 size on a platform to be carried in processions, and one 1/2 size and one
1/3 size figures also made to be viewed from all sides. Though also
deteriorated, these three off the kitchen preserve more of their original estofado
and encarnación finishes72,
displaying more life-like flesh and rich gold brocades, and appear to be
un-related to the group off the cloister, but have more in common with San Pedro
and San Pablo in the apse. The kitchen and apse groups, then, have more in
common with the santos seen in Tamazulapan, Coixtlahuaca, and Yanhuitlán.
List of Santos
Displayed Off Cloister at Teposcolula
of August 1993, except #7, seen there in February 1988)
Santo with long wavy, split beard and Papal Tiara, book in hand by side,
other hand raised to hold staff.
Tentative identification: San Gregorio, at Xochimilco similar figure
Santo with long wavy, split beard in Bishop's Miter, holding book with a
church on it in left hand, right hand clenched by side.
Tentative identification: San Agustín, at Xochimilco similar figure
Santo with long wavy, split beard in Blue tunic, mantle diagonally thrown
over left shoulder, right hand missing, but probably held the book which remains
under where hand would have been, left hand missing.
Tentative identification: San Pablo, attributes of apostle: tunic and
mantle, and book, missing right hand may have held sword.
Santo with short partial beard in blue tunic with brown-black mantle
diagonally slung over left shoulder, left hand holding book, right hand missing,
but right arm upraised.
Tentative identification: San Pedro, attributes of apostle: tunic and
mantle and book, short beard traditionally associated with San Pedro, right hand
may have held keys.
Santo tonsured and clean shaven, left hand raised holding book
horizontally, with chalice on it, right hand raised as if to hold staff, wearing
friar's habit, hooded black cloak over reddish brown tunic.
Tentative identification: San Benito, because of chalice and book of his
rule or regula, and hand upheld to hold abbots staff, downcast eyes suggest
silence, black garment.
Santo tonsured and clean shaven, left hand holding book by side, right
hand raised over heart, wearing friar's habit, hooded black cloak over reddish
Tentative identification: Santo Domingo, because of book of his rule or
regula, black garment, and location in Dominican friary.
Santo, Tonsured with Short Partial Beard in Blue-grey habit with hood,
left hand holding book, right hand missing but forearm raised from elbow. this
Santo was displayed in 1988, but was missing in 1993.
Tentative identification: ?
Santo tonsured in reddish brown hooded robe, right hand upraised to hold
staff(?), left hand missing but forearm raised from elbow.
Tentative identification: St Francis
Santo, short beard long hair in brown tunic and cloak without hood, left
hand slightly raised, right hand missing.
Tentative identification: ?
Christ Crucified (In the stairwell of the cloister there is another
Proposed Reconstruction of Layout
Early Retablo Santos at Teposcolula
Richard Perry has suggested that
these santos, which he describes only as "crudely overpainted," may
belong to the now vanished altarpiece by Andrés
Concha and Simón Pereyns completed in 1581. In a note published in 1942
Sr. don Manuel Santaella Odriozola stated that he had "en mi poder..."
a circa 1580 document registering a complaint by Andrés Concha, and in
representation of Simón Pereyns, who
said they were the authors of the retablo which was at the "altar mayor de
Teposcolula." The document
complained that they were owed 2,024 pesos de oro común by the "Gobernador,
Alcaldes y Principales," due as the balance of 4,300 pesos contracted for
in the middle of 1578 as payment for the retablo.
It is significant that the local Mixtec leaders were responsible for
contracting with Concha and Pereyns, the famous European artists. Other less
expensive solutions might have been sought,
but it was the Mixtec leaders, probably with the encouragement of the friars,
who decided how to spend their money, and who decided not to pay for what they
judged to be an unsatisfactory performance
in carrying out their instructions. Elsewhere, as seen in the contracts
for the retablo at Huejotzingo, the native leaders exercised their prerogatives
in giving explicit instructions expressing their personal taste and discretion concerning the religious art they were purchasing.73
These Huejotzingo contracts are also important not only because they
provide a rare glimpse of how the production of such a large work of art was
actually carried out, but also because they demonstrate the extreme complexity
of the process. From these documents we see the project lasted several years and
required the native leaders' agreement in advance to provide at their expense,
over and above what they also agreed to pay in cash, an array of specific
services carried out without interruption by dependable local workers; also the
delivery of diverse materials; and finally the payment of large amounts of money
in cash at regularly stipulated intervals. And the native leaders bound
themselves personally, against the surety pledge of their assets past present
and future, to fulfill their various specific obligations enumerated at length
in these documents. This was not an undertaking entered on a whim, but serious
and costly enterprise for which they assumed complete responsibility after
careful consideration and planning. But by comparison,
this is but a small example of the kind of complex planning and
commitment required of the native leadership in project like the construction of
the open chapel of Teposcolula, or indeed on an even grander scale, of a whole
new city. Others might help them with technical support and training, and with
enthusiastic encouragement. But as these documents demonstrate, ultimately it
was the indigenous leadership who obligated themselves personally with the
financial and administrative responsibility of providing the human and material
resources necessary to carry out these transformations of the built environment.
This is a point to remember when we consider the process of urban planning in
Teposcolula in the final chapter of this study.
But let us return to Concha and Pereyns and their unhappy customers in
Teposcolula. Evidently, the King
sent a dispatch ordering payment to be made thus officially concluding the case.74
Perhaps the artists made an effort to satisfy their customers. It is known from
another document which survives in the judicial archive of Teposcolula that in
1581 a contract was signed by "Simón Perinez" and Andrés de Concha
to make some "puertas para la capilla de Teposcolula" for the
comparatively small, even token sum of 100 pesos.75 Since this refers to
"el retablo questa en la capilla fuera de la yglesia" it is clear that
these doors were to cover a retablo in the Open Chapel. Presumably the artists
had by this time been paid for the work on the retablo begun in 1578, or at
least come to some understanding permitting agreement on this further bargain priced contract. If the
"altar mayor" of Teposcolula referred to above was in the Open Chapel,
then this new contract would have been a logical continuation of that project.
The price paid, 4,300 pesos, while less than the 7,000 paid in 1585 by
Huejotzingo, was still a large sum of money in 1578. Moreover, the size of the
area of the retablo of the open chapel, indicated
by the void in the paint still on the wall where it would have hung, is
considerably less than that filled by the larger and proportionately more costly
piece in Huejotzingo. If their work in the quite open chapel was exposed to the
rainy climate of the valley for long, no doubt serious damage would result. If
these doors later deteriorated and disappeared, the exposed sculptural art would
This might help explain the later crude overpainting of the surviving santos now
in the rooms off the cloister, if in fact they are from the Pereyns/Concha
retablo of 1578-80.
These artists were especially well known for their painting skills. The
carved Santos at Huejotzingo were made under a contract of 1585 by Pedro de
Requena for Pereyns, and appear to be considerably more refined in sculptural
technique than these at Teposcolula, even allowing for the crudeness of the
current overpainting. It may be that while Pereyns and Concha designed and
supervised the construction of the retablo generally, and executed the
paintings, they may have hired out the carving of the Santos, as Pereyns did at
Huejotzingo a few years later.
However, it is worth pointing out that there is great formal and
stylistic similarity between the large santos at Teposcolula and those of
Yanhuitlan. This strongly suggests that
whoever did the work at Yanhuitlan also did the work at Teposcolula. This also
suggests that the santos at Teposcolula are indeed the work of Andrés Concha.77
But if these Santos did not originate with work undertaken by Pereyns and
de la Concha, another possibility is that these santos were originally made for
the altar of 1565. Evidently the case of 1578-80 was not the first time the
community of Teposcolula had difficulty paying for a retablo. In 1565 they
petitioned the Real Audiencia for assistance in paying 1,100 pesos to complete
work on a retablo "en la capilla de su iglesia." Apparently due to the
burden of tribute, the cost of the retablo could not be met.78
Assuming that these santos were part of the 1578
Pereyns/Concha retablo, either made at that time, or re-used, the
iconographic program they suggest is in keeping with other examples of
16th-century retablos which usually featured Apostles, Doctors of the Church,
Founders of Orders, Martyrs, and images of Christ Crucified.
The tentative identities of these santos together with the likely
reconstruction of the narratives offered below will permit
the creation of a possible configuration of the lost retablo of 1578.
As we have seen, in the Mixteca Simon Pereyns collaborated on several
occasions with Andrés Concha. Manuel Toussaint stated that according to
documents once in the possession of Sr. Santaella, a former judge of Teposcolula
already dead in Toussaint's time, the two artists worked together on "el
retablo de la iglesia dominicana de este sitio," the payment for which
ended in the litigation to which the documents referred.79
Regrettably, Toussaint did not know the date of this work. Because neither the
actual retablo they built in 1578 nor
any descriptive documents have survived, the narrative program is unknown.
However, a pattern for
reconstruction emerges from an analysis of themes in paintings by Andrés
Concha in 1568 at Yanhuitlan, at Tamazulapan in 1587, and those at
Coixtlahuaca probably executed after Yanhuitlan but perhaps before Tamazulapan
and variously attributed to Concha, Pereyns, or one of their students.80
The tabulation of narrative themes presented above shows that in the final third
of the 16th-century in the Dominican churches of the Mixteca Alta as well as in
the Franciscan churches of central Mexico the iconographic emphasis of the
narrative painting was on the Nativity and Adoration.
Although no paintings from the 1578 Pereyns/Concha retablo at Teposcolula
are known to survive in public view, the results of the comparative study of
known 16th-century retablo art tabulated and discussed above suggest a likely
pattern. It is safe to suppose in the absence of countervailing evidence that at
Teposcolula, too, there were juxtaposed narrative paintings illustrating the
Adoration by the Shepherds and by the Kings, and probably scenes depicting the
Annunciation, Circumcision, Resurrection and Ascension, and of course the
omnipresent Padre Eterno. This tentative reconstruction of the narrative
iconographic program at Teposcolula suggests the progress made from the early
years wherein the Instruments of the Passion were the focus of instruction.
Reconstruction of Iconographic Themes
Pereyns/Concha Retablo at Teposcolula
Gregorio Adoración Reyes
This proposed reconstruction is
based on the surviving evidence and an interpretive analysis of the iconographic
schemes of other retablos of the same era and by the same and other artists.
While no claim of absolute certainty can be made, this
reconstruction is made on the basis of unmistakable patterns which emerge
from the tabulation, and reasonable assumptions. I believe, therefore, that
while this may not be a precise recreation of the 1578 retablo, there is a high
likelihood that it generally resembled what I have proposed.
Generally then, it appears that there was change over time from the
earliest period of Initial Contact to the period of the Major Campaign, of which
this retablo would have been the crowning and closing achievement. This change
was from the early emphasis on Passion Iconography and communicating the notion
of Christ's miraculous presence in the Host of the Eucharist to more complex
narrative imagery telling the story of Christ's birth and its significance as an
historical event. Of course the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension
continued to command attention, but now in a more fully developed context as
part of the story of Christ's human life. Furthermore, the greater complexity of
Church history after the Ascension was portrayed in the lives and roles of the
various saints who, after Christ's mission was past, came to continue to spread
the Good News. This retablo was the instrument of transmission of the new
religion in a fuller elaboration, full of an
intertwined cast of human
characters through whose lives the history of mankind and the struggle for
salvation might be understood in Christian terms. These characters were the
integers of meaning in the new system of religious devotion, whose mission in
Teposcolula was to replace, or at
leasr transform, the ancient pantheon of old in the minds and hearts of the
people. This lost retablo marked a new locus for a new system of ritual
performance, opening new approaches to the divine. Here, shimmering in splendor,
were the Holy Family, the Christ Child, the Savior in Passion and in Glory, the
Apostles, and Founding Saints, a
new vision of the company of heaven created
for Teposcolula by the masters of their age. 81
1 Judith Berg Sobré. Behind the Altar Table, the development of the
painted retable in Spain, 1350-1500. Columbia: University of Missouri
Press, 1989. Sobre offers a definition of the term on page 3:
was the Spanish version of the structure made up of decorative paintings
placed behind and above the altar. In fact, the word retablo comes
from the Latin "retro tabulum," meaning "behind the (altar)
table." Though multipaneled altarpieces were found all over Europe
begining in the fourteenth century, the Spanish retables were by far the
largest and most elaborate..."
refering to Mexican altarpieces in this paper, I will use the Spanish term
retablo, as defined by Sobré, interchangeably with the more familiar
English word altarpiece.
Francisco De la Maza. Los retablos dorados de Nueva España. México:
Ediciones Mexicanas (Encyclopedia Mexicana
de arte no. 9), 1950, p. 21. But
see also: Retablos Mexicanos. Artes de Mexico No. 106, 1968. Monica Herrerias de la Fuente. El Retablo de la Iglesia
Conventual de Xochimilco. Churubusco,
Mexico: Escuela Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion Y Museografia,, 1979.
Efraín Castro Morales. "El retablo de Cuauhtinchán, Puebla." Historia
Mexicana 28, 2(Oct/Dec 1968): 179-189. Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano
y Ecología. San Juan Bautista Cuauhtinchan restauración 1987. México:
Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología, 1987. Guillermo Tovar de
Teresa. Pintura y escultura en Nueva España 1557-1640. México:
Grupo Azabache, 1992.
Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y
escultura... . pp. 34-35 :"unidos por el oficio primero, pero
relacionadas familiarmente ya que sus respectivas esposas eran parientes."
He gives no footnote for his
source. Later he stated that Pereyns married in 1569 Francisca de Medina,
cousin of María San Mart:in, wife of Concha. (p. 71) See also: INDICE
DEL MICROFILM DEL CENTRO REGIONAL DE OAXACA, Serie Teposcolula, 1975.
Estudios de Antropológia e Historia No. 8, Centro de Oaxaca. Instituto
Nacional de Antropologia E Historia. 1978, Doc. 204. Carta poder otorgada
por María de San Martín mujer legítima de Andrés de Concha... 1
f. That the world of European religious painters was a small and tightly
interwoven group of competing clans is further suggested by the fact that
the pintor Francisco de Morales and the dorador Juan de la Torre were
related, the former being the latter's father in law (suegro), as Tovar de
Teresa points out on P. 51. He gives other similar examples.
4 Toussaint. Pintura .
Biographical information on Simón Pereyns begins on p. 54. I present here
my condensed free translation of Toussaint's discussion of Pereyns as
modified by the editor's notes citing later scholarly discoveries in the
1990 edition on page 252.
5 Elizabeth Wilder Weisman, Mexico in Sculpture 1521-1821.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950, p.76. It is interesting to note,
in passing, that much of the information Toussaint brought together, summarized below, concerning the artists
involved with these projects comes from Inquisition records. Some of these
artists came from the northern regions of Charles's far flung empire, and
there was the lingering suspicion of the taint of Luther. Heresy was always
central to the thoughts of the Inquisition, the more so in an overseas
kingdom, newly conquered from idolatrous pagans. That these artists were
closely controlled by the religious authorities is an indication of how
seriously they took the doctrinal content of the iconography of these
retablos, the most important feature of the multi media program of religious
6 Toussaint, Colonial Art. p.
158, see footnotes 2 and 3 for
his manuscript sources. See also his illustrations.
Toussaint, Colonial Art. p. 158.
Toussaint, Colonial Art. p. 158.
Weisman, Sculpture. p. 202, r. "Por esto son las hechuras de los
santos que asi se hacen celebrados."
10 For a superb collection of
color photographs which illustrate this kind of religious art see Eliot
Porter and Ellen Auerbach Mexican Churches. Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1987. These photographs were taken in the 1950's with
natural light and convey with a high degree of fidelity the interiors of
Mexican churches and retablo art. For an example of the arrestingly lifelike
presence attained by Mexican artists see St. Anthony in plate 19. Plate 64
shows the retablo at Yanhuitlan in Oaxaca and gives an idea of the overall
effect of one of these alters seen from the nave.
11 Toussaint, Colonial Art. p. 159. See also Appendix 2 for my translation of a series of
contracts for the creation of the retablo of Huejotzingo, which illustrate
the interrelationship of these trades and the townspeople in the process of
its fabrication and installation.
Monica Herrerias de la Fuente. El Retablo de la Iglesia Conventual
de Xochimilco. Churubusco,
México: Escuela Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion Y Museografia, 1979.
p. 116, my translation..
17 As Linda Arnold pointed
out in conversation in December
1993, dressed in blue, the Virgen of Xochimilco is probably the Virgen of
the Remedies. This is not surprising for piece made for a retablo built
during or just after the terrible epidemic of 1576 which reduced the
population of Xochimilco by 3/4. See Pedro Oroz. The Oroz Codex.
Trans & Ed. by Angelico Chavez. Washington DC: The Academy of American
Franciscan History, 1972., p. 162 for
a vivid description "in
the year 1576, when there was a great general plague from which many natives
died all over New Spain..." of an apparition of
"a woman...in the figure and costume of a very well dressed
Indian female, of good appearance"
to "an old Indian by the name of Miguel de San Geronimo."
She "spoke to him about secret things concerning his
soul...After these talks she commanded him to go to the guardian of the
friary [of Xochimilco] and to tell him to counsel the people for the sinners
and vice-ridden to amend their ways and do penance for their sins, so that
our Lord, Who was offended, might temper his ire...After she said this, the
woman, [disappeared] turning into a whirlwind in the air and over the
water..." Old Miguel, whose job it was to take the children in his
canoe to and from the convento for their lessons, probably spent a lot of
time in the cool nave of the church, waiting to take them home again. In the
terrible plague year, with the population melting away day by day, special
devotion to the Virgen of the Remedies might have focused his attention on
an image such as that now seen in the altar of Xochimilco, if not indeed
this very image. Could there be any connection between the apparition by the
lake and this image?
de la Fuente. El
Retablo. p. 116, my translation.
p. 117, my translation.
20 Weisman. Sculpture.
p. 160, plate # 145, and p. 216 from which section of notes the passages
quoted in the following discussion are drawn, my translation from the
Spanish. See also Toussaint, Colonial Art, p. 155, plate # 145.
ibid. p. 202, r.
Angulo Iñiguez, D. Historia del arte hispanoamericano. Barcelona:
Salvat, 1945-46, p. II 388-89. Cited in Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y
escultura. p. 112.
Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y escultura.... p. 51.
Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología. San Juan Bautista
Cuauhtinchan restauración 1987. México: Secretaría de Desarrollo
Urbano y Ecología, 1987. p. 45. This
presents a comprehensive study of the retablo and its recent restoration
with splendid full color photographs and helpful diagrams. I have based my
brief synopsis here on this work and the attributions on the slightly more
recent treatment found in Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y escultura... .
25 See: Sobré, Judith Berg. Behind the Altar Table, the development of
the painted retable in Spain, 1350-1500. Columbia: University of
Missouri Press, 1989, p. 80 and elsewhere for helpful descriptive diagrams
of retablos shown in photographs. See also the glossery, p. 341-343,
for the distinctive regional terms used in in Spain. For example, the
term Guardapolvos was used in Castile, while Guardapols was
used in Catalonia and Valencia, but in Aragon it was Polseras.
Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología. San Juan Bautista
Cuauhtinchan... .p. 49. Again, this synopsis merely translates and follows closely the cited
27 Mullen. Dominican Architecture..., p. 139:
Soria dates Yanhuitlán's retable by Andrés de la Concha as `c. 1568-70,'
noting that Concha was under contract for two years to Gonzalo de las Casas,
the encomendero of Yanhuitlán." Mullen claimed on this basis that the
apse of Yanhuitlán's church must have been complete by 1570. Mullen's
endnote 12 cites George Kubler and Martín Soria, Art and Architecture in
Spain and Portugal and their American Dominions, 1500-1800 (Baltimore,
1959), pp. 306, 392 (note 24). "Soria obtained the information of
Concha from Don Celestino López Martínez who found it among unpublished
documents in the Archivo de Protocolos, Seville. Soria also claims (p. 371)
the original columns of the retablo have been replaced by spiral ones."
of the retablo are published in Elizabeth Wilder Weisman. Art and Time in
Mexico. New York: Harper & Roe, 1985 p. 183, pl. 202. [general view
of apse including retablo]; Toussaint.
Pintura. pl. 99 [close-up of central portion].
Ronald Spores. Coleccion de Documentos del Archivo General de la Nación
para la Etnohistoria de la Mixteca de Oaxaca en el siglo XVI. Nashville:
Vanderbilt University, Publications in Anthropology No. 41, 1992, p. 66,
item 139: 1579 "Licencia a los de Yanguitlan para cortar en los montes
de Tlaxiaco y Tamazula: ...Por cuanto los naturales del pueblo de Yanguitlan
me han hecho relación que ellos quierron hacer un retablo suntuoso para la
iglesia del dicho pueblo, y que por no haber madera en sus términos que sea
Toussaint. Pintura. pp. 69-70.
30 The Spanish word calle used in this context refers to a vertical
division of a retablo, while a cuerpo refers to a horizontal
division. Using these terms the grid-like schematization of retablos becomes
apparent. But see below in the discussion of the Xochimilco retablo for a
more detailed explanation of this system.
31 In April 1995 Dr. Juan I. Bustamante
of Oaxaca told me that officials from the Getty organization were
expected to arrive soon to begin the process of restoration of the main
retablo which, suffering from prolonged neglect,
was badly deteriorated at that time.
32 For the best available images of this and the other 16th-century
retablos, see Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y escultura en Nueva España 1557-1640.
I will point out that given
the existing light conditions and the great height of these retablos,
without elaborate scaffolding and special lighting it is practically
impossible to obtain photographic images usable for study even with the
often difficult to obtain and costly permits. For this reason Tovar de
Teresa's book is of great value for its publication of high quality color
images of the most important paintings and santos. For helpful iconographic
identifications with schematic diagrams see also Richard Perry. Mexico's Fortress Monasteries.
Santa Barbara: Espadaña Press, 1992. Perry
has made a similar general identification on p. 188.
33 In the sacristy is a large candelabra made of what appear to have been
columns from the original sixteenth-century retablo. Perhaps these were
left-overs from the baroque era make-over.
Toussaint. Pintura . p. 59.
See Luciano Martínez Vargas, and Fray
Esteban Arroyo, O.P. La Nación Chuchona y Monumental Iglesia de
Coxtlahuaca, Oax. México.
p.29, and Toussaint. Pintura
"Simón Pereyns" and "Andrés de la Concha."
Monasteries. p. 196.
37 Estofado is defined by Richard Perry as the decorative technique for
imitating clothing on religious statuary, Fortress Monasteries, p.
204. This was often accomplished by layering gold leaf and colored paint,
and scraping away layers to reveal brocade like patterns. Sometimes this was
to gessoed wood, or to gessoed wood covered with coarse cloth
empregnated with a glue sizing and plaster. But see also Toussaint. Colonial
Art. p. 222-223 for his discussion of "Gilding and Estofado:"
...the statue is
covered with its coating of gesso, followed by the red bole, and the whole
thing is gilded except for the head and hands. Over the gold leaf which
covers the robes desiogns are incised with a punch, in imitation of the
embroidery and pattern of the fabric; then paint is applied over the gold,
to imitate cloth like brocade. This technique is called estofado, a
term which is correctly applied only when the gold leaf appears continuously
under the color. Undoubtedly the term estofado has a French origin,
related to the word étoffe, cloth. The face and hands are treated
differently: instead of being gilded, they are covered with a paint
imitating the color of flesh; this finish is called encarnación. The
paint used for the flesh may be matte or glossy, according to whether it is
left without polish, or burnished in a special way.
38 Perry. Fortress Monasteries. p. 196.
Spores. Documentos-AGN 1992. p. 2, item 4: Mercedes 1, exp. 235
(1542) Tamazula, Taxquiaco.
40 Rojo Guerrero's manuscript index,
41 Romero-Frizzi "Mas ha ...",
She published the transcribed text of the contract which is also
listed in the index cited in Rojo Guerrero's index in the preceding note.
De la Maza. Retablos
p. 32, my translation..
43 Conversation over slides with Dra. Bargellini in Denver, October 23,
44 Note that the retablos considered are Yanhuitlán, Coixtlahuaca,
Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo, Tecali, Cuauhtinchán and the
surviving fragments from Yuriria, Epazoyucan and Zinacantepec. I have
treated Xochimilco as a sixteenth-century piece, even though it may have
been made in the first years of the seventeenth century because it is
preserved in its original state and is in the spirit of the sixteenth
century. I have not included a full consideration of Huaquechula because I
have not yet been able to enter the church during my visits, and I have so
far been unable to locate an image or description of the retablo which would
permit inclusion in this tabulation. However in a telephone conversation
July 14, 1995, Clara Bargellini pointed out that the retablo at Huaquechula,
while it is sixteenth-century, is not the original. But she also said it
follows the standard conventions seen in this study of narratives running
from bottom to top, left to right, and that it does include a pair of
Adoration paintings, both Sheperds and Kings. She agreed that this does
indeed confirm the distinct pattern seen in the tabulation, and that this is
a pattern not seen in Spanish retablo painting of the same era.
45 Gertrude Schiller. Iconography of Christian Art, 2 Vols. Janet
Seligman, Trans. Greenwich: New York Graphic Society, 1971. p. 33.
46 I base this observation on an analysis of the representative examples
presented in two studies of 16th-century Spanish retablos:
Juan José Martín González. "Tipologia e iconografia del retablo Español
del renacimiento." Boletín del seminario de estudios de arte y
arqueología Tomo XXX. Valladolid: Universidad de Valladolid, Facultad
de Historia, 1964, pp. 5-66.
Jesús Miguel Palomero Páramo.El retablo Sevillano del Renacimiento:
analysis y evolucion (1560-1629). Seville: Excma. Diputación Provincial
de Sevilla, 1983.
47 Schiller. Iconography . p.
48 ibid. p. 95.
49 See Charles Gibson. The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule. Stanford:
Stanford University Press, 1964. On page 153 Gibson offers the following
definition of the word maceguales:
comprising the majority of the native population, were called maceguales
(Nahuatl macehualtin, sing. macehualli).
Gibson goes on to draw some other distinctions:
peoples, who owed private tribute and service to members of the upper class,
were called esclavos, renteros, terrazgueros, or in a derivative and
Hispanized Nahuatl, tlalmaites
and mayeques. The terms
denote at least two degrees of sub-macegual status, roughly equivalent to
the European conditions of serfdom and slavery.
is not yet clear what portion of the Mixtec population of Teposcolula might
be considered "elite," but it is safe to say that the majority of
the population were maceguales, while some probably fell into the "sub-macegual
status" Gibson describes here. In any case, it seems to me that the
iconographic intent of the always present narrative of the Sheperds was
addressed to the non-elite segment of the population.
50 Schiller. Iconography . p.
51 According to Tom Drain in conversation at Tlacolula, Oaxaca, April
1995, Sebastian, with his pierced skin, was also regarded as an intercessor against plagues or epidemics producing skin eruptions, such as small pox.
Raul Alavez. Toponimia Mixteca. México: Casa Chata, 1988.
See also Mary
Elizabeth Smith. Picture Writing from Ancient Southern Mexico: Mixtec
Place Signs and Maps. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973. John
McAndrew calls Teposcolula the place of the carved copper axes.
53 Farriss, Nancy. Maya Society Under Colonial Rule, the Collective
Enterprise of Survival. Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1984, p 295. My description closely
follows her elaboration. But see also the rest of Chapter 10 "The
Cosmic Order In Crisis," for what may be the most penetrating, if
provocative, treatment published to date of this controversial and delicate
54 ibid. p. 295.
56 ibid. p. 10.
57 Among others I could describe, there is an elaborate shrine alongside
the road dedicated to San Francisco designed to accomodate devotional
pilgrimage processions on a large and unusual rock outcropping just outside
of Teposcolula heading for Tlaxiaco. A small private shrine with Christian
symbols, dated in the 1940s, is set among some rocks along what is now a
footpath from Teposcolula to San Miguel Tixa. Another shrine of apparently
pre-Columbian origin is in the "cueva de la bruja,"
a cave paved with what
appears to have bveen a polished plaster floor. Now inhabited mostly by
bats, it has a small plaster alter which appears to be used occasionally,
although I do not know for what. It is located high up on the western side
of the steep gorge, once used as a colonial stone quarry, behind the "cerro
de los dos arboles" between Teposcolula and Guadalupe Tixa. There are
58 George Kubler. The Shape of Time. New Haven: Yale University
... we can imagine the
flow of time as assuming the shapes of fibrous bundles, with each fiber
corresponding to a need upon a particular theatre of action, and the lengths
of the fibers varying as to the duration of each need and the solution to
its problems. The cultural bundles therefore consist of variegated fibrous
lengths of happening, mostly long, and many brief. They are juxtaposed
largely by chance, and rarely by conscious forethought or rigorous planning.
59 For further discussions of the agricultural economics of the region in
the sixteenth century see: Dahlgren de Jordán, Barbro. La
México: 1963. Borah, Woodrow. Silk
Raising in Colonial Mexico.
Berkeley: Ibero-Americana 20, University of California Press, 1943.
________________. "Silk Culture in Colonial Mexico." In Greater
America, Berkeley: University of California Press,
1945. ___________. "El origen de la sericulture en la Mixteca Alta." Historia
Mexicana XIII, 1, 1963. Miranda, José.
"Notas sobre la introducción de la Mesta en la Nueva España."
Revista de historia de América 17(June 1944):1-26. ___________.
"Orígenes de la ganadería indígena en la Mixteca." Miselánea
Paul Rivet, octogenario dicata, 2 (1958):787-96.
60 That they were early on successful in implementing at least rudimantary
Spanish forms of local government is suggested by a 1542 document in the AGN:
Mercedes 1, exp. 128. (1542) Tepozcolula: "En este día Su Señoría
nombró por algualciles del pueblo de Tepozcolula a Diego y Andrés, e
Domingo, e Juan, e Domingo e Cristóbal, indios naturales del dicho pueblo
de Tepozcolula e se les dió a todos título en forma." Spores, Ronald.
Collección de documentos del Archivo de la Nación para la etnohistoria
de la Mixteca de Oaxaca en el Siglo XVI. Nashville:
Vanderbilt Publications in Anthropology, 1992. Doc. 2.
61 Betanzos used the term cabecera, or head town. By this I suppose he was
referring to what Terraciano would call a yuhuitayu, or settled place
wherein a royal ruling couple reigns. If this is what Betanzoz meant, and if
what he meant was also true then the rulers of Teposcolula were the first in
the Mixteca to willingly lead their people into the practice of Christian
62 Letter written from the Mixteca, probably Teposcolula, in 1540 by
Domingo de Betanzos to Cardinal Garcia de Loaysa, President of the Council
of the Indies describing evangelization then in progress. Letter is
published in: Adolfo Robles Sierra. "Una aproximación a Domingo de Betanzos. A propósito
de su carta de 1540." In Los Dominicos y el Nuevo Mundo, Actas del
II Congreso Internacional, Ed. José Barrado. Salamanca: Editorial San
Esteban, 1990. pp. 227-258. See
below and appendix for my translation.
63 There was, evidently, a general program of church building throughout
the Mixteca during the early 1540s, which was alluded to in a communication
from the Viceroy, who wanted to say something abourt priorities in general
movement to European style urbanization, as summarized in this note:
1544 MIXTECA. Construcciones de iglesias. El Virrey don Antonio de Mendoza,
comunica que ha sido informado, que no obstante estar mandado se hagen
iglesias para que concurran los naturales a la doctrina, no se ha obligado a
los indios a hacerles, especialmente a los que tiene en encomienda Rodrigo
de Segura, antes hacen casas para trabajar la seda.
64 On the door jambs are flower motifs
like the place glyph for Chalco in
Esther Paztory. Aztec Art. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1983, p. 85
and 151. She identifies this as a symbol
but also the place glyph for Chalco. See also H. B. Nicholson. "Phoneticism
in the Central Mexican Writing System." in
Mesoamerican Writing Systems. Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks,
1973. On page 5 he presents a
table, Fig. 1., showing place glyphs including one similar to this, h.,
which he also says is the place glyph for Chalco. The association of this
glyph with Chalco is generally accepted, as Nicholson points out, although I
believe I am the first to make the connection with the example at
Teposcolula. The indication of presciousness positioned at the door to the
cloister area might also refer to the symbolic representation of Paradise
often assoicated with cycles of didactic mural art commonly painted on the
walls of the clositers which, as Richard Phillips has demonstrated, were
used as instructional processional pathways. For the definitive treatment of
this topic see: Phillips, Richard England. Processions through paradise:
A liturgical and social interpretation of the ritual function and symbolic
signification of the cloister in the sixteenth-century monasteries of
central Mexico. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas
at Austin, 1993. Dr. Phillips kindly sent me a copy of his fascinating
65 The recurring reference to Saint John the Baptist is significant, and
often linked to the cult of SS Peter and Paul as in the dedications of the
church and chapel at Teposcolula. At Coixtlahuaca they flank the Baptist over the North Door, and under and
between the two largest, most visible and most complete sculptural
representations of the Instruments of the Passion to be found anywhere in
Mexico. This was probably also the first time the Passion iconography
appeared in stone sculpture in Mexico. Between Coixtlahuaca and Teposcolula
lies the village of San Juan
Teposcolula--where a magnificent three
aisled basilica church was built apparently contemporaneously with if not
before that of SS Pedro y Pablo Teposcolula--also apparently named for the
66 see Chapter IV, note 16.
67 I have used the Spanish word santo to refer to sculptural
representations of saints because the Spanish word is commonly used to refer
to these sculptural representations as well as to the saints themselves.
68 These identifications were suggested by Tom Drain during as visit to
the site in April, 1995. Perry in Fortress Monasteries stated that
the pair in the upper niche were Peter and Paul, although Drain pointed out
that they were both wearing habits typical of the friars.
Spores Documentos-AGN 1973. p.
193, no. 1797.
Contract now part of the Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca,
Oaxaca, Mexico, summarry appears in Gonzalo Rojo Guerrero's manuscript index
for documents in the Ramo Civil de Teposcolula 1550-1800.
Spores. Documentos-AGN 1973. p. 194, no. 1808:
1565 TEPOSCOLULA. Iglesia. La real audiencia hace saber a Francisco de
Morales Batidor, corregidor de este pueblo, que los naturales pidieron que
para terminar la obra de un retablo en la capilla de su iglesia, pedían se
les ayudase con alguna cantidad, pues ellos por pagar el tributo, no podían
pagar la cantidad de $1.100. Registrada del secretario Bartolomé de Vilches.
72 See note 27.
73 See: Berlin: Heinrich. "The High Alter at
Huejotzingo." The Americas XV (July 1958). Berlin
published his typescript Spanish transcriptions of the original contracts,
presented here in my translation in Appendix 2 for the first time in
English. See also other contracts for retablos in Oaxaca published in
Romero, Maria de los Angeles. "Mas
ha de este retablo." Estudios de antropología e historia.
Mexico City, 1978.
Manuel Santaella Odriozola. note published under "Informaciones y
Documentes," Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas.
UNAM, 9 (1942): pp. 59-60.
There is a building in Teposcolula now known as the Casa de Odriozola,
currently under restoration by INAH for use as a regional museum. The
building is located on a small plaza known as the plazuela, and is of early
colonial construction. Perhaps this lost document and other treasures will
eventually surface for display and preservation in a regional museum under
local control. I learned in April 1995 from Don Amencio Odriosola, then 75
years old and recently returned in retirement to Teposcolula, that his
kinsman was assasinated for political reasons at about the time of the
publication of this note. Don Amencio did not know if his papers survived.
Manuel Santaella Odriosola's house is now an empty shell.
75 See: Romero-Frizzi. "Mas ha ...". for transcribed text of the contract.
76 There is a painting dated 1746 in the apse of the church of Teposcolula
which portrays the Virgin giving the Rosary to Teposcolula with the help of
the friars. This painting is obviously intended for devotional use, and
depicts the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary. But beneath the Virgin is a
landscape showing the colonial town of Teposcolula and especially the Open
Chapel, the broad lake evidently then covering the valley, and the Pueblo
Viejo. In the representation of the Open Chapel the retablo is clearly
visible, if tiny. Unfortunately, the detail is so small that it does not
show iconography or doors, if there were any. But if there were doors, it
appears that they would have been open because dots of color suggest the
locations of canvases in a typical retablo. A tantalizing bit of visual
77 Compare the photographs of the santos at Yanhuitlan published in Tovar
de Teresa in Pintura y escultura... , pp. 36-37, with those of the
Santos of Teposcolula in the illustrations accompanying this study and the
similarity is at once evident, even without allowing for the clumsy
overpainting. I would add that this is more apparent when using the
photographs in Tovar de Teresa's book than when standing in front of the
retablo at Yanhuitlan because they were taken at close range, well
illuminated and at eye level, evidently off scaffolds. The Teposcolula group
is displayed standing on the floor in a room off the cloister.
Spores. Documentos-AGN 1973. p.
194, no. 1808.
Colonial... . p. 59.
See: "Concierto entre Andres de Concha y Diego de Montesinos"
published in Marie de los Angeles Romero-Frizzi. "Mas ha de tener este
retablo..." Estudios de Antropologia e Historia No. 9. Oaxaca:
Centro Regional de Oaxaca Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia,
1978. This is a contract in
which the maestro takes an apprentice, and promises to train him in all the
arts necessary for retablo making.
81 This research could be advanced by conducting a tree ring analysis on
the surviving Teposcolula Santos, and for that matter all of the santos
mentioned.. This would
indicate, in the case of Teposcolula, whether
or not they were all made concurrently and when. Expanding the sample of
retablo art to include Huaquechula and Achiutla and any other identifiable
16th-century examples would also refine the analysis. A similar study for
17th century retablo narrative themes would also expand our understanding of
change over time in the iconography.