Mexican Mannerism?
Additional Images
Iconographic Table
Huejotzingo Contracts
Teposcolula Retablo
Andres de Concha



Tepos painting 6b.JPG (40754 bytes)  




© 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[This is an unpublished manuscript that was written to summarize field work 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

conducted between 1988 and 1995]


 Posted: 27 September 2000: 

Additional images illustrating the text will be posted 

within the next few days.


Sacred 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  surviving  sixteenth-century  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 Huaquechula.2   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 appear.

             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.

Simón Pereyns: A Flemish Artist in the New World  

Huejotzingo_Retablo.JPG (48723 bytes) Huejotzingo     Xochimilco, Retablo.jpg (61339 bytes) Xochimilco

            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.

Huejotzingo and Xochimilco:

Christian 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 decorative:

They 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 trustworthy 5  

Xochimilco, Santo.jpg (59288 bytes)

            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

a 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


know 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

Toussaint 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 shop." 8 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         

Xochimilco: 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.  

Xochimilco, Padre Eterno.jpg (60885 bytes)    Xochimilco, San Bernardino.jpg (69138 bytes)

            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 Orio.14  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:

Sacrifice 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

Christ 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.

In 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

Xochimilco, Ressurection.jpg (53442 bytes)    Xochimilco, Ascencion.jpg (53124 bytes)    

The 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  

Xochimilco, Virgen.jpg (69947 bytes)

            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

In 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.


She 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, indeed possible.

            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 Orio, 1605.22

The Retablo at Tecali

    Tecali, Retablo.jpg (83767 bytes)        Tecali, Retablo 2.jpg (55480 bytes)    Tecali, Retablo 3.jpg (60183 bytes)    Tecali, Retablo 4.jpg (56931 bytes)

    Tecali, Retablo, Banco 1.jpg (53505 bytes)    Tecali, Retablo, Banco 2.jpg (51380 bytes)    Tecali, Banco 3.jpg (50555 bytes)    Tecali, Retablo, Banco 4.jpg (44216 bytes)

    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 brother Luis.23 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

Cuantinchan.jpg (52847 bytes)    Cuantinchan, Retablo 1.jpg (40784 bytes)    Cuantinchan, retablo 2.jpg (59289 bytes)    Cuantinchan, Annunciation.jpg (62789 bytes)    Cuantinchan, Layout, after SEDUE.jpg (28996 bytes)

            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.

Andrés Concha and the Retablo at Yanhuitlán

        Yanhuitlan_Retablo_2.jpg (145840 bytes)    Yanhuitlan_Retablo.jpg (124286 bytes)    Yanhuitlan_Adoration_Sheperds_2.jpg (165160 bytes)    Yanhuitlan, Adoration, Kings.jpg (31634 bytes)

    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 below.31

            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 fourth cuerpo.32 

Layout of Paintings at Cuauhtinchan

                                                        Padre Eterna

Pentecostes                        La Asunción de María            La Ascención de Cristo

             Adoration Kings             Niche with Inmaculada             Resurection

Annunciation                        Segrario                          Adoration Sheperds

Apostles                                                                        Apostles


Layout of Paintings at Yanhuitlán


Virgen del Rosario                                    Purísima                                                Jucio Final

Asención                                              Resurrección                                    Pentecostés

Adoración / Reyes                                                                                                Circucisión

Anunciación                                                                                                      Adoración /Pastores


Magdalena                    San Lucas                                    San Jerónimo            Santa ?


The Retablo at Coixtlahuaca  

Coixtlahuaca_Retablo.JPG (64374 bytes)    Coixtlahuaca_Retablo_1.jpg (58656 bytes)    Coixtlahuaca_Retablo_Lower_Left.JPG (47916 bytes)    Coixtlahuaca_Adoration_Sheperds.jpg (97566 bytes)       Coixtlahuaca_Santo_2.jpg (60335 bytes)     Coixtlahuaca_Santo_1.jpg (54938 bytes)

            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 order columns.33 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 following table:

            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

                 Padre Eterno

Santa Ana                                             Trinidad                                    San Joaquin

Asensión del Señor                                   Crucifixión                         Resurrección

Presentación en el templo                                                                       Adoracion/Reyes

Adoración/ Pastores                                                                        Anunciación (?)

Apóstoles                Apóstoles                        Apóstoles               Apóstoles


Layout of Santos at Coixtlahuaca


seated Bearded Santo                                                            Bearded Santo with book, red-brown cloak


San Ambrosio (?)                                                                        San Gregorio (?)


Beardless Santo w Book                                                            Santo with Papal Tiara & and

hand up to hold latígo?                                                            book                                   

Bishop's Mitre

San Juan Bautista

                                                            pointing to lamb


Santo Domingo(?)                                                                        Santo Tomás de Aquino

Santo in Hooded Habit with Book                                                Santo in hooded black habit with book and church


San Pedro?                                                                               San Pablo?

Short beard Preaching                                                            Long Beard preaching,

r. 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 those below.

            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:


Tamazulapan, Retablo 1.jpg (55063 bytes)    Tamazulapan, Retablo 2.jpg (73493 bytes)    Tamazulapan, Retablo, 4.jpg (71169 bytes)    Tamazulapan, retablo 5.jpg (69101 bytes)    Tamazulapan, Retablo 6.jpg (75866 bytes)

    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 de Doctrina."39  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 a Retablo.41 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:

Tamazulapan, 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


Themes 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.    

Layout of Paintings at Tamazulapan


                        Asunción Inmaculada

                                                Virgen de Guadalupe

Anunciación      Decendimiento     Santo Entierro     Presentación

Natividad?         Circuncisión         Adoration            Adoration (Pastores)  

Ado. (Reyes)      ?Santa Familia     Presentación?     (Natividad?)

            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.    


            This 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
                        Narrative Themes in 16th-Century  in Retablos Mayores

Anunciación:                 Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca?, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Cuauhtinchán, Acolman, Tecali


Visitación                      Tecali


Natividad:                      Tamazulapan


Adoración                     Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco,

(Pastores)                     Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán, Acolman, Tecali, Zinacontepec [Huaquechula]


Adoración                     Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco,

(Reyes)                         Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán, Acolman, Tecali, Epazoyucan [Huaquechula]


Circucisión:                   Yanhuitlan, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo


Presentación:                Tamazulapan, Huejotzingo


Huida a Egipto?:             Tamazulapan


Baptism                        Tecali


Oración en el huerta            Epazoyucan


Ecce Homo                   Epazoyucan


Crucifixión:                    Coixtlahuaca,  Cuauhtinchán


Decendimiento:             Yanhuitlan, Tamazulapan


Santo Entierro               Tamazulapan


Resurrección:                Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo, Cuauhtinchán


Ascensión:                    Yanhuitlan, Coixtlahuaca, Tamazulapan, Xochimilco, Huejotzingo,  Cuauhtinchán


Pentecostés:                 Yanhuitlan,  Xochimilco,  Cuauhtinchán


Jucio Final:                   Yanhuitlan


Asunción                      Cuauhtinchán


            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 out:

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 were  intended  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 expressed.

            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 maceguales49, 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 Savior.

            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


            An important breakthrough in Nancy Farriss's study of the colonial Maya  was her refinment of the concept of syncretism and Maya response to Christian evangelization.53 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 pointed out       

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 contact.59

Periodization 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 some time.67 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 cloister buttress.

            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.


            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 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.



Figures 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 glossy-finish.

            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

(as of August 1993, except #7, seen there in February 1988)


1.)        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 appears


2.)        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 appears.


3.)        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.


4.)        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.


5.)        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.


6.)        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 brown tunic.

Tentative identification: Santo Domingo, because of book of his rule or regula, black garment, and location in Dominican friary.


7.)        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: ?


8.)        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


9.)        Santo, short beard long hair in brown tunic and cloak without hood, left hand slightly raised, right hand missing.

Tentative identification: ?


10.)       Christ Crucified (In the stairwell of the cloister there is another Christ Crucified.)


    Proposed Reconstruction of Layout           

    Early Retablo Santos at Teposcolula


St Francis                        Unidentified

Santo Domingo                         San Benito

San Gregorio                        San Agustín

San Pedro                                    San Pablo


            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 have suffered.76 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. 

Possible Reconstruction of Iconographic Themes

of the

1578 Pereyns/Concha Retablo at Teposcolula


Padre Eterno


San Francisco                         Resurección                     Unidentified

Santo Domingo                     Crucifixión                        San Benito

San Gregorio    Adoración Reyes      Circuncisión     San Agusíin

San Pedro         Anunciación             Adoración  P.     San Pablo

Apostoles         Apostoles                    Apostoles          Apostoles


            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:

"The retablo 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..."

In 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.

2 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.


3 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 indoctrination.

6 Toussaint, Colonial Art.  p. 158,  see footnotes 2 and 3 for his manuscript sources. See also his illustrations.

7 Toussaint, Colonial Art. p. 158.

8 Toussaint, Colonial Art. p. 158.

9 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.

12  Monica Herrerias de la Fuente. El Retablo de la Iglesia Conventual de Xochimilco.  Churubusco, México: Escuela Nacional de Conservacion, Restauracion Y Museografia, 1979.

13  ibid.  p. 80.

14  ibid.  p. 83.

15  ibid.  p. 116.

16  ibid.  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?

18  de la Fuente. El Retablo. p. 116,  my translation.

19  ibid.  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.

21  ibid.  p. 202, r.

22  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.


23 Tovar de Teresa. Pintura y escultura.... p. 51.

24  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... .  pp. 63-67.

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.

26  Secretaría de Desarrollo Urbano y Ecología. San Juan Bautista Cuauhtinchan... .p. 49. Again, this synopsis merely translates and follows closely the cited text.

27 Mullen. Dominican Architecture...,  p. 139:

 "Martín 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."

Photographs 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].

28 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 a tal..."

29 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.

34 Toussaint. Pintura . p. 59.

35 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."

36 Perry. Fortress 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 applied  directly  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.

39 Spores. Documentos-AGN 1992. p. 2, item 4: Mercedes 1, exp. 235 (1542) Tamazula, Taxquiaco.


40 Rojo Guerrero's manuscript index,  Item 90-b.

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.

42 De la Maza. Retablos dorados.  p. 32, my translation..

43 Conversation over slides with Dra. Bargellini in Denver, October 23, 1993.

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. 87.

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:

Ordinary Indians, comprising the majority of the native population, were called maceguales (Nahuatl macehualtin, sing. macehualli).

But Gibson goes on to draw some other distinctions:

The subordinate 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.

It 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. 88.

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.

52 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 issue.


54 ibid.  p. 295.

55 ibid.

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 many others.

58 George Kubler. The Shape of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.

... 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. (p. 122.)

59 For further discussions of the agricultural economics of the region in the sixteenth century see: Dahlgren de Jordán, Barbro. La Grana Cochinilla. 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 life ways.

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  indicating  presciousness, 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 dissertation.

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 Baptist.

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.

69 Spores Documentos-AGN 1973.  p. 193, no. 1797.


70 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.


71 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.

74 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 evidence...  

Tepos.jpg (35717 bytes)    Tepos Painting 2.jpg (56392 bytes)    Tepos painting 3.jpg (54960 bytes)    Tepos painting 8.jpg (56922 bytes)    Tepos Painting 4.jpg (56809 bytes)

 Tepos painting 5.jpg (50929 bytes)    Tepos painting 6b.JPG (40754 bytes)    Tepos painting 7.jpg (67828 bytes)   

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.

78 Spores. Documentos-AGN 1973.  p. 194, no. 1808.

79 Toussaint. Pintura Colonial... . p. 59.

80 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.