Friday, February 20, 2015

Tepotzotlán: Crown Jewel of the Ultra-Baroque

Tepotzotlán is located in the state of Mexico about 38.9 kilometers (about 55 minutes) outside of Mexico City.  In the 1580 the Jesuit religious order arrived in there and established three schools one of which, the College of San Francisco Javier, was a seminary to train Jesuit novices; this seminary was opened in 1585.  Another was a school to train Jesuit missionaries in Indian languages and the third was to provide education to indigenous youths.  Tepotzotlán became one of the most important educational centers in the New World.  The seminary's original structures were finished in 1682 and then renovated in 1760-2.  In 1767 the Jesuit order was expelled from Mexico and the Tepotzotlán complex was turned over to non-monastic clergy until it was abandoned in the 20th century; in 1914 it was returned to the Jesuits.  It is now a museum, the Museo de Virreinato (Viceroyalty of New Spain), although one of its building, the Church of San Pedro Apostal, still functions as a church.

Church of San Francisco Javier, Tepotzotlán, Mexico (begun 1670, renovated 1760) 
Tepotzotlan and the Churrigueresque:

(please click on photos to enlarge them and see the detail)
In the photo above is the church of the ex-Convento of San Francisco Javier, a prime example of the Churrigueresque architectural style in Mexico, also called Ultra-Baroque or Estipite Baroque, referring to the kind of columns used.   This style was the culmination of the Baroque and was characterized by unrestrained ornamentation that simply overwhelms the viewer.   This over-the-top ornamentation was very intentional and had a political motivation that stemmed from the Council of Trent (1543-63).  It was this Council's decision that the best way to fight the threat of the newly emerging Protestant movements with their visual minimalism was to move to the other end of the spectrum with churches so visual dazzling that they would be irresistible. For a fuller discussion of this, please read the April 4, 2013 post of this blog-

The church façade seen in the above photo was designed to share with on-lookers the significance of the place.  This was a Jesuit church and prominent in the structure is the Jesuit saint Francisco Javier, the co-founder of the Jesuit order whose church this was.
Other Jesuit saints are represented such as San Luis Gonzaga to the bottom right of San Francisco Javier and San Estanislao de Kotska to the right. This façade is considered by some to be the most important Chirrugueresque façade in Mexico, surpassing even that of the Sagrario Metropolitano, a church within the Cathedral complex in Mexico City. 

Detail from façade, San Francisco Javier, Tepotzotlan, MX

Below is a guide to the iconography of the façade for anyone who may be interested.  With 93 figures and architectural embellishments, it is incredibly visually dense and complex, as are all ultra-baroque façades.   The purpose of the iconography of  a church façade was to  visually communicate to on-lookers what lay within the building, the things that were important to the worship of the Church and, in this case, the Jesuit order.  In colonial times, a façade was a tool of evangelism, teaching the unconverted about the Christian faith and  reinforcing the importance and power of the Church.

Iconography of Front Façade, San Francisco Javier  Church, Tepotzotlán, MX
Essentially the front door façade door was a restatement of  the information presented within the interior retablos of the church, of which there were four.  Like the façade, these retablos are visually dense Ultra-baroque style and are amazing works of art apart from their religious purpose.

The Church:

Retablos are the ornamental structures behind church altars that contain sculptures and paintings visually telling the story of people and events important to the Church's faith and to the Jesuit order. The Church of San Francisco Javier contains what are considered among the most important collections of Churrigueresque altarpieces (retablos) in Mexico.  Standing before these gold-leafed carved cedar altarpieces, the viewer is presented with a dazzlingly beautiful array of images and detail. These retablos are visually dense and apart from their
religious significance are works of art in themselves.

Main Altar dedicated to San Francisco Javier, Tepotzotlán, MX
It is difficult to communicate the amount of visual detail contained in these retablos.  Here numerous angels surround the central figure of San Francisco Javier.

Detail from Main  Retablo showing San Francisco Javier , Tepotzotlán, MX

Detail from Retablo of San José, Tepotzotlán, MX
In addition to the brilliant carved figures, the retablos also contain paintings by the noted Mexican artist Miguel Cabrera,  His work can be seen below in the Altar of Virgen de la 
Luz (Virgin of Light).

Altar of Virgen de la Luz, 

Retablo of Guadalupe, Tepotzotlán, MX

Cabrera's painting of Guadalupe in retablo, Tepotzotlán, MX

Camarin de Loreto:

This stunningly beautiful portion of  theTepotzotlán convento is a part of its Chapel of Loreto and dates from 1733.  Loreto according to tradition was the Virgin Mary's Nazareth home and most Jesuit churches have a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Loreto.  The Camarin, an alcove behind the altar where the statue of Mary is located,  is this statue's dressing room; it is the space in which the statue is cared for and her clothes changed. 

Camarin de Loreto, Tepotzotlán, MX

The camarin is a truly amazing space that is intended to represent heaven on earth; angels, stars, suns and moons of polychromed and guilded carved stucco embellish its curved walls and concave recessed ceiling. Stylistically, it is a conscious effort to overwhelm the spectator and it manages to do this. The decoration of this room was executed by the famed Mexican artist Miguel Cabrera who had a close working relationship with the Jesuit order.

Ceiling, Camarin de la Virgen, Tepotzotlan
Note the oculus, the opening in the middle of the dome; this was a characteristic of Byzantine architecture.

Ceiling detail showing Oculus, Camerin de Loreto, Tepotzotlan

Decorative Wall Panel, Camarin de Loreto, Tepotzotlán, MX
The double-headed eagle in the wall panel was Byzantine symbol reflecting Christ's dominion over the secular and the religious, as well as being the symbol of the Habsburg dynasty that ruled Spain from 1516-1700.

College's Domestic Chapel:

This incredibly beautiful chapel devoted to the Virgin Mary, the Patron Saint of the Jesuit order, is where the seminarians of the college worshipped.  It is rich in images, both didactic and devotional, and the ornamentation on its walls and ceilings more resembles that of the baroque Rosary Chapels of Puebla and Oaxaca than the Churrigueresque interior of the convent's own church, San Francisco Javier.

College's Domestic Chapel, Tepotzotlán, MX
Altarpiece of College's Domestic Chapel, Tepotzotlán, MX

Other Buildings:

Although Tepotzotlán is known primarily for its incredible worship-spaces, the church, camarin and domestic chapel, there are also a number of other buildings on its campus. This convento had the usual cloister, the living quarters of the priests but since it also housed three schools there were areas for teaching and housing the students. Today, these structures house a museum with an extensive collection of Spanish Colonial Art.

Buildings of Tepotzotlán Complex, Tepotzotlán, MX

Buildings of Tepotzotlán Complex, Tepotzotlán, MX

The art collection is displayed in the rooms of the large cloister, the building in which the Jesuit priests and associated personnel lived. 

Corridor in Cloister,  Tepotzotlán, MX

Cloister courtyard,  Tepotzotlán, MX

Tepotzotlán was among the very first conventos I visited, a number of years ago. It is every bit as exciting and visually stunning the second time around and I have the feeling that it would be that way no matter how many times I might step into the church, camarin or domestic chapel.  It is the kind of place that keeps drawing you back because as many times as you see it, there would be something new to see.  

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Marina, very good description. I visited Tepotzotlán in August 2015, still impressed by the place.
    M. Edwards