San Agustin’s non trompe l’oeil paintings

paintings2.jpg How the original ceiling paintings of the nave of San Agustin is not known, or I haven’t come across a document that details it, yet. Galende and Trota in their book San Agustin Art and History 1571 – 2000 however included a photo (left) of a portion of a corinthian capital in bright greens, yellows, reds and oranges that the authors wrote is reminiscent of baroque Mexico. This column is just behind the organ at the choirloft and can still be seen through the openings. A switch can also be flicked on to light the fluorescent lamp to enable one a better view.

How did this come about? Remember that in 1875 – 76, the Italian scenographers Alberoni and Dibella were commissioned by the Augustinians to repaint much of the interior with trompe l’oeil which was the rage during that time. Fortunately for us, the existing pipe organ hid a portion of the column which still retained its original color and thus was spared the repainting. During the 1990s when this pipe organ was dismantled for repairs, the hidden section was finally exposed. Now, one can peep through a small opening at the side of the organ.


In the former refectorio now an exhibition space of the monastery’s museum just beside the sala de profundis, looking up one can see the still discernible traces of the ceiling paintings detailing religious monograms. Not shown in this post is another this time found in the original sacristia where its now another exhibition space.

In another portion just perpendicular to the cloister retablo just near the antesala (now the museum’s entrance) and hidden under one large painting is a remnant of a painted retablo (left) framing a rectangular depression. Galende & Trota in their book says that it might be a niche for an icon’s relief or painting that is placed for veneration that is changeable depending on the church calendar. It dates earlier than the 18th century elaborately carved corridor retablos found at each corner..

It is safe to say that before the Alberoni-Dibella renovations, San Agustin and perhaps other colonial period churches were painted in the style as practiced in Latin America specifically Mexico. Bold and rich colors mark images, e.g. rosettes and other floral motifs applied al fresco to the paletada.

Unfortunately, just a few decades ago, what remained of the interior paintings and decorations as well as the paletada, not including the church interior, were stripped revealing the bare face of the adobe stone. Only a small portion as indicated above were spared to give us an idea of how the monastery complex might have looked originally.


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