‘"Tesoros de la Catedral de Saltillo -- Treasures of the Cathedral of Saltillo"’

Local Arts Reviews


"Tesoros de la Catedral de Saltillo -- Treasures of the Cathedral of Saltillo": Faith Manifest Through Art

Mexic-Arte Museum, through Dec. 28

Earlier this year, the Museum of Fine Arts-Houston put on "The Grandeur of Viceregal Mexico," a terrific show of Spanish colonial art from Mexico's renowned Museo Franz Mayer, which houses one of the best collections of its kind. That show whetted my appetite for more such work. What a treat, then, to wander into Mexic-Arte Museum and have my eyes start vibrating to the rhythms and colors of Spanish colonial painting, and to see such a show without leaving town. Sylvia Orozco, Mexic-Arte's director, said she can't remember another show in Austin that featured solely art from Mexico's colonial age.

"Tesoros de la Catedral de Saltillo -- Treasures of the Cathedral of Saltillo" was organized by Mexic-Arte as a result of ongoing participation in the sister-cities program between Austin and Saltillo. In that program, people from different city departments -- fire, police, or water treatment, for example -- visit their counterparts in their sister city. Orozco visits her cultural counterparts in Saltillo and hosts visits here, and during one she hosted for Saltillo's Mayor Oscar Pimentel, the mayor extended a hand of friendship by offering to share these treasured objects. It took two more years to organize the exhibition, which will travel to San Antonio before returning home.

All the treasures on display -- including a spectacular silver altar frontal reputed to be the best example of its kind in the Americas, heartfelt paintings, expressive carved and painted wooden statues, embroidered vestments, metalwork including chalices, crowns, incense containers, and other decorative arts objects -- are repositories not only of spiritual meaning and practice, but of the intertwining history of the Catholic Church and the indigenous peoples of Mexico. After you've had a chance to soak them in visually, there's an excellent hand-held Family Guide catalog sponsored by 3M that fleshes out the cultural history, provenance, and artistic techniques of these artifacts. Each century brought new art to the cathedral, and part of the draw of this exhibition is to see objects made not only for devotional use, but for one specific place. One begins to feel the cumulative effect of faith manifesting itself through art over the centuries, recording a part of the history of Saltillo along the way.

Among the lovely, soft paintings is the Virgin of the Rosary. Floating in luminous pink clouds, the Madonna and child gently offer compassion and hope to clergy and nun, and by extension to all those suffering on Earth. Striking in the paintings and sculptures on display here is the goodness and feeling that was imbued in these works by the artisans who made them.

Here is an exhibition that has the potential to expand the world as you know it. It made me want to revisit the Suida-Manning Collection at the Blanton Museum of Art to look for bridges in my mind and eyes between European and Spanish colonial baroque painting while I can travel so easily between one group of paintings and another.

At the entrance of the exhibition are photographs of the magnificent Spanish colonial cathedral that houses these artifacts. Having long admired Spanish colonial architecture in Texas, I found the photos a frustrating stand-in for such a finely wrought building. It made me want to visit Saltillo to see these objects at home again within the building that is their tabernacle, because they are all of a piece.

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Tesoros de la Cathedral de Saltillo -- Treasures of the Cathedral of Saltillo, Mexic-Arte Museum, Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, The Grandeur of Viceregal Mexico, Spanish colonial art, Museo Franz Mayer, Sylvia Orozco, Oscar Pimentel, 3M, Virgin of the Rosary, Suida-Manning Collection, Blanton Museum of Art

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