Expert opinion
Mural Paintings of the Monastery of Actopan
Taken as a whole, the Monastery of Actopan is a complex building which incorporates all the forms of artistic expression demanded by the classic model, despite the fact that the building was built in several stages. The 1560s was the defining period for the Augustinians’ ideals, and it was during this decade that the mannerist style was employed to embellish the building. The architecture is on a grand scale, with the nave alone being sixteen times the height of a person. The buildings were impressive because of the large spaces and massive dimensions. Strong buttresses support tall walls in front of a richly carved stonework facade which looks like it has come from an engraving drawn with purist moderation. The panels and flat ceilings within these walls, as well as the vaults, are decorated with controlled paintwork.

One of the most notable expressions of the Actopan complex is its mural painting, which can be seen throughout an indoor tour of this monument. As we walk through we can see vast embellished sections which reflect the dignity of human existence, the fact of free and individual consciousness, which gives us the ability to appreciate art in any of its expressions. This idea was very widespread in the Renaissance and it was passed on to subsequent generations as an intellectual victory.

The pictorial motifs refer to a majestic dignity such as that of ancient Rome. In the vaults of the open chapel and the church we can see a fictional architecture which represents a coffered ceiling with sunken panels of the composite order. This order may be identified in the moldings in the arches of the pilgrims' gate, and in the pilasters of the facade. Other elements influenced by classical ideals are the grotesques, which abounded in the sixteenth century. Generally, these are figurative images which contain a mixture of animals, plants and artifices combined to form fantastical beings. These forms can be found in bands, strips or panels which are adapted to the architecture, especially at the level of the cornices or coping, in the corridors of the cloister, the walls of the church and other halls.

One of the genres used in addition to ornamental painting is narrative painting. It includes landscapes or scenes in which human figures participate as protagonists. Towards the exterior of the complex is the open chapel where the painting is directed towards the town. This includes passages from the Bible mixed with scene paintings which represent the sins and their punishments. The area restricted for the monastic community was in the interior of the complex. Here paintings were directed exclusively at the friars, hence there are paintings in the staircase of the cloister of various personages reading or meditating on the scriptures in a passive attitude. On the other hand the back wall of the anterefectory has a painting which represents the different states a monk passes through, rising through a process of spiritual ascent from his novitiate.
Under translation
Under translation


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