By Richard D. Perry
As the mother house of the Dominicans in the region, the grand priory of Santo Domingo in Oaxaca City exerted a major influence on everyday life and society in colonial Oaxaca, both religious and secular as well as on its art and architecture.
Most of the original wall and ceiling ornamentation inside the church, as well as the adjacent convento and Rosary chapel, features painted stucco relief dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, much of it created by artisans and stucco workers from Puebla.
With the dissolution of the priory in the mid-19th century, however, the church was converted into an army barracks. The interior was vandalized and many altarpieces burned. When the church was returned to the Dominicans in the 1930s an ambitious program of interior restoration began, eventually completed in 1976. Further work has been done in more recent years.
While many of the original walls and ceilings have been restored, the altarpieces and many other furnishings are modern reproductions. The sumptuous gilded main altarpiece, together with the ornate pulpit and altar rail, were reconstructed on the basis of old descriptions and surviving examples from the period—notably the main retablo at Yanhuitlán.
Restoration of the interior in keeping with its colonial appearance has continued with the recent creation of an altarpiece dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Located in the south transept of the church, this new retablo is designed in traditional Oaxacan Baroque style with encrusted spiral columns, jutting cornices hung with spindles, a variety of rectangular and oval frames and gilded filigree ornament.
The classic representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe at center is complemented by the Four Apparitions in the small ovals in the gable.
However, the four paintings of archangels with gilded windblown draperies, mounted in the side niches, are of 18th century origin, attributed to the noted baroque painter José de Páez, whose work appears elsewhere in Oaxaca City, notably in the church of San Felipe Neri. Apart from Gabriel, those portrayed are among the lesser known archangels.
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