Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac

Article excerpt

A Gift of Angels: The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac. By Bernard L. Fontana. Photographs by Edward McCain. [Southwest Center Series.] (Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 2010. Pp. xx, 353. $75.00. ISBN 9780-816-52840-0.)

This handsome book is the culmination of the author's many years of study of one of the most important Mexican colonial buildings in the United States. Fontana' s first book about the building and site was Biography of a Desert Church: The Story of Mission San Xavier del Bac (Tucson, 1961). In the present volume, he provides the known facts about this Franciscan building erected between 1780 and 1793, which replaced an earlier Jesuit church, as well as fresh information on the church and especially on its decoration. His method is to guide the reader through the building, with the help of plans and photographs, to discuss the paintings that cover the walls and the sculptures in riches and altarpieces.

Following the introduction, the book is organized by areas of the building, as a visitor might walk through them. This is a good way to think about buildings and the works made for them, as it enables the reader to understand the relationships between the church and its artworks. For art historians, Fontana 's approach to the art and its iconography sometimes lacks context. There are selections of iconographie comparisons for each work that are usually interesting, but sometimes puzzling. Fontana does note the existence of similar sculptures in other churches built by the Franciscans toward the end of the eighteenth century in Mexico. …

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