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Our Lady of the Fountain

Known as El maestro transhumante, the "peripatetic master," Felipe de Ureña was among the most influential of the Mexican born architect /designers to introduce and develop the Churrigueresque style in New Spain. During the second half of the 18th century, together with other family members, he was primarily responsible for the adoption and evolution of this ornate late baroque style into cities across Mexico, especially along the silver routes north of Mexico City. Primarily an innovative designer and fabricator of altarpieces, Ureña later adapted the barroco estípite style as it was called, for church facades.

Soon after he moved to Mexico City in 1735, Felipe de Ureña took up several important commissions; some together with other artists and designers. One of his earliest and best documented surviving works is the spectacular gilded altarpiece of Our Lady of the Fountain in the elite Concepcionista church of Regina Coeli, which had been expanded and remodeled by Miguel Custodio Durán, a leading architect of the time.

In collaboration with the noted painter and gilder Francisco Martínez, Ureña contracted for the retablo in 1738. Despite its early date, the innovative composition of the retablo provides compelling evidence of Ureña's forward looking design sense. Here, the estípite pilaster, the signature motif of the then new Mexican Churrigueresque style, is already taking second place to the more decorative and less structural niche-pilaster, a feature that has traditionally led scholars to attribute a much later date to the altarpiece.

The iconic pose of the popular Virgin of the Fountain (top), painted in a more static, folkloric style, stands in vivid contrast to the ornate geometry of the structure and the animated statues of archangels that gesture from the principal niches.

Altarpiece of Our Lady of the Fountain, church of Regina Coeli, Mexico City