Franz Mayer Museum is primarily dedicated to the decorative arts and design.
The German-borne collector Franz Mayer arrived in Mexico in 1905, where he established himself as a prominent figure in the Mexican financial world, and became a Mexican citizen in 1933.
By the 1930’s, at the end of the Mexican Revolution, Mayer’s businesses started to thrive and he began assembling, his collection, which includes more than 10,000 objects dating from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
Many of these objects were originally made for people to use them in their daily lives; they acquired a certain beauty in their manufacture and are today considered works of decorative art.
Formerly San Juan de Dios Monastery and Hospital
The structure in which the Franz Mayer Museum resides has its origins in the sixteenth and early seventeenth century monastery and hospital of San Juan de Dios, in the downtown historic center of Mexico City. The building as it stands today conserved from seventeenth-century and later constructions.
The access to the main gateway of the museum is through the small and interesting Plaza de la Santa Veracruz, where one can experience the commercial activity and cultural life of the historic downtown district.
The La Santa Veracruz Plaza
In this plaza, the gateways to two churches are visible: the first that of “La Vera Cruz” (The True Cross) the first church, built on what was then New Spain by Hernán Cortés, and the second that of a church built after the San Juan de Dios Monastery and other constructions also added after.
The two churches built one in front of one another, about 100 meters apart. The two magnificent facades of these churches, of different styles from different historical periods
Standing in the “Plaza de la Vera Cruz” and looking at its surroundings, one notices that the plaza, the two churches, and the museum building all have their first floor below the ground levels of the surrounding buildings.
This sinking has taken place over the last five centuries for most of the constructions buil on the downtown area. This is due to the fact that what now is known as the downtown center of Mexico City built on what, at the arrival of Hernán Cortés in 1519, was a lake. (At the very center of this lake was an island on which stood the Mexicas’ Great Temple of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan.)
Over the last five hundred years, the former lake has been subject to a continuous drying and replenishing process: as construction has been done, people have filled the basin of the lake with soil and other materials; since the lake is in the great Valley of Mexico, however, rainwater continues to drain into the basin, and needs to be extracted.
The Valley itself surrounded by mountains and inundates with rain, six months out of the year. In the past few decades the government has deployed enormous resources to keep up the former lake at optimal water levels, to prevent not only further sinking, but also the flooding of that part of the city.
From its sixteenth-century origins to the present, the museum building was used for various purposes. For centuries it was the home of different hospitals dedicated to women’s health care. It then became the property of Mexico City.
Eventually the construction, then in ruins, is transferred to a trust administered by The Bank of Mexico for its reconstruction, becoming the home for the collection ceded by Franz Mayer to the Mexican people. After almost 10 years of renovation, the Franz Mayer Museum opened its doors to the public in 1986.
The wide variety of objects and art pieces that one can contemplate in the Franz Mayer Museum is meant to be appreciated for its perfect design and beauty, and show its owner changing tastes throughout past centuries.
The collection includes furniture; decorative objects such as ceramic pieces, carpets, tapestries and fine cloths of different periods; silver liturgical objects; and objects originally made for daily use.
It also has paintings and sculptures made by master artists from the viceroy-ship of the New Spain, as well as by celebrated European and other twentieth-century artists.
A magnificent two-floor gallery occupies the interior of the museum’s building. The building encircles a typical colonial garden or patio with a beautiful fountain in the center.
Within this seventeenth-century architectural space, visitors can feel a sensation of peace. It is fitting that, in its original design, this space symbolized paradise.
Furniture and decorative pieces
A rich collection of household goods from the New Spain Viceroyship period is included in the museum’s galleries: armchairs, writing desks,with drawers adorned with incrustations of shell, tortoise-shell and bone, and a number of trunks designed for different purposes, made of various designs and elaborate cabinet work.
Also on display are folding screens. One of them decorated on one of its panels with paintings that recount the history of New Spain; on its back panels ornamented with a map of the old city of Mexico, which shows its constructions, waterways and aqueduct. One can also see a dining room set which, with certain variations, is still being e replicated to this day.
Puebla’s Talavera ceramics and other ceramics and porcelain
The Mayer collection has valuable and extensive examples of embellished ceramics. The first pieces of enameled ceramics as well as the techniques by which they were manufactured, came to New Spain from China.
New Spain craftsmen appropriated the design of China’s enameled ceramics as well as manufacturing pieces in their own style, known today as Talavera Poblana.
The museum’s ceramics collection also includes objects from the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth century, as well as European ceramic pieces and Chinese porcelain ware.
Mayer’s collection of Chinese porcelain reflects the vigorous commercial appetite for these pieces after the Viceroy-ship period.
Silver and liturgical objects
This collection has an extensive variety of silver objects meant for daily use, such as plates, trays and jars that stand out for their beauty as decorative art; made by New Spain craftsmen, who used different techniques influenced by pre-Hispanic vessels and other pre-Hispanic daily use objects.
This part of the collection also includes a great number of silver religious and liturgical objects, adorned with religious themes and crafted in the viceroy period with elaborate detail and refinement.
When observing the changes in these objects over the last centuries, it is interesting to notice their variations in form, color, motifs, and styles, and the innovations involved in their manufacture. These changes and innovations sometimes produced articles that had practically the same purposes throughout several centuries.
Paintings and Sculptures
Here we can find paintings dating from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, by European as well as Mexican artists. This collection includes works by two classical painters from the viceroy-ship period, Juan Correa and Cristobal de Villalpando, as well as paintings by Diego Rivera from the Mexican Muralist Movement of the first half of the twentieth century.
Additionally, this collection has paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán, a painter of the Spanish golden century of the 1600’s; Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, a Spanish painter of art of illuminations; Ignasio Zuloaga Zabaleta, one of the most important Spanish painters from the ends of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth and a representative of Modernism.
The collection also includes works by Frans van Mieris, a Dutch Baroque painter; Anello Falcone, an Italian Baroque painter; and José de Rivera y Cuco, a seventeenth-century Spanish painter and engraver who developed his style in Italy.
Probably the most recognizable sculptures in this collection are the “estofados”, are sculptures carved on wood, painted with many different colors and covered on some parts by gold engraving.
On the walls of the museum also hang magnificent carpets, tapestries and textiles made by diverse manufacturers. It is interesting to note that Franz Mayer, an avid photographer interested in the pre-Hispanic and local cultures of Mexico, traveled throughout the territory of Mexico and collected important examples of rebozos dressing pieces worn by women to protect them from the sun and the cold, and sarapes from the Saltillo region, very colorful pieces of clothing worn by men to shield from them from the cold.
Rogelio Casas- Alatriste’s Library
The museum’ s library , on the first floor of the building, has that on its own merits could fill a separate article.
Its holdings include more than 22,000 pieces that range from incunable books, first editions and other rare books including an opera scores collection from Italian, French, German and Mexican composers.
In addition, the library owns periodicals, newspapers, and catalogs from Sotheby’s auction house , which was actually one of the sources from which Franz Mayer acquired part of his collection.
The library collection is primarily dedicated to books and magazines focused on art, architecture, furniture, the decorative arts and Mexico’s history as viewed by foreign authors.
The library’s holdings might be one of the most important private collections in the world for these subjects. Also included is an extensive collection of nearly 900 original editions of Cervantes´s Don Quixote in different languages, as well a large choice of images of Don Quixote.
At the present most of this library’s holdings are digitized and accessible to the public. The library named for Mr. Rogelio Casas-Alatriste, president of the guardianship of the trust that oversees Franz Mayer’s legacy.
Hidalgo 45, Centro Histórico, México D.F. 06300 – Tel. 55182266 – email@example.com