These are the times to maintain to create a reservoir of the inescapable changes in the present, past, and future. A repository of such tangible memories of the past is a place referred to as a museum.
Museums are a definition of a tank of reserves that hold evidence of all the happenings of the past and also remind the civilizations, lifestyle, and cultures of ancestors and predicts the process of changes in the future. Conversing about how the evolution of society and civilizations takes place; museums are places that any inquisitor would land to!
Being inquisitive to this thought, how do such articles of memories and significant importance accumulate in one place to create a museum?
The answer lies in the story of a prestigious museum in Mexico that houses valuable decorative arts from past centuries, serving as an inspiration for history preservation.
About the Museum
The Franz Mayer Museum is widely recognized as a premier institution showcasing Mexico’s decor’s decorative arts. It was meticulously created using the personal collection of a German investor bearing the same name. The Museum contains esteemed collections of cultural significance to both Mexican and European communities. The collection enables us to admire artworks from diverse origins, materials, and artistic movements spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries, predominantly from Mexico, Europe, and the East. The collection comprises silverware, ceramics, furniture, textiles, sculptures, and paintings.
The Franz Mayer Museo occupies an exceptional building from the latter half of the 16th century, possessing immense heritage and architectural significance, and having served diverse purposes throughout its 400-year history.
In the mid-16th century, the space housed the Casa del Peso de la Harina, a granary for flour storage. Later on, in 1586, the Hospital de los Desamparados was established, with the order of San Juan de Dios assuming responsibility for the premises in 1604. It is during this period that the building assumes the architectural structure known as the “convent hospital type”, as its cloister is integrated with the Church of San Juan de Dios, connecting to the choir and the sacristy.
Following two centuries of labor, the religious orders are ousted from the premises, and control of the hospital is transferred to the Mexico City Council.
In the era of the Second Mexican Empire, Maximilian of Habsburg mandated the establishment of a Health Institute within the hospital facilities, dedicated to providing specialized care for prostitutes afflicted with venereal diseases. It retained its status as a Women’s Hospital, albeit with different designations, for several years until its recognition as a historical monument in 1931.
The Federal Government saved the Old Hospital of San Juan de Dios from collapsing by granting it to the Franz Mayer Cultural Trust in 1981. Following a year of extensive preparation and restoration efforts, the historical monument is now poised to serve as the residence of the Franz Mayer Museum and its valuable collections.
The Franz Mayer Museum is committed to the conservation of this significant space on whose walls it is possible to find decorative or structural elements of the original building.
Premises planned to initiate a different activity than the ongoing one often hinders its functionality. However, in the case of Museo Franz Mayer, the premises and building were initially intended for a hospital or a caregiving hospice center. Conversely, the building’s design and surroundings lent an exceptionally distinctive quality to the Franz Mayer Museum.
The inner courtyard; also known as the cloister; is a feature that sets apart the architecture of the museum. In this tranquil setting, characterized by towering trees draped in vines, a modest central fountain with irregular tiles, and the only sounds being the melodious chirping of birds and whispered conversations in the café, one would hardly believe they were in the midst of Mexico City’s chaos. The space is widely recognized as a sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of the city, leading the museum to offer a separate ticket for entry.
In 2004, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, declared the museum’s courtyard and gardens a “Zone of Peace.” It is the only place in Mexico City to receive this recognition and is joined by El Charco del Ingenio in San Miguel de Allende.
The Mayer Collection has a notable section on Mexican Colonial ceramics. Although the ceramics of Puebla —the main pottery center of New Spain (as Mexico was known in Colonial times) were originally known as loza blanca (white earthenware), they later came to be known as Talavera poblano (“Talavera”-style pottery from Puebla). These ceramic vases, trays, bowls, urns, and tiles exemplify Colonial art. The collection includes Chinese porcelain and Spanish ceramics, showcasing the background of Puebla ceramics.
The museum has a significant collection of Mexican and Spanish furniture, including chairs, chests of drawers, tables, consoles, and corner cupboards. Chiapas is the main source of exceptional Mexican furniture. Michoacán, Oaxaca and Puebla. Of the Spanish pieces, the elegant cupboards are particularly striking. This valuable section is filled out with many pieces of 18th- and 19th-century Central European furniture.
The section devoted to gold and in particular silverwork is of special importance, containing a rich variety of objects, whether liturgical, utilitarian, sumptuary, or simply decorative. Most of these pieces are from Spain and Colonial Mexico.
The 115 timepieces in the collection are noteworthy for their rarity, quality, beauty, and sheer quantity. It consists of 15 grandfather clocks, 35 table clocks, 4 wall clocks, 23 pocket watches, as well as 31 sundials and 7 sandglasses. The oldest piece in the collection is a “lantern clock” dating from approximately 1680.
Classic sarapes and traditional shawls (rebozos) are among the most striking pieces in the textile section. This collection includes European tapestries and carpets from various countries, as well as some extremely beautiful examples of religious attire.
The museum also includes a valuably set of paintings, engravings, and sculptures. The painting collection is divided into two large groups:
European works, mainly of the Spanish, Italian, and Flemish schools; and Mexican works, mainly from the Colonial period as well as several paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries —featuring works by such artists as Cabrera, Villalpando, Arellano, and Correa.
Also striking are the “feathered” pictures and paintings which include applications of mother of pearl, especially a splendid Virgin of Guadalupe and a four-panel folding screen displaying scenes of the Conquest.
Historia del Edificio (2021) Museo Franz Mayer. Available at: https://franzmayer.org.mx/historia-del-edificio/ (Accessed: 05 November 2023).
Borell, H.R. (1993) UNAM, Voices of Mexico. Available at: http://www.revistascisan.unam.mx/Voices/pdfs/2605.pdf (Accessed: 05 November 2023).
Ugc (2019) The courtyard of the Franz Mayer Museum, Atlas Obscura. Available at: https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/franz-mayer-museum-courtyard-garden (Accessed: 05 November 2023).