Sunday, 7 June 2015

Mexico City 2 June: The Museo Franz Mayer

I had hesitated writing up the visit to this lovely museum, because it remarkable, because it required some thought... and we then were rushing to and taken up by Guanajuato.

We saw the permanent exhibition. It is a display of beautiful things of Nueva España. As found in Mexico, this capital city Mexico City exercising power far beyond. As wikipedia reports:
The Viceroyalty of New Spain came to encompass the territories of Spain in North America , Central America , Asia and Oceania .
The word 'guerilla' was coined during
Napoleon's nasty Peninsular War.
Napoleon installed his brother as king.
Napoleon's forces faced their most
vicious opposition from those
downtrodden by the Bourbons
in Spain and Naples.
I wrote about the latter in Naples.
The aristocrats of New Spain were
appalled by the introduction of
liberalisms into Spain.
Not for them... but the literature
 of the enlightenment was smuggled in
and read by many, studied by many,
including Miguel Hidalgo
the mild mannered middle class priest
whose 'Grito' for independence
 in 1810 is now Mexico's National Day.
Helen made the observation, breath-taken by the wealth, that one could see why the dispossessed would be inclined to revolt.

But then my mind went to the generality of unshared wealth in the past and to the worlds of luxury and horror depicted by Goya back in Spain 200 years ago, from which time the Franz Mayer collection is drawn. Click here to get the flavour of things back in Spain.

How far away is this from modern? I recall my ambassador in a European capital in 1968, sharing views with a visiting mature aged journalist, about the uprisings by students in 1968 in Paris and elsewhere: "They should just shoot a few of the fellows, that would settle it down." "Yes, yes."

The legend is that this was the Duchess of Alba.
Goya painted her twice: nude and clothed,
as one should when painting the prime minister's
mistress at a vicious, glorious, repressive Bourbon court.
The wealthy of New Spain, or some of them, would be battered by the hatred of the indigenous whom they had beaten into submission. I write now looking out the window in Guanajuato at the Granaditos de la Alhondiga, the granary to which the Spanish population retreated in 1810 when they heard that Miguel Hidalgo was coming with a hoard of indigenous people to attack Guanajuato. All the Spaniards in the Alhondiga were killed. The savagery of the attack led Hidalgo later to decide not to advance upon Mexico City, this cost his life and ended the insurrection for the time being. He had plainly not been able to read Clausewitz, whose On War was not published by by his widow until 1832. From Clausewitz he would have learned that the instrument of war drives out policy, as his fighting masses did in despoiling as they went; as also Clausewitz would have informed him as should have informed the presidents Bush and others that you haven't won until you've defeated the will of the enemy.

Back to New Spain and its finery at the Franz Mayer.

It was also helpful to perspective to come upon Cossio del Pomar's in San Miguel de Allende on the bookshelf of this Casa Azul in Guanajuato. Del Pomar was a Peruvian artist who having met Diego Rivera and Jose Vasconcelos in France, came to Mexico and was the main founder of San Miguel de Allende as a centre for arts and art teaching.

The book begins:
The conquerors of the great American empires, the Conquistadores, thought of their homeland, Spain, as a "poor country." Consequently their legacy to us, their descendants, was a driving force to be wealthy.
 That is as it may be, but wealth is expressed and exhibited in acquisition and display of things. In the capital of Nueva Espana were accumulated remarkable things. And as a Viceroyalty that looked both east and west, to Spain, beyond to Holland, where Spain had a record of conquest and defeat;  away across the Pacific to the Philippines, part of Nueva Espana and gathering loot from beyond with traders into Japan and China, where also Jesuits had gone.

This perspective is important in looking at this collection which finally, finally I have the decency to offer. Bits. Go and see. Wonderful stuff!

As you walk in, tucked against the side wall,
this astonishing woollen tapestry from Flanders, sixteenth century.

detail of Flanders tapestry

and turn around to see these treasures from China and Delft

walk upstairs and see this at the top, a map of Mexico City after the conquest, after the style of a Chinese screen

all photos enlarged if you click on one

for the staff there are surely classes in deportment
and the wearing of fine click-click shoes on wooden floors...
such a place to work.

Described here in Spanish as conch painting, the shells in this work are the capiz shells of The Philippines.
I have not seen quite such painting in Manila, though it may exist in the cathedral
 but these are here in Mexico, may have been painted here, the shells or the artworks
arriving in Mexico on the Manila Galleon, described at wikipedia.

and here a local wool tapestry with Mexican art influence

After seeing that last item... to continue the opening words of Cossio del Pomar, begun above:

Supported by the power of their swords, they created fragile social systems in this harsh topography of mountains and rivers. But they were dominated by its earthy profundity which, after all is said and done, has the last word.  In time, the arts and letters , cultivated like artificial plants, affected syncretism that caused the American creative sap to flow.
We went back out from the specific amazements of the Museo Franz Mayer into the general amazements of Mexico City, tiptoeing past our friends the chess masters.

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