In the history of humanity, precious metals have been used as a raw material in the making of sumptuary objects and in order to put a seal on rituals, traditions, and forms of everyday life. Objects of gold and silver, combining functionality and artistic expression, constitute an important area of study, collecting, and enjoyment within cultural history. This room puts on display various pieces of outstanding workmanship, created for both ornamental and ceremonial purposes and appreciated for their utility, their beauty, and, more recently, their design.
The visit includes a series of works of both historical and esthetic interest: ivories, miniatures, religious furnishings, textiles, jewelry, medals, La Granja crystal, spoons, ironwork, clocks, silver amalgams, maquettes, silver-plated coconut shells, caskets, and other objects. Special sections are devoted to Maximilian and Carlota, to Porfirio Díaz, and to Mexican coins and banknotes, which are considered from both a technical and an esthetic viewpoint. A reading that probes both the materials themselves and their loftiest destiny: the work of art.
Currency was established as a standard of value for the exchange of goods. In Europe, metallic tokens (i.e. coins) came into use around the seventh century b.c. Coins have been an essential element in Western economies since the sixteenth century, when European mercantilism began to displace other monetary and commercial systems in the Americas.
In New Spain, different coins were known by names such as the Carlos y Juana, the cruz, macuquinas, columnarias, and peluconas. Owing to their excellent quality, international transactions in the eighteenth century were carried out with these currencies. They were legal tender in other Spanish possessions and also in the areas that would become Canada and the United States, even during and after the Mexican War of Independence, a period when the minting of coins declined and their exportation began to be controlled.
Personal virtue and ceaseless striving toward perfection were the mandates of the Confucian philosophy that encouraged the efforts of Asian artisans in ivory, wood, textiles, paintings, and inlaid mother-of-pearl, on display in the permanent exhibit Asia in Ivories. Through the donation of the Laura Fernández MacGregor collection to Fundación Carlos Slim in 2012, more than six hundred pieces were added to the examples of viceregal decorative art already in the Museo Soumaya. The cultural and philosophical legacy of Asia was turned into ivory in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism. The historical Buddha and ideal Buddhas. The immortals of Chinese mythology, capable of destroying evil. Wise men, rulers, monks, damsels, nayikas (celestial dancers), children, legendary and symbolic animals, such as dragons, chimeras, and fenghuang, elephants, turtles, and the curious Foo dogs, or guardian lions, also known as Buddha’s lions.
Also represented in the collection are Christian images fashioned with Asian mastery and delicacy. Christ figures decorated not only with ferric pigments but also with real blood. Encounters and collisions: the Virgin Mary and the Buddha of compassion (Guanyin), alongside the martyrs of Japan. There are also the images of the Orient that nourished the Western imaginary, the origin of chinoiseries in the form of screens, tiles, textiles, and furniture.
A journey through time, a view of Asia, and a bridge joining philosophy, history, art, and ancient culture.
The museum’s collection of masterworks of European art, produced from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century by masters of the Flemish, Spanish, German, Italian, and French schools, enters into dialogue, in an interplay of influences and individual character, with works by the masters of New Spain.
Certain themes were constants in the religious production of these painters: depictions of sacred history, representations of Christ and the Virgin Mary, allegories and saints’ lives. In a secular vein, there are some remarkable portraits and scenes of everyday life, executed with impeccable mastery.
Great painters and anonymous artists, who constitute an exceptional combination in an “interplay of mirrors” reflecting life in Europe and New Spain, with works that endure in our memory. For art historian Ernst Gombrich, European art and the art of the New World represent two realities, two world views, two sensibilities, and two ways of stripping things to their essentials, though they also offer fortunate and surprising coincidences.
Landscape has always been a source of poetic and costumbrista inspiration, associated with a diversity of latitudes, climes, and regions. Scenes that sometimes reflect daily life in dialogue with nature, in which human figures are inserted like primordial elements of creation. Landscape can also represent the essence of the individual, the consciousness of origins, the matrix of ancient mythologies and traditions. In the words of the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh: I still can find no better definition of the word art than this, “L’art c’est l’homme ajouté à la nature” [art is man added to nature].
In the nineteenth century, travelers came to Mexico from all over the world, attracted by the abundance and natural riches of the country. New scenes were captured, tinged with the Romantic spirit of the age. Landscape painting, according to Barbara Eschenburg, developed a meticulous study of the details of nature and an interest…in fleeting effects of light and atmospheric conditions.
Impressionism focused on the luminosity of any given site. Works executed en plein air became a standby of modern landscape painting. Figures quivering under the light, vivid coloring and free brushstrokes, the eliminations of outlines, and the ephemeral stimulus of brief moments would be the guiding threads of landscape painting in the last third of the nineteenth century. The year 1905 marked the advent of the avant-garde movements. In the words of art historian Mario De Micheli: It was the fascination of a new vision…mirror of a collective soul free of all links with civil slavery…The avant-garde artists…reflected all the reasons of rebellion and culture, canons, and conventionalisms.
A journey into the Age of Rodin takes us through his most important projects: the myths and allegories that gave new meaning to classical sources; the works of fragmentation and movement, where Rodin’s avant-garde side comes to the fore; and the living legacy he bequeathed to future generations. In the words of the artist: My heart is a chapelle ardente…I take up my past again…those delightful studies that offered me the gusto and secret of life. To whom do I owe this favor? Doubtless to the long walks that have made me discover the sky…to the modeled earth that, without speaking, if I may so express it, has given birth to my enthusiasm and my patience and my curiosity and my pleasure in understanding the human flora.
In the middle of the nineteenth century, the Academy and the French government organized annual exhibitions called Salons. Neoclassical painting and sculpture embraced ancient history, mythology, and allegory.
Auguste Rodin had failed to be admitted to the Académie des Beaux-Arts and was trained at the Petite École, a school of design and mathematics. He aspired to be acknowledged as an artist and submitted―unsuccessfully―his Mask of the Man with a Broken Nose to the jury of the 1865 Salon. He worked with Carrier-Belleuse at the Sèvres porcelain factory and with Antoine Joseph van Rasbourgh in Belgium, creating decorative sculptures.
Under the influence of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux―the celebrated creator of the sculptural group Dance on the façade of the Paris Opera―and the anatomical sculpture of Michelangelo, Rodin would find his own style. With The Gates of Hell, his first public commission, he contributed to fixing the visual image of the Third Republic and introducing new forms of modern art.