Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The Cradle of Muralism


Last week I went to the Historic Center to see an art exhibit at the former "Colegio de San Ildefonso".  The building is considered a gem of Mexican 18th century baroque architecture.

In 1583 the Jesuits, leaders in educational institutions in colonial Mexico, established a school on this site dedicated to the medieval archbishop of Toledo, Ildefonsus.  Due to increasing enrollment, it was necessary to build a larger school.  In 1747 the present structure was inaugurated.  After the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spanish territories in 1767, the building had various functions, including a military barracks.  In 1867 the National Preparatory School was established here.  It was to become one of the most prestigious schools in the nation for university-bound students.  Today, the building, which is owned by the National University of Mexico, is a cultural center and a museum for art exhibitions.
After the Mexican Revolution, José Vasconcelos, the Secretary of Public Education, had the idea of painting the walls of public buildings with murals extolling the virtues of the Revolution.  It was basically art as propaganda, but it resulted in some of the great works of the 20th century.  The idea was first put into practice at San Ildefonso.  In 1922 Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint his first mural in the school's auditorium.  Other artists were hired to paint more murals, including José Clemente Orozco who, between 1922 and 1926 painted numerous works on the walls of the main patio and the stairwell.  For this reason, San Ildefonso is often called the "Cradle of Mexican Muralism".

I have been to San Ildefonso several times.  Even though I was there to see a special art exhibit, I took some time to look at the murals again, especially the ones by Orozco.  Although Orozco is perhaps not as well known outside of Mexico as Diego Rivera, he is considered one of the "Big Three" of Mexican muralism (along with Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros).

I have posted photos of the murals on this blog before, but that was years ago.  So, here is another look at some of Orozco's work...

The murals are currently undergoing restoration work.

"The Destruction of the Old Order"

The artist used scathing satire to portray the society of pre-Revolutionary Mexico.

"Law and Justice"

"The Aristocracy"


"The Family"

"The Workers"

"The Farewell"


Two of Orozco's most famous frescos are located in the stairwell.

"Cortés and Malinche"
Orozco used the Spanish conqueror and his native mistress to symbolize the birth of the Mexican people as a mixture of indigenous and European blood.

"The Franciscan"

In my next post, I will write about the art exhibit that was the reason for my visit to San Ildefonso.

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