Modern Mural Paintings
Jose Vasconcelas, Mexico’s first Minister of Education following the country’s revolution, saw the value of public art as a vehicle to foster civic pride and national spirit. Thus, he commissioned a series of murals throughout Mexico City to convey cultural ideals and instill a strong sense of community for a country still recovering from conflict. The most complete surviving mural is the masterpiece entitled The Feast of the Holy Cross, originally titled The Reconstruction of Mexico by Workers and Intellects, by Roberto Montenegro, an artist and pioneer of the twentieth century Mexican muralist movement. Painted in 1923-24, the mural decorates the main stairwell of the ex-convent of San Pedro y Pablo in the historic center of Mexico City.
How We Helped
In 2001, WMF, with support from Friends of Heritage Preservation, collaborated with the Mexican Institute of Fine Arts to conserve Montenegro’s masterpiece, The Feast of the Holy Cross. Extensive investigations revealed that soil deposits in the lower levels of the building were a significant source of the dampness in the building that was damaging the mural. Modern partitions were removed and deep cracks were repaired. New drainage channels were installed to prevent excessive moisture from saturating the walls and damaging the mural in the future. The mural surfaces were fully cleaned and the project was completed in 2004. During investigations, probes revealed evidence of burials associated with the time the building was actively used as a convent and religious complex. Archaeological investigations were undertaken to examine the area properly before conservation work continued.
Why It Matters
Roberto Montenegro’s masterpiece mural The Feast of the Holy Cross captures a moment in Mexican history when, immediately following the revolution, the government sought to unify a war-torn country through public art. The ideals expressed within the murals offer insight into the social and cultural climate of Mexico in that era. Twentieth-century murals became a defining element of the modern artistic movement in the country and the Montenegro mural, in particular, is emblematic of the social and artistic aspirations of the period.