Recognizing the power of public art, Jose Vasconcelas, Mexico’s first Minister of Education after the revolution, commissioned a series of murals for a country still recovering from conflict. The Feast of the Holy Cross (originally titled The Reconstruction of Mexico by Workers and Intellects) was created by Roberto Montenegro, a pioneer of the twentieth century Mexican muralist movement, in 1924 at the former convent of San Pedro y Pablo in Mexico City’s historic center. This masterpiece captures a moment in Mexican history, after the revolution, when the government sought to unify a war-torn country.The ideals expressed in this and other murals of the time are a defining element of Mexico’s modern artistic movement and foster civic pride and national spirit.
Montenegro’s masterpiece conserved
In 2001, with support from Friends of Heritage Preservation, we collaborated with the Mexican Institute of Fine Arts to conserve Montenegro’s mural. Extensive investigations revealed that soil deposits in the lower levels of the building were a significant source of the dampness damaging the mural. Deep cracks were repaired, and new drainage channels were installed to prevent excessive moisture from saturating the walls and damaging the mural. By 2004, mural surfaces were fully cleaned and the project completed. Probes during the investigations revealed evidence of burials from when the building was used as a convent and religious complex. Archaeological investigations were undertaken to fully examine the area before conservation work continued. The Montenegro mural is a paean of the social and artistic aspirations of Mexico, and of one of the country’s great art forms.