A tourist takes a photo with the backdrop of the “Alegoria de la Virgen de Guadalupe” mural at the main entrance of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. The mural was created by Mexican artist Fermin Revueltas between 1922 and 1923, when the walls of San Ildefonso became the canvases on which the muralist movement came to life.

A tourist takes a photo with the backdrop of the “Alegoria de la Virgen de Guadalupe” mural at the main entrance of the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. The mural was created by Mexican artist Fermin Revueltas between 1922 and 1923, when the walls of San Ildefonso became the canvases on which the muralist movement came to life.

Marco Ugart / AP

Mexico City’s mural movement, now a century old, is marked with a major exhibition

Between 1922 and 1923, the walls of Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso became the canvases for the emerging movement led by Fermín Revueltas, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, among others.

MEXICO CITY — Across the main entrance of a former Jesuit college in Mexico City, a brightly colored mural depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe represents both the Indigenous religiosity and the Christianity that shaped the culture of post-colonial Mexico.

The mural was created by Mexican artist Fermín Revueltas between 1922 and 1923, when the walls of Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso became the canvases for the country’s emerging muralist movement.

Revueltas, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco were among those who led the artistic movement a century ago. Now, to honor them, the baroque building that serves as a museum is hosting an exhibition reflecting on the significance of their monumental art.

The exhibition — which recently added a contemporary mural created by Mexican craftsmen inspired by the old masters — runs run through June 12. That mural, called “La Muerte de las Culturas” (“The Death of Cultures”), depicts Mexicans of African descent struggling for freedom and equality and how the community’s identity was forged from that.

Jonatan Chávez, San Ildefonso’s historian, said the muralism arose in a highly politicized context. Many of the wall paintings criticized political leaders, inequality and the Catholic church, as the young muralists were influenced by revolutionary nationalism and academic scholarship that transformed their ideas about the Indigenous population. Some artists expressed their social and political views by painting divine figures or religious references.

A 1924 fresco that José Clemente Orozco titled “La Alcancía” (“The Piggy Bank”) shows two slender hands depositing coins into a box that’s open at the bottom, dropping the money into another hand that looks more powerful and represents the Catholic church.

A mural by Jose Clemente Orozco titled, “Franciscans” — depicting a friar embracing an Indigenous man — adorns the ceiling, vault and side of a stairwell inside the former Jesuit college Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. Divine figures and religious references frequently are found in the murals at San Ildefonso because religion became a key part of the cultural identity of the country after the Spanish conquest, an expert says. 

A mural by Jose Clemente Orozco titled, “Franciscans” — depicting a friar embracing an Indigenous man — adorns the ceiling, vault and side of a stairwell inside the former Jesuit college Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City. Divine figures and religious references frequently are found in the murals at San Ildefonso because religion became a key part of the cultural identity of the country after the Spanish conquest, an expert says.

Marco Ugarte / AP

For a few other muralists — such as Revueltas and Fernando Leal — the aim was to find new ways to portray what the military and spiritual conquest led by the Spaniards meant.

“San Ildefonso has that reminiscence where the religious is present because it is part of the cultural identity of the people,” Chávez said.

Hundreds of years before 1923, when the earliest murals were finished, this was the place where the Jesuits led their educational work. The Jesuits arrived in the capital half a century after the Spanish conquest, in 1572, and a few years later founded San Ildefonso, a school for seminarians and missionaries. Their objective was to educate the descendants of Spaniards who were born in the colony, Chávez said.

Before they were expelled from the Spanish empire in 1767, the Jesuits traveled extensively. According to Chávez, these priests visited remote towns, seeking to understand the worldview of these people, whose Indigenous spiritual practices intertwined with new Christian customs and beliefs.

“They went beyond these branches of spiritual identity or the diffusion of faith,” Chávez said.

This dynamic allowed the Jesuits to teach them arts and crafts and also strengthened the concept of “criollo” identity, a theme the muralists portrayed in the 20th century.

“Alegoría de la Virgen de Guadalupe” (“Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe”), created by Revueltas, is an example of it. In it, the Virgin Mary is seen with her children — men and women with different skin tones — praying around her.

The painting isn’t meant to inspire devotion, Chávez said, but to portray how Our Lady of Guadalupe unifies people of different races and origins.

On the right side of the main stairs of San Ildefonso, a piece by Jean Charlot illustrates the massacre the Spaniards led in 1521 at the most sacred site of the Aztec empire — Templo Mayor.

On the opposite wall, Leal portrays what came after the conquest and the imported Christianity of the Spanish: religious festivities where sacred and profane symbols blend.

In a recent article published in a digital magazine from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, art historians Rita Eder and Renato González wrote that these murals praise the country’s ancient cultures while strongly rejecting the violence brought by the Spanish conquest.

Artists like Charlot, they wrote, “identify the Conquest as the most significant process in the history of Mexico and its characterization as a struggle between civilization and barbarism (the latter, of course, represented by the armored attackers).”

According to Chávez, these murals will never lose relevance because they are a way to understand how history triggers a constant redefinition.

“Our past is important,” he said, “because it speaks of our present. These murals tell a lot about who we are and what we are made of.”

The Latest
There was nothing Williams could do in four non-padded practices to prove he’s the franchise quarterback the Bears need. But less than a week into camp, one thing is clear: He’s the right guy in the right place. The Justin Fields option is a mere footnote in Ryan Poles’ rebuild.
Leaders of the “One Future Illinois” PAC aim to “provide more balance in civic dialogue.” It includes business heavyweights who’ve held prominent positions in city and state government.
The worst recent increase in crime came under Trump’s watch, but many Americans blame President Joe Biden.
I enjoy the steps in trying a new urban waterway, almost as much as the fishing itself. Urban waterways are unique experiences that seem a space apart.
The acidity of the Champagne cuts through the fat and salt or the potatoes, while the fat and salt balances the acidity.