I had seen the most iconic murals by Diego Rivera in my Spanish textbooks, but I was unaware of the importance of Mexican Muralism as a whole. As a movement it began in the 1920’s with artists painting large murals loaded with political messages after the Mexican Revolution, and Diego Rivera was just one artist in this movement. I planned my day with three visits to Diego Rivera murals. Along the way I was also impressed with other artists like Siqueiros and Orozco, in Bellas Artes.
1. El Palacio de Bellas Artes
Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico
$60 pesos entry fee, $30 fee to take photos, cash only
The upper floors of this cultural center are filled with murals, including masterpieces by the three most well-known artists of the genre: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Man, Controller of the Universe, by Diego Rivera, is one of the most well-known paintings in the museum. It’s a recreation of a painting (Man at the Crossroads) originally commissioned by the Rockefellers. The original was destroyed due to the depiction of communist leader Lenin. Using photographs of the original Rivera recreated this version in Mexico under a new title. The painting represents the replacement of superstition with science, and the overthow of the autocrats by the liberated working class.
New Democracy by David Alfaro Siqueiros. The central figure here represents free humankind with both feminine and masculine traits, and also brings to mind the symbols of the french revolution.
Torment of Cuauhtémoc, by David Alfaro Siqueiros. This is the painting that made me pause the longest, the sadness in Cuauhtémoc’s eyes feels so real and the dog looks ready to jump out of the painting to attack the viewer. It represents when Cuauhtémoc was tortured to reveal the hidden treasures of Tenochtitlan. The woman died red behind him represents the nation itself, next to a smaller mutilated girl copying her posture.
Carnival of Mexican Life, by Diego Rivera. The picture above only includes 3 of the 4 panels (my bad, one was behind a column).
In the first panel, The Dictatorship, a giant that seems to be a combination of Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt and Hirohitoh holds a flag with the colors of Germany, Italy, Japan and the US. In the second panel, The Dance of the Huichilobos, the prehispanic god of war, Huitzilopochtli, is depicted with mestizo features and a Spanish uniform to allude to the violence of the Spanish conquest. in the third panel, Touristic and Folkloric Mexico, a group of people with donkey faces watch a group of dancers at the Festival of the Chinelos, mocking the Spanish conquistadors.
Rivera painted these panels in 1936 but they were so politically controversial they were stored until 1963 when they were moved here to Bellas Artes.
The fourth panel that I missed above is here on the left, the Legend of Agustín Lorenzo. This panel portrays the confrontation of the bandit/hero from the 19th century and the French troops in the War of French Intervention.
On the right is Liberation by Jorge González Camarena, it’s a recreation of an earlier painting that was destroyed by an earthquake. The painting portrays slavery and shows various men casting their bindings off.
Catharsis by Jose Clemente Orozco. This painting is an overall critique of society, portraying general anarchy and social decay.
The National Palace
Ok, I titled it how to see Diego Rivera and got carried away by all of his colleagues in Bellas Artes. Back on track with Rivera, one of his most iconic works is in the National Palace on the Zocalo. The sheer size of the stairwell mural here will make you feel small as you stare up from below.
The painting depicts the history of Mexico, with scenes pre-colonial Mexico on the right. The center portrays the Spanish conquest, both military and religious. On the left panel the rise of the working class is depicted, of course with Frida Kahlo present among the people.
On the upper floor the murals continue, depicting life before the Spanish conquest. The paintings were intended to circle the entire floor but were never completed.
Diego Rivera Mural Museum
Located in the Alameda Park
Entry fee is 30 pesos, 5 additional pesos to take photos.
This museum was created to hold just this one painting: Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.
On the far left is Hernan Cortes, with blood on his hands. Frida is in the center, with Diego Rivera painting himself a child sheltered right in front of her. There are elegant upper class women flanking them, with a skeleton figure parodying their very look front and center. There’s so much to take in that it’s almost better that there is only one main attraction in this museum and you can focus your attention solely on it.
These three museums are all located in the Centro Historico in Mexico City. To see all three you’ll spent under 10 dollars and walk away with priceless memories (SO cheesy!).
What are you’re favorite murals in Mexico City that I missed? I’d love to see more on future trips!