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The Museo de América, Madrid

FURTHER AFIELD: Museo de América, Madrid, Spain

Set atop a hill with a splendid view of the Spanish capital city, on Avenida Reyes Católicos (nearest underground station Moncloa) is the majestic Museo de América, an little-known and under-visited museum, beautifully presented and maintained, that holds some unique gems from pre-Hispanic America - WELL worth a visit!

Pic 1: The Codex Madrid (aka Codex Tro-Cortesiano) on display in replica form - the original, painted on fig tree bark paper, is stored in a vault
Pic 1: The Codex Madrid (aka Codex Tro-Cortesiano) on display in replica form - the original, painted on fig tree bark paper, is stored in a vault (Click on image to enlarge)

Not to be confused with the Museo de las Américas, a fine arts museum in Denver, Colorado, or the museum with the same name in Puerto Rico, The Museum of America in Madrid is ‘a National museum that holds artistic, archaeological and ethnographic collections from the whole American continent, ranging from the Paleolithic period to the present day’ (Wikipedia). Set on two main floors, and based on themes (Society, Communication, Religion...) rather than individual cultures, the museum is the predictable home of some extraordinary treasures. For starters, it houses the longest and greatest of the four known ancient Maya screenfold codices in the world. On display (pic 1) is a facsimile, cleverly exhibited in a revolving glass case that you can manually rotate to allow you to view both sides.

Pic 2: A gold ‘real’ from Mexico, dated 1741
Pic 2: A gold ‘real’ from Mexico, dated 1741 (Click on image to enlarge)

The Museum also holds more pre-Columbian gold pieces than any other in Europe: these range from the fabulous surviving treasures of the Quimbaya culture from Colombia (actually donated to Spain by the Colombian government towards the end of the 19th century) to individual gold and silver ingots rescued from the galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, shipwrecked off Colombia in 1622 and small gold reales from colonial Mexico (pic 2).

Pic 3: The Codex Tudela on display at the Museo de América, in facsimile form
Pic 3: The Codex Tudela on display at the Museo de América, in facsimile form (Click on image to enlarge)

Whilst there is a serious lack of of explanatory material to help visitors get to grips even with the basics of the Madrid Codex, the other important Mexican codex on display (again in replica form) is the post-invasion Codex Tudela, which at least benefits from a series of descriptive panels (pic 3).
On the floor below are a series of important paintings relating to the Conquest of Mexico and to the process of mestizaje (the development of a mixed-race population): here are the original works of art from the 18th century, often reproduced in scholarly publications (pic 4).

Pic 4: A series of 18th century oil paintings depicting scenes of ‘mestizaje’ in colonial Mexico
Pic 4: A series of 18th century oil paintings depicting scenes of ‘mestizaje’ in colonial Mexico (Click on image to enlarge)

There are some unexpected objects too, such as a giant plaster cast of the Aztec Sunstone (pic 5 - no information given as to when or where the copy was made, though), a large screenfold painting of the Palo Volador (Flyers’ Ceremony) from the 17th century, a series of charming wax figures by Andrés García showing every-day Mexican folk from the 19th century (from street seller to hacendado or large landowner), a mini-exhibition on working with vegetable and mineral colour dyes, and many individually interesting artefacts, ranging from a large stone statue of the Mexica goddess of water Chalchiuhtlicue to a beautiful late Classic period Maya cacao cup.

Pic 5: Large model of the Aztec Sunstone monument, lurking above the first floor exhibitions in the Museo de América
Pic 5: Large model of the Aztec Sunstone monument, lurking above the first floor exhibitions in the Museo de América (Click on image to enlarge)

The Museum is friendly and welcoming, and has space for temporary exhibitions. Our only piece of practical advice: don’t ask for the cafeteria - though there are public signs to it, it’s evidently been closed for at least two years (as of 2017)!

Photos by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Jun 16th 2017

The Museum website, in English

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