Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guadalajara's Regional Museum - Treasure House of Ancient Art - Part 1

A remarkably lifelike figure from pre-hispanic Mexico. Recently Carole and I visited the Museo Regional de Guadalajara, joined by our friends Tom and Vivien. The Museo is located in the El Centro area of Guadalajara along one side of the main plaza adjacent to the Cathedral. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM, the Museo's admission charge is 37 pesos (about $2.75 US) but is free on Sunday. There is an additional 30 peso fee if you want to take photographs. We had heard great things about the Museo and we were not disappointed!

The Museo Regional courtyard is cool, green, and shady. The Museo has an interesting history. Originally it was built as the Tridentino Saint Joseph Seminary. Later it became a prison for those captured in the War of Independence. Following that, the Museo became a government building before finally assuming its present identity in 1918.

An architectural gem. The 18th Century building is constructed around a central courtyard, with arched walkways on each of two stories all around the perimeter. The display rooms line the interior walls facing the arches on both floors. Huge old wooden doors, studded with old iron bolts and hinges, guard the displays and offices. The Museo contains many different displays from pre-history through relatively modern times, but we only had time to view the paleolithic exhibits and those of Western Mexico's pre-hispanic indigenous cultures.

Great Paleolithic Animals

A huge tusker by any measure. Mammoth presence in Mexico was first documented 400 years ago and at least 271 sites are known.  There is evidence that mammoths and humans existed together in pre-historic Mexico. In one site, there is a fire pit next to the skeleton and some of the bones had been burned. Radiocarbon dating puts this at 31,000 years ago.

Mammoth vertebrae. The huge vertebrae and attached ribs were perhaps 4 feet across and I suspected it would take a strong man to lift them. Mammoth remains  have been found recently in El Salto, Jalisco State, near where I live.

"Say ahhhh..." Skull and fearsome teeth of a Sabre Tooth Tiger. These beasts roamed Western Mexico in pre-historic times, from 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago. The timing would make it a contemporary of early indigenous people. Obviously it was a very formidable opponent to man or beast.

Western Mexico's Ancient People

Stylish woman at her ease. A female figure relaxes, legs crossed in an easy posture. She is very stylishly adorned with an interesting hat and multiple earrings on each ear. I selected this figure, and the ones that follow because I was so captivated by the human touch of the ancient artists. These works came from a variety of different cultures and empires spread around a wide area of Western Mexico. What is common among them is their natural feeling. As a modern person from a western industrialized society, I could instantly relate to the people depicted.

A man and his dog. This fellow was seated very comfortably, arms on knees and hands on elbows. His small dog cuddles up between his knees.

"Please sir, may I have more?" This figure reminded me of the scene in the Dickens novel. Notice the fine detail on this figure. Every toenail is shown, as well as the matching decorations on the head and the calves. This was a fairly large work, about 3 feet tall.

Taking it easy. All this guy needs is a beer and a TV and he'd fit in perfectly in any modern living room. I was continually amazed by the natural, recognizable postures of the human figures in the collections at the Museo Regional as opposed to the stylized and stilted postures of some of the sculptures of other ancient cultures.

A nice back rub after a long day. In a very human moment, this man is treating his friend to a nice back rub. I felt a definite kinship with the people who created this little vignette.

Cuddling couple. The relaxed, affectionate posture of this man and woman comes across very easily, despite the passage of centuries. The posture is very natural, with legs curled under and arms around each other. I got the feeling that the sculptor had sat with his wife or lover in just such a manner.

Line dancers. These folks would have fit in nicely at a country-western line dance. Notice the flute player leading the group. This same type of "Pan" flute is still in use today.

Circling dancers. These dancers seem to be having a lot of fun. Many of the creations in the Museo Regional showed groups of people engaged in activities easily recognizable across cultural barriers and across many centuries.

Implements of everyday life.

Everyday tools. Seen above are metal axes, chisels, fish hooks, awls, needles, and a fine pair of copper tweezers (center). These were the everyday implements of cultures operating on a high level, hardly the barbarians often depicted by Spaniards eager to justify their conquests and depredations.

Graceful pitcher. I was particularly attracted to this lovely pitcher, with its scalloped sides and long graceful spout. Note how the pitcher is filled through the openings on the handle rather than through a removable top.

Painted pot. The various indigenous cultures and empires of Western Mexico contained many fine craftspeople. When the Spanish arrived, they sometimes noted that the crafts they encountered were equal to if not superior to what they were used to in Spain. The Spanish quickly put these craftspeople to work building churches, public buildings, and haciendas and filling them with all manner of beautiful objects.

Painted bowl. In modern westernized cultures, one expects beautiful designs on special objects for religious purposes or just as "art". Mass produced objects for everyday use are seldom decorated extensively, if at all and certainly not by painstaking hand-crafting. Pre-industrial cultures often created beautiful objects for the most pedestrian tasks. It is my speculation that this may have been because the objects were not considered "throw aways", but were intended to be kept for many years and even passed down through the generations. Perhaps it also had something to do with the time it took to create something, and the sense that the object therefore deserved to be beautiful.

Conch shell trumpet. Conch shells have been used in a variety of cultures around the world for musical purposes and to sound alerts. This one was finely incised by a pre-hispanic artist. The use of a conch shell by cultures which had no direct contact with the ocean indicates an extensive trade network.

Three-legged bowl. Indigenous artists and craftsmen quite often used the tripod in designing a support structure for their creations.

Incense burner. Implements to burn incense for religious purposes, or just because it smelled good, came in a variety of shapes and sizes. The one pictured above is about 2 feet high. I found this one interesting because of the cross cut into the side of the stand. There were a number similarities such as the cross and the use of incense in religious symbols and practices between the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Spanish Catholic church, even though the basic belief systems were radically different. The Church quickly made use of these similarities to ease the transition to Catholicism.

This concludes Part 1 of my post on the Museo Regional de Guadalajara. My second post will show beautiful objects of personal decoration, and others which show warfare, domesticated animals, and some which show a quirky creativity and sense of humor.

Thanks for visiting Jim and Carole's Mexico Adventure. Comments are welcomed.

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