The Prado Muesum is hosting a temporary exhibition of the Biombo de la Conquista de México, one of the most important pieces depicting post conquistador life of what is today Mexico.
The 17th century hand painted screen shows in narative form, life in Mexico City and contrasting this with the fierce struggle for control of the city as the pre conquistador city of Tenochtitlán.
The conquistador Hernán Cortés who eventually took the city, arrived in Tenochtitlan on 8 November 1519. At the time the city’s population has been estimated at between 200,000–400,000 people, which would have made it one of the largest cities in the world.
The screen, restored by the museum over the course of almost a year, belongs to a private collection and will be one of the fundamental pieces of “Tornaviaje”, the exhibition of American art that the museum is showcasing this year.
“It is an absolutely exceptional work,” said Miguel Falomir in statements to the Efe Press Agency.
The work is “an exceptional occasion to enjoy” one of the most important of American art that was brought to Spain during its imperial heyday between the 16th and 18th centuries.
“American art was then much more numerous and influencial in Spain than any European art, including Flemish or Italian works,” explained Falomir.
To date, very few exampes of screens have arrived and, although their origin is unknown, they were probably a gift from Mexico City to the Spanish viceroy of the time.
These types of pieces are highly valued, in 2019 a similar work was auctioned at Sotheby’s and sold for 5 million dollars.
The work has been invited to appear at the Prado by the Friends of the Museum Foundation and will be exhibited until the end of September.
The large-format piece, painted on both sides, has a wooden frame, linen panels painted with oil and has undergone a “laborious restoration process”.
The “Screen of the Conquest of Mexico and the very noble and loyal city of Mexico” has suffered a lot until reaching the museum’s restoration workshop including numerous repaints and panel damage.
In addition to removing repaints, varnish and dirt over the years, it has been necessary to reproduce a large part of the gold leaf frame that had been lost.
The work, like the Garden of Earthly Delights, is also known as a “conversation piece”, which were used to generate conversations around the scenes represented. .
There are two other similar screens, both in Mexican museums, which were gifts to the viceroys of the time.
On one side you can see twelve scenes and settings from the historical episode of the Conquest of Mexico, which mix action with chaos, fear and heroism, in no chronological order. “You can see the dignity with which the Aztec warriors are treated,” said Falomir.
In contrast, and on the other hand, a bird’s eye view of Mexico City is shown, like an orderly and quiet city in which some children play with a kite or the viceroy arrives in his float. Each side is accompanied by numbers to identify the most important places and events.