Many times, I have heard Rick Steves saying, “If art is boring to you, it is because you do not understand it.” I can’t agree more with his comment. In some museums, I have felt like leaving right away because nothing appeals to me. The story is different when I buy and audio tour. Things improve 400% when a guide or expert is explaining the motives, symbols and story behind a piece of art. I start to get really excited about what I am experiencing and I tend to remember the explanation for a long time (and I get really excited when I see the piece in a newspaper, webpage or book).
Looks like I forgot Rick Steves’ words when I visited a small museum in the city of Puebla. The place is known as Casa del Dean (House of the Dean). According to websites, and even the official map of Puebla, this is a must visit.
I got ready for the place after paying the entrance fee. At the first room, I started to take a close look at the murals and read the explanations. My husband disappeared.
After a few seconds, I heard him talking with some irony, “Take all the time you need to admire the place.”
I thought he was pushing me to hurry because he wasn’t interested in the place at all. I moved towards his voice, to a second room, and found him cracking up. I misunderstood his tone. He was being funny. The museum I was so eager to see, had only two rooms.
I was slightly shocked. For some reason, I was expecting something else.
I said, “I feel robbed.”
Maybe I was a little too loud because the attendant came to give us an explanation of what we were seeing. That is when I started to be ashamed. I was judging the size of the place but I was forgetting why it is preserved for future generations.
The murals at the Casa del Dean are the oldest non-religious ones in Mexico. The house belonged to the dean (second in charge after the bishop) Tomas de la Plaza Goes. His house was built two blocks from the Cathedral (since he had the keys) by an architect named Francisco Becerra. The house itself is a Renaissance-style jewel.
Don Tomas, inspired by frescoes he had seen in Europe, commanded natives with drawing abilities (called tlacuilos) to paint murals inside his house. The dean gave the tlacuilos a general idea of what he wanted but they had certain liberty and used it to add familiar face traces and native animals (monkeys, snakes, rabbits, deer).
The first conserved room is called “La Sibilina.” The room is completely decorated with sibyls – women who got a profecy talent from the God Apollo in Greek mythology – mounting horses and holding banners depicting the life of Christ. The entire picture is surrounded by a thick frame full of centaurs, angels, fruits, plants and birds.
The second room was the dean’s room and it contains scenes from a poem called “Los Triunfos” written by Francesco Petrarch. You can admire all the poem’s themes in the painting, love, death, fame, time and divinity.
I got my lesson. My “private tour” of the Casa del Dean helped me to get insight into the history of Puebla. I was able to ask a lot of questions and get answers from a local.
What museum or piece of art has taken you by surprise? Let me know in the comments section below.