Monday, February 2, 2015

An Interview with Mexican Historian Alan Rojas Orzechowski about Maximilian's Court Painter, Santiago Rebull

He was Maximilian's Court Painter, a leading figure in 19th century Mexican painting, and one of the important influences on Diego Rivera, yet few people have heard of Santiago Rebull until now.
Santiago Rebull: The Outlines of a Story
at the Museum of the Diego Rivera Mural in Mexico City
Through February 15, 2015

If you're anywhere near Mexico City, make the effort to come in and visit the Santiago Rebull show at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera. >> More information here. << For those aficionados of the history of the French Intervention, and in particular the brief reign of Maximilian von Habsburg as Emperor of Mexico, this is an especially important show not to miss, for Rebull was Maximilian's Court Painter and, interestingly, one of the few individuals close to the monarchy who managed to remain in Mexico and even thrive in subsequent decades under the Republic.
Herewith, my interview with the show's curator, Mexican historian Alan Rojas Orzechowski.

Santiago Rebull
Self-portrait, 1852
C.M. MAYO: What gave you the idea for the show?
ALAN ROJAS ORZECHOWSKI: The exhibitionSantiago Rebull: Los contornos de una historia (Santiago Rebull: The Outlines of a Story) presented in the Museo Mural Diego Rivera is our own way to pay homage to one of the most creative minds of the Academic Movement in Mexico, an illustrious painter and educator who molded the minds of pupils such as Roberto Montenegro, Ángel Zárraga and Diego Rivera.

As an outstanding teacher, he taught Diego Rivera as a young student in the San Carlos Academy of Arts. Rivera in return, always considered him as a mentor and guide, respecting him as both, as an instructor and fellow artist. Exploiting this connection, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera and external curator Magaly Hernández, thought suitable to present an exhibition which honored Rebull´s artwork, underlining his influence on Rivera and his generation.

CMM: How did Santiago Rebull, so close to Maximilian, manage to remain in Mexico and continue working as a successful artist for decades afterwards?
Santiago Rebull
La muerte de Marat, 1875
ARO: I personally think that it was his undeniable talent as an artist which enabled him to continue teaching in San Carlos Academy during three more decades. In the immediate years after Maximilian's fall he did receive severe reproaches from fellow artists and local newspapers as a monarchist and “afrancesado” (pro-French), but he carried on painting members of the political, economic and cultural elite. As a testament of this, the portraits of Presidents Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz are shown in the exhibition. Both pieces are dated in the 1870s, less than a decade after the monarch´s disgrace.
He retained his position as a teacher in San Carlos and also imparted drawing lessons to female pupils in the Colegio de Vizcaínas which was the only female and secular school in Mexico throughout the XVIII and XIX centuries. Along with his academic career, he remained a prolific painter, authoring remarkable pieces such as La muerte de Marat (Marat's Death) and several portraits.

CMM: What has been the reaction from art historians and historians of the Second Empire?
ARO: The Academic reaction towards the Second Empire, from both, historians and art historians, has changed through time. During the first half of the XX Century, the posture was very much aligned to the official history, characterized by a nationalist stance in which Maximilian was portrayed as an invader and many of his actions as an imposition to Mexicans. Nevertheless, this has shifted to a fascination for both, Maximilian and Charlotte, partly thanks to literature. En example of this, the book Noticias del Imperio(News from the Empire) by Fernando del Paso or The Last Prince of the Mexican Empireby C.M. Mayo. 
Historians have now a much more benevolent gaze to the Second Empire, emphasizing on Maximilian's liberal measures that assisted the indigenous groups and regulated Ecclesiastic influence on civilianswhich certainly made him unpopular with his original supporters.
Art historians tend to be cautious with their judgments, stressing the continuity on San Carlos Academy trough its curriculum, academic cluster and board, all of them dramatically modified with the Republic's restoration. For instance, Eduardo Báez Macías, in his volume History of the National School of Fine Arts (Old San Carlos Academy), mentions Maximilian's patronizing attitude towards Mexican art, believing it to be provincial to what he was used to in Europe.  
My personal view is the opposite. Maximilian was a very intelligent ruler, he was aware of the necessity of his government's legitimacy, and knew that the main way to achieved it was through art and Court protocol. In the first case, he arose from the liberal vs. conservative´s discussion over national heroes and entrusted several talented young artists to create a portrait gallery of the libertadores, including characters such as Hidalgo and Iturbide along. Also, in several Imperial projects he preferred to employ talented Mexican students over well-known established European teachers as Eugenio Landesio or Pelegrín Clavé.

CMM: Which of all the 68 pieces do you consider the most essential for understanding Rebull and his place in Mexican art?
Santiago RebullLa muerte de Abel, 1851
ARO: Santiago Rebull is one of the most relevant XIX century painters in Mexico's history. He is a fundamental artist of the Academicism generation, and keystone to understanding the shift in the Art Scene towards the Vanguards and the Mexican Painting School of XX century, since he was an inexhaustible teacher to many of its participants. 
One of Santiago Rebull's anchor pieces isLa muerte de Abel (Abel's Death). It was painted in 1851 and earned him a scholarship to travel to Rome. He there attended the San Lucas Academy, a conservative catholic art school that followed the principles of the Nazarene Movement, specially influenced by the German painter Johann Friedrich Overbeck.
Rebull studied under the guidance of Academic artist Thomaso Consoni, who molded and perfected his technique through a careful series of exercises consisting on copying masterpieces from Renaissance maestros
Therefore, La muerte de Abel best represents the Academic ideals of trace, color use and proportions so faithfully followed by Rebull. 

CMM: Was it difficult to find these 68 pieces, and were there any you couldn’t get for the show that you wish you had?
Santiago Rebull
El sacrificio de Isaac, 1859
ARO: Unfortunately there was a piece we were unable to obtain, El sacrificio de Isaac (Isaac's Sacrifice) painted in 1858 during his sojourn in Italy and displayed in the Centennial Exposition of Philadelphia and later shown in New Orleans. The image is almost 118 inches tall and it’s a flawless sample of Rebull´s work during this formative voyage under Consoni's guidance. Alas, it was a crucial piece in the National Museum of Art (MUNAL), therefore, they were unable to lend it.
It was relatively unproblematic to secure the greater part of the assortment since it belongs to the painter's descendants, most of them eager to promote their ancestor's work. The rest of the pieces were graciously provided by significant institutions such as the San Carlos Academy, the National Museum of Art and the Colegio de Vizcaínas.
CMM: Was the museum at Il Castillo di Miramar involved in any way? (The original of Rebull's portrait of the Emperor Maximilian was sent there, is that right?)
Joaquín Ramírez
Portrait of Emperor Maximilian I, ca. 1866. 
ARO: The original full length portrait of Maximilian was painted by Santiago Rebull in 1865. The Emperor took such pleasure on it that resulted on the appointment of Rebull as court painter; he was also awarded the Order of Guadalupe, the Empire's uppermost honor. 
The monarch relocated the painting in Miramar Castle in Trieste, Italy that same year. Nonetheless he commissioned Joaquín Ramírez, another Academic painter to produce an exact copy of his portrait. Currently, the latter is part of the National Institute of Fine Arts collection and it's shown at Chapultepec Castle. We exhibit a contemporary reproduction of Ramírez painting.

CMM: The decorative bacchantes that Rebull painted for Chapultepec Castle-- were these Maximilian's idea or the artist's? What do you think was the message of such decorative paintings?
Santiago Rebull
Bacante para la terraza 
del Alcázar de Chapultepec, 1894.
ARO: The decorative bacchantes of Miravalle (Chapultepec) Castle were the Emperor's idea but Rebull only painted four of them during Maximilian's reign since the remaining two were created later, during President Porfirio Díaz administration when he occupied the castle as his summer residence.
The message behind the bacchantes is clear: the ideal of graciousness that courtesan life implied. Maximilian was convinced that through art and elaborate court rituals his regime would gain the legitimacy and acceptance of Mexican elites. The creation of new titles, honors and reinstated old colonial titles were strategies followed by the sovereign. Thus, art and protocol were undeniably intertwined in the imperial residences. In the words of art historian Justino Fernández “Rebull planned six bacchantes figures […] the romanticism of the epoch finds here one of its classical expressions, these women, or better said, demigoddesses, highly idealized, wear the magnificence of their figure, in a movement attitude.” *

*Justino Fernández. El arte del siglo XIX en México, Mexico, Imprenta Universitaria, 1967,  p. 77.

CMM: What do you consider Rebull's most essential achievements as an artist?
Santiago Rebull
Portrait of Porfirio Díaz, 
ARO: His personal career is bound to the history of San Carlos Academy; we may consider him as a founding painter of Mexican art of the first decades of independence, when the elite and middle classes were shaping an identity of their own, which they found in the expressions of Academicism and Neoclassic Art. 
He perfected his education with the European sojournnot remaining solely in Rome, but traveling extensively through Spainand returned with a refined paintbrush imbibed by Purism and Nazarene precepts. The preparative drawings are a testament of Rebull´s expertise of trace and copying, the two cornerstone of a XIX century Academic education. 
Upon his return he grew as a prolific portraitist, the most important being that of Emperor Maximilian. But his talent was enjoyed not only by royals; both Presidents Benito Juárez and Porfirio Díaz were also depicted by the artist. The latter, is embodied as a young aspiring president, unlike later representations where an elderly and heavily ornamented military men is shown. Furthermore, common and quotidian characters were also portrayed by him.

Santiago Rebull
Portrait of an unknown man, undated

CMM: Why is the show in the Museo de Diego Rivera? Can you talk a little about Rebull's influence on Diego Rivera?

Santiago Rebull
Profeta Elymar, 1853
Diego Rivera
Cabeza masculina, 1900
ARO: Since the Museo Mural Diego Rivera has the commitment of preserving Diego Rivera's legacy, promoting the artistic expressions created during the XX century and especially those influenced by Rivera himself, we thought there was a great breach with his predecessors. Who were they? Who particularly influenced him?
Rivera was educated at the San Carlos Academy of Arts in Mexico City where he was an accomplished student, tutored by the great artists of the XIX century Academic movement. He received a refined instruction from painters such as José Salomé Pina, José María Velasco and Santiago Rebull. Diego always felt in debt towards the latter, recognizing him as his mentor.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dr. Konrad Ratz (December 20, 1931 - May 22, 2014)

I was very saddened to learn of the death of my friend, Dr. Konrad Ratz, translator, researcher, and writer whose contributions to our understanding of Maximilian von Habsburg and Mexico's Second Empire I admire more than I can say. Among his many works, all of them major contributions:

Tras las huellas de un desconocido: Nuevos datos y aspectos de Maximiliano de Habsburgo (Link goes to my note in English about this excellent and very illuminating book.)
Los viajes de Maximiliano de Maximiliano en México(co-authored with Amparo Gómez Tepexicuapan)(Link goes to my comments for the book's presentation in Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City.)
Correspondencia inédita entre Maximiliano y Carlota
El ocaso del imperio de Maximiliano visto por un diplomático prusiano
Maximilian und JuárezBand I Das Zweite Mexikanische Kaiserreich und die RepublikBand II Querétaro-Chronik
The musical:

Very few researchers can work in both Spanish and German, fewer still with the skills to research Mexico's most complex and transnational period of the 19th century. We are fortunate indeed that Dr. Ratz dedicated so much effort and so many of his years to these tasks.

From the note his son Wolfgang sent out (my translation from the Spanish):

He began his professional life in Bilbao as a translator for the automobile industry. After moving with his family to Vienna, he worked for many years as an economist and translator for the Austrian Chamber of Commerce. Following that, as Director of the Fund to Promote Research, he had the opportunity to support many innovative projects and young entrepreneurs. He also worked to help create similar institutions in various countries, among them, Mexico. In 1975 he received the Austrian Decoration for Arts and Science.
... As a historian, he dedicated his life to researching Maximilian von Habsburg, and especially so during his retirement when he considered Mexico his "adopted country" and spent many marvelous years there with his second wife, Herta, making many unforgettable friendships.
Throughout his life, music was a great passion. The musical "Maximiliano - el Sueño de una Corona" was debuted successfully in Querétaro and Mexico City.
Open to all cultures, his life created bridges among Austria, Spain, Switzerland, and Latin America.

COMMENTS always welcome.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Luis Reed Torres' Biographies of Two Mexican Monarchist Generals, Joaquín Miramón and Manuel Ramírez de Arellano

As mentioned in my previous post, there was a conference held recently on Maximilian at Mexico City's Centro de Estudios de la Historia de México which had a spectacular lineup of scholars. The final speaker in the series, not in the original announcement, was Mexican historian Louis Reed Torres, who gave a wide-ranging and very entertaining talk with many rare photographs and special emphasis on his two recent biographies, both important contributions to our understanding of Mexico's Second Empire and the French Intervention:

*Joaquín Miramón, El General Olvidado
Herido y prisionero, Juárez ordenó que lo mataran
(Vida y muerte del Hermano Mayor de Miguel, 
Según su Archivo Militar y sus Documentos Privados)

[My translation of the above:
Joaquín Miramón, The Forgotten General
Wounded and taken prisoner, his death was ordered by Juárez
(The Life and death of the older brother of Miguel, 
according to his military records and private documents)]


*El Artillero de Maximiliano
(La Azarosa Vida del General Manuel Ramírez de Arellano, 
Niño Héroe de Chapultepec, Ideólogo Nacionalista y 
Amigo Fraternal de Miguel Miramón, 
Según su Archivo Inédito y sus Escritos)

[My translation of the above:
Maximilian's Artilleryman
The adventurous life of General Manuel Ramírez de Arellano,
One of "Boy Heroes" of Chapultepec, Nationalist Ideologist and
Close Friend of Miguel Miramón, 
According to his Unpublished Archive and Writings]

General Ramírez de Arellano, head of the Mexican Imperial Artillery, was the of the few to have escaped death in Querétaro in 1867. After that, as Reed Torres puts it, "his life was a novel." Ten years later, on the point of returning to Mexico, he died of Roman fever in Remini, Italy.

To get copies of either or both books, contact rosaura.tapia (at) hotmail (dot) com

Here's hoping these can be made available in Kindle!

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P.S. I will be speaking (in Spanish) with my translator, Agustin Cadena, about my novel based on the true story, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire (El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano) on Tuesday July 15, 2014 as part of the conference on Maximilian in fiction at Mexico City City's National Palace. The entire conference, which runs several more weeks, is free and open to the public. Click here for the full line up and more information.

Biblioteca Francisco Xavier Clavigero in the Universidad Iberamericana in Mexico City

Two great conferences on Maximilian here in Mexico City-- one recently concluded at the Centro de Estudos de la Historia de México, and another is in progress in Mexico's National Palace, both free and open to the public and with a wide variety of accomplished scholars.

I wanted to note one of the talks from the former which took place on June 2, 2014: Teresa Matabuena's about the magnificent holdings related to the Second Empire in the archives of the Universidad Iberoamericana's Biblioteca Francisco X. Clavigero. She mentioned just a few of them-- from my notes:

1. The manuscript "Les Vaincus du 5 du mai" (The Defeated of May 5)
by a French soldier, decorated with his own very elaborate and beautiful little paintings of birds and flowers. (Quite extraordinary to see.)

2. Folletería (Pamphlettes)
Including "Reseña de las Fiestas de la Independencia" and "Calendario Histórico de Maximiliano."

3. Revistas (Magazines)
Among them: El Museo Universal, a Spanish magazine thast was published bimonthly, and included many articles and notes on Maximilian; and L'Illustration, Journal Universal, a French magazine.

4. Books
Over 400, including L'Empire de Maximilien by Paul Gaulot, Paris, 1890; a copy of the very rare Reglamento del ceremonial de la Corte (the first edition of 1865); Estudios de grabados por autores mexicanos, a specially bound edition of 186(?) owned by Maximilian.

5. Concha Lombardo Collection
Concha Lombardo was the wife of General Miramón, a key figure in the Second Empire and one of the two generals exceuted in 1867 with Maximilian. While the Miramón papers are in Palermo, Italy, this one contains many crucial items for anyone studying the period and its violent end.

6. A photographic album of some 200 personalities of the period
The original has been returned to its owner, but a complete copy is in the catalog.

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P.S. My talk about my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, El ultimo príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, together with my translator, the noted writer and poet Agustín Cadena, will be on Tuesday 15 of July in the conference in the National Palace. More about that here.

Who was Francisco Xavier Clavigero? An 18th century Mexican Jesuit and historian of note. Among his many works is The History of [Lower] California, translated from the Italian by Sara E. Lake, Stanford University Press, 1937. (Why Italian? There's a story.) I relied on Clavigero quite heavily in the section of my book, Miraculous Air: Journey of as Thousand Miles through Baja California, the Other Mexico, about the tragedy of the Jesuit missions. So just hearing his name, it seems like a little wave from an old amigo.

Monday, June 23, 2014

In Mexico City: A Series of Conferences in the National Palace (Free) : "Maximiliano en México, una historia novelada"

This is all in Spanish, but I know many of you, dear readers, do speak it. So here's the big news: my novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empiretranslated by Agustín Cadena asEl último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano, will be featured on Tuesday July 15, 2014 in the series of talks on (my translation) "Maximilian in Mexico, A Fictionalized History." The talks are all free and open to the public and held in the Recinto de Homenaje a Don Benito Juárez of Mexico City's National Palace. 
It will be a very special honor for me to present the novel together with Agustín Cadena, for his translation is such a superb one; he is one of Mexico's most accomplished literary writers (and I have been honored to translated some of his short stories); and he is an expert on the novels of the 19th century. (Those baggy monsters… which mine most definitely is.)
(Don't know who Maximilian was and why Mexicans find him so endlessly worthy ofconferences and novels and conferences about the novels? Start here.)

Las escrituras de la historia son variables y a su vez coincidentes. La intrigante pasión por develar la memoria colectiva atrapa por igual tanto a historiadores como a novelistas. Mientras el historiador se ocupa de que los hechos narrados sean verdaderos, el novelista pretende sobre todo que estos sean verosímiles. Sin embargo, cuando el novelista se ocupa de narrar los “grandes” relatos de la historia, éste no puede fácilmente escabullirse del dato histórico, materia prima para el historiador. 
Para conocer las claves de la novela histórica y experiencia creativa de la escritura en voz de algunos de sus representantes, el Recinto de Homenaje a Don Benito Juárez organizó el ciclo de entrevistas presenciales y conferencias: MAXIMILIANO EN MÉXICO, UNA HISTORIA NOVELADA.
José Manuel Villalpando
Martes 1, 17:00 horas/ Entrada libre

Entrevista al autor por Bertha Hernández
Martes 8, 17:00 horas/ Entrada libre 

Agustín Cadena
Martes 15, 17:00 / Entrada libre

Entrevista al autor por Leopoldo Silberman
Jueves  24, 17:00 horas

Alfredo Moreno Flores
Martes 29, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre


Entrevista al autor por Bertha Hernández
Martes 5, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre

Entrevista al autor por Ariel Ruiz
Martes 12, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre
Entrevista al autora por Guadalupe Lozada
Martes 19, 17:00 horas / Entrada Libre

Carlos Mújica
Martes 26, 17 horas / Entrada Libre

Friday, February 21, 2014

Biografía (Biography) edited by Mílada Bazant (and my essay about El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano)

una colección de ensayos
compilada por
Mílada Bazant
Prólogo de Enrique Krauze
It was a delight and an honor to be able to attend Mílada Bazant's book presentation yesterday evening at the Fería Internacional del Libro in Mexico City's Palacio de Minería. The book, with a splendid prologue by Mexico's leading biographer, Enrique Krauze, is Biografía. Métodos, metodologías y enfoques
El Colegio Mexiquense, 2013. 

Other contributors include Mary Kay Vaughn, Carlos Herrejón Paredo, Daniela Spenser, Rodrigo Terrazas Valdez, Esther Acevedo, Francie Chassen-López, María Teresa Fernández Aceves, Ma. de Lourdes Alvarado, María del Carmen Collado, Susana Quintanilla, Ana Rosa Suárez Arguello, Celia del Palacio, and Yours Truly.

(Bazant is the author of a fine biography, Laura Méndez de Cuenca. Mujer indómita y moderna (1853-1928). Vida cotidiana y entorno. El Colegio Mexiquense. Gobierno del Estado de México; México, 2009.)

Fería Internacional del Libro,
Palacio de Minería,
Ciudad de México, 2014
You can read my essay, which is about the nature of the literary novel per se, and blending the fiction and nonfiction in my own novel, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, here. (The essay is in Spanish and refers to Agustín Cadena's Spanish translation of the novel, El último príncipe del Imperio Mexicano.)

You can order a copy of Bazant's Biografía here.
ISBN 978-607-7761-52-5

P.S. Please be sure to see the previous post about the excellent conference running this winter and spring 2014 about Maximilian in Mexico at the Centro CARSO in Mexico City. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Conference about Maximilian in Mexico: Esplendor y ocaso del Segundo Imperio Mexicano

La fascinación por el Imperio
(Fascination for the Empire)
Patricia Galeana
ISBN 968 6815 31 7
The Centro de Estudios de Historia de México CARSO in Mexico City is hosting an important lecture series by outstanding figures and historians. I was fortunate enough to attend the first one, held this past Monday, of the presentation of Professor Patricia Galeana's  book, La fascinación por el Imperio (Fascination for the Empire). A handsome coffee-table book filled with rare photographs and Dr Galeana's expert accompanying essays, it also includes a photographic album of both imperialist and republican personalities.

The son of historian Berta Flores Salinas also talked about the donation of his mother's library of works about the Second Empire / French Intervention-- a new treasure for the Centro.

The conference is open to the public, but they do request an RSVP since seating is limited.

Las conferencias tendrán lugar los lunes a las 18:00 hrs. en el Salón de Eventos del 
Centro de Estudios de Historia de México Carso Fundación Carlos Slim: 
Plaza Federico Gamboa No. 1-A, Chimalistac.

Centro de Estudios de Historia de México Carso
Fundación Carlos Slim
Plaza Federico Gamboa No. 1
Col. Chimalistac
01070 México D.F.

El Centro de Estudios de Historia de México Carso 
Fundación Carlos Slim 
tiene el honor de invitar a usted al 
Ciclo de Conferencias Primavera 2014
Esplendor y ocaso del Segundo Imperio Mexicano

10 de Febrero

Maximiliano Emperador
Patricia Galeana

Presentación del libro La Fascinación por el Imperio

Ceremonia de donación de la Biblioteca Berta Flores Salinas

17 de Febrero
Historia de la Casa de Habsburgo
Carlos de Habsburgo

24 de Febrero
La otra cara de la Intervención Francesa: 
la fotografía en los tipos populares
Arturo Aguilar Ochoa

3 de Marzo
Maximiliano ¿Príncipe liberal?
Erika Pani

10 de Marzo
Los jardines de Maximiliano
Aurelio de los Reyes

24 de Marzo
Maximiliano y el Museo Nacional
Eduardo Matos Moctezuma

31 de Marzo
 La mesa del emperador 
Jose Luis Curiel

7 de Abril
La Iglesia y el Segundo Imperio
Manuel Olimón Nolasco

28 de Abril
El teatro en el Segundo Imperio I
Jorge del Río

5 de Mayo
El teatro en el Segundo Imperio II
Jorge del Río

12 de Mayo 
La colección del Segundo Imperio en el Museo Soumaya
Alfonso Miranda

19 de Mayo
La ciudad de México en tiempos de Maximiliano
Angeles González Gamio

26 de Mayo
Los fondos del Segundo Imperio en el Centro de Estudios
Manuel Ramos Medina

2 de Junio
Los fondos del Segundo Imperio en la Biblioteca de la Universidad Iberoamericana (los vencidos del 5 de mayo)
Teresa Matabuena 

9 de Junio
Adelante con el progreso
Esther Acevedo


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