When the 16th-century convent of San Francisco was being restored in the 1980s and ’90s, the Mexican surrealist artist Rafael Coronel, brother-in-law of Diego Rivera, decided to donate his extensive mask collection to be displayed as a part of a museum. It is considered the largest mask collection in Mexico, and it is possible to visit them all.
The visit starts at the old church. The remains of the convent form a surreal labyrinth of gardens, dotted with some of Coronel’s sculptures. Weaving through these magical ruins feels like traveling through one of his paintings. Eventually, you reach the main building, where the incredible mask collection is found.
The masks hang on the corridor walls, grouped according to the different rituals they were used for. Most of them are traditional Mexican masks used for dances, religious, and mystical rituals. There are masks that incorporate human hair, armadillo skin, or with unnerving moving eyes and mouths. There are halls devoted specifically to masks with animals heads, or with human faces. Masks of imaginary figures and masks in demoniac forms stare down at you as you roam the halls.
The entire folk art collection includes around 16,000 pieces. Beyond the masks, there is an exhibit of around 1,000 terracotta figures, plus paintings, drawings, pottery, puppets, votive offerings, and more, including a collection of work by Diego Rivera.
Know Before You Go
The collection is so big that sometimes the last halls (the hall of puppets and the vessels collection) are missed as people get tired. Try to plan your visit to the museum as the main attraction of the day.