Murals by Diego Rivera in the Palacio Nacional de Mexico--Index and Introduction


At the time Diego Rivera began painting these murals he was an internationally known artist with his works reproduced in magazines worldwide. During his painting of them, his work was interrupted several times because he left Mexico City to paint other murals in his country as well as in the United States.

Shifra Goldman explains Rivera's agenda as a muralist:
"After the Mexican Revolution Rivera was concerned with two issues, and these determined his artistic themes: the need to offset the contempt with which the conquistadors had viewed the ancient Indian civilizations, and the need to offset the anti-mestizo and anti-Indian attitudes of the European-oriented ruling classes during the porfiriato (the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz). Mestizo and Indian peasants formed the basic fighting forces of the Revolution, and their economic needs were to be addressed on the political plane. The role of the arts was to restore understanding of and pride in the heritage and cultures that the concept of Spanish superiority had subverted. . . early indigenistas [like Rivera] tended to glorify the Indian heritage and vilify that of the Spaniards as a means of rectifying a historical imbalance and advancing certain political ideas" (103).

Large public murals like these which glorified the Mexican people provided an alternate history for those who could not read it in books. The government at the time was seeking to redefine the nation and Rivera's murals could help in creating a new national identity.

The Stairway Mural

Diego Rivera began painting the staircase murals in the Palacio Nacional in May 1929 and finished these staircase murals by November of 1935. The stairway "triptych" is sometimes compared to an epic poem comprising the legendary pre-Hispanic past, a kind of prologue, then the depiction in the central panels of the Conquest up until 1930, and on the left, the present, with all its conflicts, but also with the promise of a better future.

The Corridor Panels

Rivera returned in the 1940's to work on the corridor murals. This series of smaller panels was intended to go all the way round the second story, but this project was never completed and Rivera was unable to work on this project continuously. After the grisaille first panels depicting typical Mexican products and achievements (not illustrated on this site), the rest of the murals, reaching about halfway around the corridor, depict various earlier pre-Hispanic cultures and aspects of their culture--their agriculture, trading methods, and use of various natural resources. Below the polychrome murals, Rivera painted smaller grisailles panels that relate to the larger composition. The last mural (completed in 1951) shows the arrival of the Spanish, with satirical portraits of Cortée and the other Conquistadors. He also includes an image of La Malinche bearing the blue-eyed baby sired by Cortés.


109 images

Stairway Murals

The Legend of Quetzalcoatl
7 images
The History of Mexico
34 images--three pages
Class Struggle
7 images

Corridor Murals

The Grand Tenochtitlan
10 images
The Tarascan or Purepechan culture of Michoacan
6 images
The Zapotec and Mixtec Civilizations
9 images
The Totonac Civilization
10 images
3 images
The Huaxtec Civilization [or Maize]
4 images
3 images
The Maguey, Agave, and Sisal Plants
5 images
The Arrival of Cortés
11 images

Works Consulted or Quoted:
Goldman, Shifra M. Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin American and the United States. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.
Luis-Martín Lozano and Juan Rafael Coronel Rivera. Diego Rivera: The Complete Murals. Taschen, 2009.
Antonio Rodríguez. Diego Rivera: Mural Painting. Mexico City: Fondo Editorial de la Plástica Mexicana, 1988.
Official guide [pamphlet] at site.

Click here to return to index of art historical sites.

Click here to return to index of artists and architects.

Click here to return to chronological index.

Click here to see the home page of Bluffton College.

© 2010 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.