MFA Acquires Rare, Resplendent 18th Century Desk And Bookcase Crafted In Mexico

Mid-18th century desk and bookcase. Inlaid woods and incised and painted bone, maque, gold and polychrome paint, metal hardware. (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Mid-18th century desk and bookcase. (Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston has added a stunning piece of 18th century furniture crafted in Mexico to its vast collection.

After years of research and negotiation typical of many acquisitions, MFA director Matthew Teitelbaum calls the ornate "Desk and bookcase" from the Ann and Gordon Getty Collection an "extraordinary work."

It was originally made in the colonial settlement Puebla de los Ángeles in Mexico, and is an example of furniture from "viceregal New Spain." Viceregal is a term often used for things connected to loyalty, in this case viceroys or viceroyalty of the Spanish Empire. The MFA describes the work's style as Hispano-Moresque.

The elaborate piece’s exterior is decorated with wood-and-bone geometric shapes. Its interior is painted in gold with a vermillion background.

Inside view of the mid-18th century desk recently acquired by the MFA. (Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)
Inside view of the mid-18th century desk recently acquired by the MFA. (Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The MFA is known for its extensive collection of colonial American furniture. Teitelbaum says this new addition tells a different, multi-cultural story because it was created in Mexico and its design was influenced strongly by European, Asian and African cultures.

“And so it talks in and of itself of how communities or cultures connect, which is where I think museums have to go,” he said, speaking about future goals for the MFA's collection.

The desk and bookcase is currently on display in Made in the Americas: The New World Discovers Asia, which the MFA is billing as the first major, pan-American exhibition to examine the influence of Asia on the arts of the colonial Americas. The new acquisition will move into the permanent galleries after the show closes on Feb. 15.

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Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



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