Museu Frederic Marès

December 31, 2016

I love oddball museums, and this combination Cabinet of Curiosities and religious art museum was very interesting. This museum, located in the old Royal Palace of the Counts of Barcelona, next to the cathedral in the heart of Barcelona’s tourist area, was nonetheless empty on New Years Eve, a day when the area was bustling. Perhaps this is because many visitors wouldn’t know what to make of this place.

Frederic Marès (1893-1991) was a sculptor. But unlike the other artist-designed museums I’ve visited in Catalunya — the Dali Theatre and Museum and the Joan Miró Foundation, this museum is not designed to celebrate the artistic output of its creator, but rather it celebrates what he collected. In fact the brochure for the museum has this quote from the founder “I make sculpture to buy sculpture”.

The first 3 floors of the museum are dedicated to his collections of Hispanic sculpture from the the ancient world to the 19th century and the top 2 are dedicated to his “collection of collections”. From the first galleries we can see that Marès was a compulsive collector, who seemed in each collection to collect every example he could get his hands on. First there is a displays of a half dozen life size polychrome crucifixions, then ten or more sculptures of Mary with Baby Jesus, then Saint Anne, Mary and Baby Jesus. then maybe 40 or 50 metal crucifixes. It quickly becomes clear that this museum is not about about each individual object as a “masterpiece”, but rather about collecting as many examples as possible and delighting in the variations.

ButI was particularly excited by the top floors, where the many non-religious collections are displayed. These are organized by themes — for instance the “Wrought Iron Works Hall” contains huge collections of keys and locks as well as decorative pieces. here again, it was less an individual key that would catch the visitors attention, but rather the quantity of keys and how they are organized and displayed.

The “Smokers Hall” had collections of pipes, cigar rings, cigarette papers and packages, matches. There were so many cigar rings, they were turned into a collage.

Decorative pipes

Cigarette cards

The “Photography Hall” has daguerreotypes, antique photos and cameras.

The “Ladies’ Quarter” included, among other things, fans, hat pins and antique sewing machines (which reminded me of The London Sewing Machine museum).

The circus toys and antiue bicycles the “Entertainment Hall” reminded me the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, another museum based on the huge and varied collection of an individual collector.


Overall this was a fascinating collection. My pictures only show a few details, and cannot show the overwhelming quantity of objects in display. One only wonders what Mares did with all of these items before the museum was set up.

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