Academy of San Carlos

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Academy of San Carlos on Academia Street

The Academy of San Carlos (Spanish: Academia de San Carlos) is located at 22 Academia Street in just northeast of the main plaza of Mexico City. It was the first major art academy and the first art museum in the Americas. It was founded in 1781 as the School of Engraving and moved to the Academia Street location about 10 years later. It emphasized classical European training until the early 20th century, when it shifted to a more modern perspective. At this time, it also integrated with the National Autonomous University of Mexico, eventually becoming the Faculty of Arts and Design, which is based in Xochimilco. Currently, only graduate courses of the modern school are given in the original academy building.[1][2]


Rafael Ximeno y Planes, portrait of Jerónimo Antonio Gil, director of the academy

The Academy of San Carlos was founded in 1781 under the name of the School of Engraving.[2] From that time to the present, it has been renamed many times to The Royal Academy of the Three Noble Arts of San Carlos (Real Academia de la Tres Nobles Artes de San Carlos) (1783),[1][2] Academia Nacional de San Carlos de México (1821); Academia Imperial de San Carlos de México (1863); Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes (1867) and Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas (1929).[1]

Mexican painter Miguel Cabrera iterated the need for an art academy as early as 1753 but attempts by him and other prominent Mexican artists of the time to gain royal permission for such was never obtained.[1] The School of Engraving was begun later in the building that used to be the mint, and would later become the modern-day National Museum of Cultures. Ten years later, it moved to the former Amor de Dios Hospital, where it remains to this day.[2] The street it is located on was renamed from Amor de Dios Street to Academia Street in its honor.[1]

The Academy was originally sponsored by the Spanish Crown and a number of private patrons.[2] The academy was inaugurated on 4 November 1781 on the saint's day of King Carlos III,[2] operating for its first ten years in the old mint building (now the National Museum of Cultures).[3] However, it did not obtain its royal seal until 1783 and was not fully functional until 1785.[1][2] The school moved into the old "Hospital del Amor de Dios" building in 1791, where it has remained ever since.[3] The academy was the first major art institution in the Americas.[1]

The school's first director, Italian Jeronimo Antonio Gil, was appointed by Carlos III and gathered prominent artists of the day including José de Alcíbar, Santiago Sandoval, Juan Sáenz, Manuel Tolsá and Rafael Ximeno y Planes. Tolsá and Ximeno would later stay on to become directors of the school. The new school began to promote Neoclassicism, focusing on Greek and Roman art and architecture, advocating European-style training of its artists.[1] To this end, plaster casts of classic Greek and Roman statues were brought to Mexico from Europe for students to study.[2]

Upper floor of the building

Since its founding, it attracted the country's best artists, and was a force behind the abandonment of the Baroque style in Mexico, which had already gone out-of-fashion in Europe.[1]

In the early 19th century, the academy was closed for a short time due to the Mexican War of Independence. When it reopened, it was renamed the National Academy of San Carlos and enjoyed the new government's preference for Neoclassicism, as it considered the Baroque reminiscent of colonialism. Despite the school's association with the independent Mexican government, Emperor Maximilian I (installed in Mexico by the French) protected the school during his reign, although foreign artists were shunned there. When Benito Juárez ousted the emperor and regained the presidency of Mexico, he was reluctant to support the school and its European influence, which he considered to be a vestige of colonialism.[2]

The academy continued to advocate classic, European-style training of its artists until 1913. In that year, a student and teacher strike advocating a more modern approach ousted director Antonio Rivas Mercado. It was also partially integrated into University of Mexico (now UNAM) at that time, although it initially kept a large degree of autonomy. In 1929, the architecture program was separated from the rest of the academy,[1] and in 1953, this department was moved to the newly built campus of UNAM in the south of the city. The remaining programs in painting, sculpture and engraving were renamed National School of Expressive Arts Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas. Later, the undergraduate fine arts programs were moved to a facility in Xochimilco, leaving only some graduate programs in the original Academy of San Carlos building.[2]

Associated artists[edit]

José María Velasco Self-portrait (1894). Velasco dominated 19th c Mexican landscape painting.

Some of its most famous first teachers included Miguel Constanzó in architecture, José Joaquín Fabregat in metal engraving, Rafael Ximeno y Planes in painting and Manuel Tolsá in sculpture. Another notable teacher here was Pelegrí Clavé, who was noted for his expertise in creating portraits of heroes and biblical figures.[2]

Catalan Antonio Fabres was a dominant force at the Academy during early 20th century. He would mentor later Mexican artists such as Saturnino Herrán, Roberto Montenegro, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.[2]

José María Velasco is considered the greatest artist associated with the Academy, famous for his landscapes of the Valley of Mexico and a mentor of Diego Rivera. Other artists linked to the Academy are Manuel Rodríguez Lozano, Alfredo Zalce, Andrés José López, José Chávez Morado, Francisco Moreno Capdevila, Luis Sahagún Cortés, Gabriel Fernández Ledesma and Jorge Figueroa Acosta.[2] Matusha Corkidi studied at the Academy after emigrating from Egypt.[4]


Exhibition of children's art from Africa on 25 May 2009

The building originally was as the Amor de Dios Hospital, which had closed by the time the School of Engraving decided to move there from the mint building. Founding director Jeronimo Antonio Gil took charge of the restoration and remodeling work. Artist Javier Cavallari created the Academy's Neoclassic facade, which is embellished with six medallions. Four of these represent the Academy's founders: Carlos III, Carlos IV, Jeronimo Antonio Gil and Fernando José Manguino, and the other two are of Michelangelo and Raphael. Cavallari also finished the patio, the conference room and the painting and sculpture galleries. The painting gallery contains portraits by Ramon Sagredo and the sculpture room contains works by José Obregón and Manuel Ocaranza.[2]

A number of plaster casts of classic statues from the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy in Spain were brought here for teaching purposes. These casts still exist and can be seen on display in the Academy's central patio. Some of these statues include casts of statues from the Medici tombs, Moses by Michelangelo, The Victory of Samothrace and Venus de Milo.[2]


Old photo of the dean's office

The academy once had a very large collection of art in the Gallery of the San Carlos Academy, considered the first museum of art in the Americas.[5] Its art collection began with plaster casts of original Greek, Roman and European works used as teaching aids. It also gained other European works such as engravings from the 16th to 19th centuries from Spain, France, England, Italy, Germany, and Holland. The school also collected works from students and teachers from its founding to beginning of the 20thcentury. However, the collection outgrew the original academy building as it received donations from private sources and purchases made by the Mexican government after independence. The collection was divided, some going to the Museo Universitario de la Academia, also in the historic center of town, some going to the National Museum of San Carlos, northeast of the historic center and the rest remaining in the original building.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Academia de San Carlos" (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2009-04-09. Retrieved 2009-03-30.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Galindo, Carmen; Magdelena Galindo (2002). Mexico City Historic Center. Mexico City: Ediciones Nueva Guia. pp. 70–72. ISBN 968-5437-29-7.
  3. ^ a b Bueno de Ariztegui (ed), Patricia (1984). Guia Turistica de Mexico – Distrito Federal Centro 3. Mexico City: Promexa. pp. 94–98. ISBN 968-34-0319-0.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  4. ^ Jules Heller; Nancy G. Heller (19 December 2013). North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-135-63882-5.
  5. ^ a b "Nacional Museum of San Carlos". Archived from the original on 2008-12-03. Retrieved 2009-03-29.
  6. ^ "Academia San Carlos, Mexico City". Archived from the original on 3 May 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-30.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 19°25′59.11″N 99°7′43.84″W / 19.4330861°N 99.1288444°W / 19.4330861; -99.1288444