Objects on display at this eccentric museum include ancient votive figurines and 1800s ladies’ combs, baroque sculptures and vintage buttons, Romanesque church reliefs and antique dolls. When it came to collecting objects that were alive with the spirit of the past, nothing seemed trivial to renowned Barcelona collector Frederic Marès
The few portraits and photographs of Frederiс Marès that survive in the archives show him as an old man, his white beard giving him a scholarly look. He came to Barcelona as a boy often. He would eventually graduate from the Llotja Fine Arts School, where he studied to be a sculptor and to which he later returned as a professor. Among his works are some of those monuments without which we can no longer imagine our city — his “Barcelona” on the Plaça de Catalunya, for example, that burly beauty riding her horse, holding a ship in her hands.
The Frederic Marès Museum is a testament to the sculptor’s passion for all things weird and wonderful. Marès took up his hobby after a trip to Paris where he had a chance to peer into the secret and mysterious world of antique dealers. Initially, he kept his treasures at home. As his collection grew, however, he decided he would donate it to the city of Barcelona. In 1946, a new museum was set up in the Gothic Quarter, with Don Frederic continuing to search far and wide for new items for the collection until 1991, the year he died.
The museum is a genuine treasure trove. To do it justice, you’ll need time — choose a day you have no other pressing business, you won’t regret it. Small statues of ancient Iberian deities vie for space with terra-cotta figurines from the tombs at Tanagra that offer a glimpse into daily life in ancient Greece. If medieval art is your thing, don’t miss the Romanesque Apparition of Christ to His Disciples at Sea. The highlight of the Renaissance sculpture on display is a series of works by Bartolomé Ordóñez, an artist from whom works were commissioned by kings; devotees of Baroque art, similarly, will be delighted by the exquisite mix of religious exaltation and complete naturalism in works by the famous Spanish sculptor Pedro de Mena. As to nineteenth century sculpture, one masterpiece to point out is The Lamentation of Christ by Agapit Vallmitjana.
There are ladies’ rooms overflowing with beaded purses, combs, boxes, hairpins and fans that used to serve the better half of Barcelona’s aristocracy
One of the most compelling things about the Museu Frederic Marès is that it’s actually two vastly different museums in one. Once you pass the religious sculpture, you enter the so-called Collector’s Cabinet, an exhibition that Marès himself used to call his “Sentimental Museum.” It is an engaging maze of old vases, photographs, watches, keys, weapons and other assorted nineteenth century curios, with several rooms designed to look like an antique collector’s study or a typical 1800s cabinet of curiosities. There are ladies’ rooms overflowing with beaded purses, combs, boxes, hairpins and fans that used to serve the better half of Barcelona’s aristocracy — they have long since gone to rest in peace in the cemetery at Montjuïc. The gentlemen’s rooms, with their binoculars, buttons, hats, silk ties and smoking pipes, allow one to imagine what Barcelona gentlemen looked and dressed like back in the day when horse-drawn carriages were the preferred mode of transportation along the Passeig de Gràcia.
Toys, too, have a place in the Sentimental Museum. Besides the usual antique dolls, the collection includes items that children these days would find quite surprising. Consider the tin soldiers, whole armies of tin soldiers, ranging from twenty to ninety millimeters in height, painted with the uniforms of European and colonial powers of the era. In Barcelona, it was Italian artisan Carlo Ortelli who first started producing these miniatures in 1828. Made of pewter, tin and alimony, these soldiers remained a hit with Catalan boys for most of the 1800s.
Made of pewter, tin and alimony, the toy soldiers remained a hit with Catalan boys for most of the 1800s
Last but not least, the building that houses the collection — and it’s the medieval palace of the Counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon — is itself eminently worth a visit. Its lovely interior courtyard with its fountain and a small café is an inviting place to read a book or meet some friends. Or just to have a coffee and ponder all the secrets and the stories that the objects in the collection of Frederic Marès, that good old Barcelona eccentric who devoted his life to one passion, have to tell someone who knows how to hear them.
Museu Frederic Mares
Address: Plaça de Sant Iu, 5, m. Jaume I / www.museumares.bcn.cat
Hours: Tue to Sat, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sun and holidays: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Admission: EUR 4.20, free every first Sunday of the month from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and every Sunday after 3 p.m.