Frederic Marès Museum, Barcelona

Here is the fourth in a series of articles by Intrepid Traveler publisher Kelly Monaghan as he travels through Spain.

Entrance to the Frederic Marès Museum. (Photos by Kelly Monaghan)

Frederic Marès (1893 – 1991) was a sculptor by profession and his commissions for religious and monumental statuary must have paid off handsomely to judge by the mind-boggling collection of high art and low-brow tchotchkes he amassed during his long life. Biographical information on this largely forgotten artist is hard to come by, but I suspect he came from money; either that, or great art and collectible ephemera used to go for a fraction of what it now commands. But let us not be crass.

Marès — who obviously never once in his lifetime uttered the words “Somebody stop me!” — seems to have spent every spare moment combing the churches and antique shops of Spain collecting pretty much everything he could lay his hands on from late antiquity to the early Renaissance, with a concentration on medieval polychrome religious sculpture.

Sant Pere Apostol

It is all on display in a magnificent medieval building hard by the Cathedral of Barcelona. At least I assume it’s all on display, although it wouldn’t surprise me if he had stashed a lot more in warehouses throughout the city.

The very best of the religious art collection is on the first floor and, if you are short of time, this is where you should start and perhaps end your visit. However, I urge you to take the time to start at the bottom, as it were, and survey the whole collection.

The first thing that strikes you is the sheer multiplicity of crucified Christs,

There’s a “sheer multiplicity of crucified Christs.”

busts of bishops, statues of saints, bronze crosses, and on and on. Apparently some visitors feel there’s too much of a muchness here and, if your tolerance for medieval religious art is low, you may form a similar opinion. But I found virtue in the overload.

Go to the Cloisters in Manhattan or the Cluny in Paris and you see the cream of the medieval crop. At the Marès you see it all, the full panoply of medieval artistry, from journeyman to genius, and the education that experience provides is invaluable. I, for one, came away with a much deeper appreciation of the true masters of the period.

Those masterpieces, as I mentioned, are drawn together on the first floor (that’s the second floor to us Americans) and beautifully displayed. Do take the time to savor this collection. Your leisurely contemplation will be amply rewarded.

And now, as Monty Python used to say, for something completely different. It is on the upper floors, where Marès once lived, that the depths of his compulsive hoarding (if, indeed, that’s what it was) is on most fulsome display. Apparently, Marès became obsessed with the idea that, as twentieth century technology and taste developed, much of the texture of the everyday world he knew growing up would disappear, and so he began preserving it for posterity.

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