Profile - Museo Nacional de Cerámica y Artes Suntuarias González Martí

The National Museum of Ceramics was set up in 1947 as a result of the donation to the State of the collection of ceramics of Manuel González Martí. This act gave way to the formal constitution of an institution that had been demanded by intellectuals for decades and reticently promoted by local administrations themselves. In fact, as Manuel González Martí himself was to say, the donation to the State represented, at that particular moment of history, the only way to guarantee the public exhibition and preservation of the rich heritage that he and his wife had managed to collect over the decades. However, before the creation of the museum itself, a Tripartite Commission for the foundation of the Museum of Ceramics (1940), presided by González Martí and made up by the City Council of Valencia, the Diputación Provincial and the Ministry for National Education, had managed to unite efforts for the purchase of the first piece of the future museum, the Florentine ceramics tondo from the Convent of La Trinidad, an extraordinary piece from the early 16th century.

In 1947, the State received the totality of the collection, initially installing the museum in the founder’s own home, who was in turn appointed Director for life. A few years later, in 1949, steps taken by Manuel González Martí led to the acquisition by the State of the Palace of Dos Aguas, at that time in neglected condition, for the exhibition of the collection of ceramics. After restoration, the ceramics went on display in the Palace in 1954, together with some original pieces from the palace itself, such as the Carriage of the Nymphs and the furniture of the Ballroom, the Porcelain Cabinet, the Red Room or the Japanese Room. However, given the budgetary constraints of the initial intervention, only the main floor was restored and the magnificent ceramics collection was exhibited there.

The growth of the museum itself through successive refurbishments over a period of twenty years resulted in the opening of new rooms to the public as new areas were restored or new bequests received. In 1972, on the demise of the founder, the museum’s total exhibition area already covered around 8,000 m², with nearly eight-hundred registered donations, bequests and deposits, totalling over twelve thousand items.

However, during the last decade, the museum lacked basic facilities such as storage areas, restoration workshops, a library, environmental control or areas for didactic activities. Moreover, the collections still followed the layout designed by the founder, arranged according to obviously dated criteria and a certain anachronism resulting from the conditions of necessity and emergency which had presided over previous interventions. On the other hand, and in spite of the –at the time insufficient- efforts of the technicians, it had not been possible to undertake a systematic programme for the cataloguing of the collections. Besides all this, we must add the deterioration of the building, with serious structural faults, termites, xylophages, damp in the roof and foundations, loose slabs, crumbling plasterwork, etc.

It was quickly realised that the solution for the structural problems had to be accompanied by a total renewal of the institution. The main priority was to guarantee the stability and durability of the structure, at the same time providing the facilities, services and means to develop the functions of a modern museum. A plan of the necessities was designed in order to achieve those aims, based on an museological project together with a thorough architectural analysis of the palace. A programme of actions was then devised. In parallel an exhaustive systematisation of the collections was undertaken as well as a study of all the available documentation on the building and the museum collections.

The architectural intervention by Ginés Sánchez Hevia has undoubtedly been the most complex part of the project to undertake. The guiding principle was the idea of returning the lost integrity of the main spaces of the Palace in as far as possible, at the same time providing the museum with the necessary services and optimal conditions to respond to the requirements of an increasingly demanding society. During the fifties, the walls had been hidden by tiles from the González Martí collection, covered by curtains or painted, given the difficulties and high costs of a more thorough restoration. This was the occasion to recover the splendid interior of the palace, unique in its kind, and to use the nine-hundred square metres of its main premises as an area devoted to the exhibition of the items of sumptuary arts treasured by the museum. In this way, the Palace would recover the dignity it deserved as a Historical and Artistic Monument, a title bestowed in 1941, and at the same time would be a space with an important museological value in itself.

The huge collections, and especially the ceramics, also required suitable preservation and consideration. At the same time, the museum was expected to keep its doors open while undertaking the necessary works of refurbishment. First of all a specific budget was assigned for the restoration of the tiling of the museum applied to the walls of the Palace, furniture or collections of ceramics and sculpture, organisation of storage space, etc., in such a way that all could be used in the future museographic plan. In parallel, and to meet the second objective, an agreement was signed with the Valencian Institute of Modern Art for the display in its Sala de la Muralla of a selection of the museum’s most representative exhibits. In the meantime, the library and documentary archive was always kept open for users and requests from researchers were attended at all times.

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