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The Best Collection of Mexican Masks: Museo Rafael Coronel

Want to see thousands of interesting Mexican masks in one place? Head to the Museo Rafael Coronel Museum in Zacatecas.

mask museum in Zacatecas Mexico

I first arrived in this part of Mexico while on assignment to review some hotels in Aguascalientes and Zacatecas. The former has a great Museo de los Muertos (Museum of the Dead) and the latter has one of the most amazing museums I’ve ever seen, with some 5,000 Mexican masks from all over the country.

Nestled in the historic city of Zacatecas, the Museo Rafael Coronel, also known as the Museo de las Máscaras (Museum of Masks), offers a unique glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of Mexico. The museum, which is housed in the former San Francisco Convent, boasts an impressive collection of more than 5,000 masks, each telling its own story of folklore, ritual, and tradition. These masks, along with puppets, pottery, and other folk art, were amassed by the famous Mexican artist Rafael Coronel, brother of Pedro Coronel, whose passion for the artistry and heritage of his country shines through the exhibits.

Budget ample time to stop by here because that’s a lot of masks, first of all, but those are just one part of a museum that supposedly has more than 16,000 items in its collection. The museum is a treasure trove for anyone interested in traditional Mexican art, anthropology, and history, offering detailed insights into the many faces of Mexico’s indigenous and mestizo communities.

Mexican masks museum Zacatecas

There’s folk art, costumes, and a few works from famous artists. After all, Rafael Coronel was the son-in-law of Diego Rivera and his brother Pedro was a well-known artist as well. (There’s another museum in Zacatecas bearing his brother’s name, also worth a visit.) Rafael Coronel Arroyo, also known simply as Rafael Coronel, was a distinguished Mexican painter himself, born on October 24, 1932, in Zacatecas.

You also want to spend some time here because of where the collection is housed: in a historic convent building that’s half intact, half crumbling. The centuries-old walls are surrounded by lush gardens that are calm spots to rest your feet and bring your heart rate down in this high-altitude city.

Mexican Masks Grouped by Style

Zacatecas mask museum

The Mexican masks on display here are not just laid out haphazardly for you to see, like the ones in my house are. Those two at the top of this post are big ones that cover the whole head like a hood, from the state of Guerrero. There are others from there worn like a regular mask but also having the mirrored eyes. Very cool. 

Sometimes these masks are grouped by what they are depicting, like devils by the hundreds. Or the ones that are meant to depict Spanish soldiers, either in a historic context or to make fun of them. Or the old man who may be funny or wise, depending on the story. 

old men masks in Mexico

Then you have the kind that are meant to convey a certain kind of character immediately with one glance, like a priest, the village fool, or a drunkard. 

village fool masks from Mexico

This being Mexico, of course there are lots of skulls and skeletons. 

Museo Rafael Coronel Zacatecas

Some of the masks are so intricate and impressive that they are displayed on their own rather than being grouped with others. This one, for example, is just plain bizarre. 

intricate Mexican mask at the Rafael Coronel museum

For less than two bucks you get to tour it all and since this city is off the radar of most tourists, I doubt it’s ever very crowded unless there is a school group going through it in clumps. When I visited I got a private tour: a guy was going ahead of me turning on all the lights.

I came back another time with my family and there was one other person in the museum. I bought a t-shirt because I wanted to help make sure this mask museum survives.

I don’t usually shoot a lot of photos in museums, but I went nuts in this one. The masks are from one guy’s private collection, which blows my mind since what’s on display is only 30% of the whole amount he bequeathed to the museum. The others are in storage. It’s a wide-ranging collection, with cheetahs, kings, crocodiles, and monsters all making an appearance.

Since most are on the wall instead of being encased in glass, it’s easier to photograph these masks from Mexico than it is to shoot artifacts through the glass in a normal museum.

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Visiting the Mask Museum

The Museo Rafael Coronel in Zacatecas is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The modest admission fee is less than two dollars, one of the world’s greatest museum bargains.

You can find an official website here that’s only in Spanish, but it’s worth going here to check the hours and make sure they haven’t changed. This Zacatecas mask museum is walking distance from the historic center, in a city where you can walk almost anywhere. See what else is available in this old post of mine about things to do in Zacatecas

Search hotels in Zacatecas here

Malika Gabrielle

Monday 11th of March 2024

Very interesting article. Thanks for this!