The Harald Wagner Collection of Teotihuacan Murals

Mural with Feathered Serpent and Flowering Trees (detail), A.D. 600–750. Mexico, Teotihuacan, Techinantitla. Volcanic ash, lime, mineral pigment, and mud backing. Bequest of Harald J. Wagner. 1985.104.1a-b

The Harald Wagner collection of Teotihuacan murals is the largest and most important outside of Mexico. The murals are remarkable for their quality, condition and iconographic breadth. Secretly removed from their site in the 1960s, they were left to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in a surprise bequest by Harald Wagner, an energetic San Francisco art lover who had spent years living in Mexico.

His gift created a tangle of legal and ethical issues that took the Museums, working with the Mexican government, years to sort out. The result was an agreement that stands as a model of institutional responsibility in the sensitive area of restoring lost cultural patrimony.

Of equal dramatic interest is the story of the discovery of the murals’ provenance at Teotihuacan by René Millon, some twenty years after their looting. The murals are of extraordinary scholarly interest because of their subject matter and their place within the Teotihuacan stylistic canon. Although scholars have not yet been able to establish the existence of an organized system of writing for the city, many of the Wagner murals bear important glyphs that will provide new and valuable evidence.