The book “El museo-taller de Alberto Urdaneta” [The Museum-Workshop of Alberto Urdaneta], by Lázaro María Girón is the first known publication in the history of Colombian art to address the topic of art collecting. It was published in 1888, a year after the death of Alberto Urdaneta (1845–1887), the Colombian writer and politician who founded the Escuela de Bellas Artes [Fine Arts School] in 1886 (now called the Escuela de Artes Plásticas of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia) and the Papel Periódico Ilustrado (1881–88), the first publication of its sort in Colombia.
Many experts in the sociology of art argue that Urdaneta’s work as an advocate of the arts was crucial to the formation of an artistic milieu in Colombia. His work was an essential component of the nineteenth-century movement to modernize Colombian culture.
While a few periodicals from the mid-nineteenth century did discuss the collection of French Baron Jean-Baptiste Louis Gros (1793–1870), Urdaneta’s work in art collecting is one of the least studied aspects of his overarching project. Later, the historiography of the period addressed the collections of Viceroy Antonio Caballero y Góngora, José Celestino Mutis, and Antonio Nariño. Regardless, this book was the only systematic (descriptive and analytic) study of an art collection published in the nineteenth century.
“El museo-taller de Alberto Urdaneta” provides a unique and essential window into the prevalent taste in Bogotá in the late nineteenth century, a period heavily influenced by the political movement known as La Regeneración (1886–99). The text also provides information, albeit spotty, about a number of different issues, among them the artistic and historical interests of the most important art advocate in Colombia during this period; the social value of art objects in the nineteenth century; the incipient configuration of a notion of cultural heritage; and the circulation of artistic and cultural goods in Colombia, a country with no history of art collecting.