It was the first museum established in Antioquia department and the second in Colombia. The museum is located in the center of Medellín on the Botero Plaza near the Berrío Park metro station.
In 1881, a group, including Manuel Uribe Ángel, Antonio José Restrepo and Martin Gómez, established the Zea Museum in honor of Francisco Antonio Zea at the Library of the Sovereign State of Antioquia. The first collection contained books and historical and artistic artifacts of its founders. Uribe Angel donated his collection with the condition that he be the first director of the Museum. There was also a library as part of the museum.
The history of the department was represented in documents, weapons, flags and other items from the time of Colombian independence to the Thousand Days' War. The collection also contained pre-Columbian pieces, rocks, minerals, and coins.
The library had thousands of volumes related to history, art and science, and a compilation of the first newspapers in the country. In 1886, the Constitution was reformed and the status of Antioquia as a sovereign state changed to the status it has today as a Department. As a result, entities such as the museum had to depend on the central government and with the Governors. The museum coninuted depending on the Administration Department.
The museum closed to become the palace of Rafael Uribe Uribe, the Governor of Antioquia. Part of the collection was put in storage and the other part was sent to the University of Antioquio and the Historical Academy of Antioquia.
In 1946, Teresa Santamaria de Gonzalez and Joaquin Jaramillo Sierra, of the Honor Society for the Betterment of Medellín were concerned that the city did not have a representative museum. They proposed reopening the museum and looked for someone who could protect the museum from government control or closure. So they established the museum as a private non-profit entity.
In 1953, the museum received legal status, and it finally opened in 1955 in the Casa de la Moneda (Coin House), itself a former aguardiente factory. (The place is now Ala Experimental, next to the Church of the Veracruz). The location was facilitated by the national bank, and the city of Medellín gave the building for the exclusive use of the museum.
In 1977, the museum changed its name to the Francisco Antonio Zea Museum of Art of Medellín. The name was changed to avoid confusion: tourists did not understand the significance of Zea and the locals confused the museum with the Cera (wax) museum.
In 1978, the artist Fernando Botero made his first donation of his works to the museum. Then it was proposed that the name be changed to the Museum of Antioquia. The change was accepted by the Governor of Antioquia.
In 1997, a renovation process started. At this time, the museum was in economic distress and the number of annual visitors was low.
The museum has 17 rooms for the permanent collection, including:
- Manuel Angel Uribe room, commemorating one of the founders of the museum
- 19th century painting
- Colombian art
- Francisco Antonio Cano
- Antioquian artists of the 20th century
- Pedro Nel Gómez and his era
- Contemporary art
- Colombian art of the 20th century
- International art donated by Fernando Botero
- "Pedritio Botero" room
- Botero donation from 2000
- Pedro Nel Gómez