Masks of Xipe Totec

From Mexico, possibly 19th century AD

These masks are intended to represent Xipe Totec, a Mexica* god of fertility, usually represented wearing a flayed human skin.

Recent iconographic studies of the masks suggest that they may not be authentically Mexica in date. Some of the details of the scene on the back of both masks are not consistent with Mexica iconography. For example, the figure (representing Xipe Totec) has four arms and three of the hands are holding objects: a spear, a shield and a trophy head or incense bag. In authentic Mexica representations of Xipe Totec two of the hands are part of the flayed skin and therefore were never depicted holding objects. The frontal pose and the earplugs are also unusual in genuine images of the god.

While these masks could be an unusual example of Mexica art, it is also possible that they were made in the nineteenth century to satisfy a growing interest in Mexican art, especially by collectors and museums. Many pieces collected at the time and deposited in museums across America and Europe have proven to be problematic.

*The people and culture we know as 'Aztec' referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced Me-shee-ka).

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Masks of Xipe Totec

Front

  • Back

    Back

 

More information

Bibliography

M. Jones (ed.), Fake?: the art of deception, exh. cat. (London, The British Museum Press, 1990)

E. Pasztory, Falsifications and misreconstr (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, 1982)

Dimensions

Height: 21.000 cm (left)
Width: 24.500 cm
Height: 21.000 cm (left)
Width: 24.500 cm

Museum number

AOA 1902.11-14.1 (left);AOA 1956.Am x.6 (right)

ESA8062;ESA22479

1902.11-14.1: Purchased from A.P. Maudslay
1956.Am x.6: Christy Collection

Location

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