Sculpture of a Huastec goddess

Mexico, AD 900-1521

Fertility is a recurring theme in Huastec art, represented by stone sculptures of female goddesses, elderly men and phalluses.

The female figures share similar characteristics, such as a rigid posture, hands over their stomachs, bare breasts, and usually wear a skirt and large headdress. The headdress is generally composed of a rectangular section with a conical cap on top and a fan-shaped crest, as shown on this sculpture.

These female deities are related to Tlazolteotl, an earth goddess also associated with filth and carnal sin. Her name comes from tlazolli, which means 'filth' in Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica (Aztecs), and teotl, a broad term for 'deity'. She was venerated by the Mexica, who conquered the Gulf Coast in the fifteenth century, during the reign of Motecuhzoma I (1440-69).

The Mexica king consecrated a new extension of the Templo Mayor (Great Temple) with a ceremony in which a large number of Huastec captives were sacrificed in honour of Xipe Totec, the god of fertility. Several gods revered by the Mexica were worshipped earlier in the Gulf Coast and other areas, and were added to the Mexica pantheon.

Mexica (Aztecs)


Mexica (Aztecs)

The people and culture we know as 'Aztec' referred to themselves as the Mexica, which is pronounced 'Mé-shee-ka'.

Mexica (Aztecs) world culture


Sculpture of a Huastec goddess

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Object details


Height: 150 cm
Width: 57 cm
Depth: 14 cm


AOA Q89.Am3

Room 27: Mexico


    Purchased by the Christy Fund


    C. McEwan, Ancient American Art in Detail (London, The British Museum Press, 2009)

    L. López Luján, The offerings of the Templo Mayor (University Press of Colorado, 1994)

    E.P. Benson and E.H. Boone, The art and iconography of lat (Washington, D.C., Trustees for Harvard University, 1982)

    F.F. Berdan and others, Aztec imperial strategies (Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 1996)

    See this object in our Collection database online

    Further reading

    D. Carrasco, ‘We Eat the Gods and the Gods Eat us’, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 63 (1995), 429–463

    D. Carrasco, ‘Uttered from the Heart: Guilty Rhetoric among the Aztecs’, History of Religions, 39 (1999), 1–31

    D. Carrasco, City of Sacrifice: the Aztec Empire and the Role of Violence in Civilisation (Boston, 1999)

    M.M. Carrera, The Representation of Women in Aztec-Mexica sculpture (PhD thesis, 1979)

    I. Clendinnen, ‘The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society’, Past & Present, 107 (1985), 44–89

    J. de Durand Forest, ‘Tlazolteotl’, in J.K. Josserand & K. Dakin (eds.),  Smoke and Mist: Mesoamerican Studies in Memory of Thelma D. Sullivan, (Oxford, 1988), pp. 191–216

    W. Gingerich, ‘Three Nahuatl Hymns on the Mother Archetype: an Interpretive Commentary’, Mexican Studies, 4 (1988), 191–244

    C.F. Klein, ‘Snares and Entrails: Mesoamerican Symbols of Sin and Punishment’, Anthropology and Aesthetics, 19/20 (1990/1), 81–103

    C.F. Klein, ‘Teocuitlatl, “Divine Excrement”: the Significance of “Holy Shit” in Ancient Mexico’, Art Journal, 52 (1993), 20–27

    J. Nash, ‘Gendered Deities and the Survival of Culture’, History of Religions, 36 (2007), 333–356

    C. Dodds Pennock, Bonds of Blood: Gender, Lifecycle and Sacrifice in Aztec Culture (New York, 2008)

    J.M.D. Pohl, ‘Themes of Drunkenness, Violence and Factionalism in Tlaxcalan Altar Paintings’, Anthropology and Aesthetics, 33 (1998), 184–207

    T.D. Sullivan, ‘Tlazolteotl-Ixcuina: the Great Spinner and Weaver’, in Elizabeth Hill Boon, The Art and Iconography of Late Post-Classic Mexico, (Washington, 1982), pp. 7–34