Sandstone seated figure of Mictlantecuhtli

Mexica*, AD 1325-1521
From Mexico

This sculpture represents Mictlantecuhtli, an Aztec god associated with death. It is made from a sandstone which is not found in the Mexican highlands and was probably obtained in Veracruz. The figure bears three glyphs, carved on his back: 'Two Skull', 'Five Vulture' and 'Four House'.

Mictlantecuhtli, and his counterpart Mictlancihuatl, inhabited the lowest of the nine levels in which the Underworld (Mictlan) was divided. The 'soul' of the deceased went to a particular level in Mictlan according to the circumstances of their death. Those who died of natural causes went to the ninth level and had to negotiate all sorts of obstacles to reach it.

To help the 'souls' in their dangerous journey the deceases were cremated with some of their possessions, especially the tools they used in life.

Two spectacular ceramic figures of Mictlantecuhtli were recovered in the 1980s from the 'House of the Eagles', a building located in the Sacred Precinct of the Mexica capital, Tenochtitlan. These colossal figures had traces of blood on them. This is consistent with depictions in the codices (screenfold books) of ceremonies in which an image of Mictlantecuhtli, or a person representing him, is bathed with blood.

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

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More information

Bibliography

E. Pasztory, Aztec art (New York, Abrams, 1983)

R.F. Townsend, The Aztecs (London, Thames and Hudson, 2000)

C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)

Dimensions

Height: 60.000 cm
Width: 27.000 cm

Museum number

AOA 1849,6-29.2

ESA1225

Wetherell Collection

Location

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