- Museum number
Stone bust, or figure, of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent. The serpent's coils are covered with feathers; the deity's face wears curved shell ear ornaments, while the head of the snake emerges above right shoulder.
- Production date
Height: 33.10 centimetres
Width: 24 centimetres
Depth: 15.30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
McEwan 1994, p.69
'Stone bust of Quetzalcoatl'
In Nahuatl, Quetzalcoatl means 'quetzal-feather (quetzalli) snake (coatl)', hence the term 'feathered serpent' for this best known of all Mesoamerican deities. The irridescent green feathers of the quetzal bird were widely used in costume and iconography to symbolise the verdant sources of life-giving moisture. Here Quetzalcoatl's head, with typical curved shell ear ornaments (epcololli) and framed by a necklace in the form of a solar disc, can be seen emerging from the plumed coils of the serpent.
See MS "Acquisitions in the Department of Antiquities since the year 1825" (in Medieval and Later Dept. Register Cupboards).
McEwan 2009, p.18-19
'Greenstone bust of Quetzalcoatl. Aztec, Mexico, AD 1325-1521'
Quetzalcoatl - 'feathered serpent' - was one of the principal deities in the Aztec pantheon and inspired a cult throughout Mesoamerica. In his manifestation as Quetzalcoatl - Ehecatl, the God of Wind - he is associated with moisture-leaden storm clouds whose powerful gusts bear life-giving rains, hence the choice of the dark green stone for this sculpture. Quetzalcoatl was also a legendary culture hero, said to have emerged amid feathered serpentine coils. The prized iridescent green feathers of the quetzal bird were widely used in costume and adornment to signal verdant sources of moisture and as special symbols of authority.
According to Aztec creation stories, four suns or worlds came into existence before the present one, but each ended in a cataclysm. When the fourth epoch was destroyed by floods, the gods decided to start afresh. To create a new race of humans, Quetzalcoatl descended to the lower levels of the Underworld. He tricked Mictlantecuhtil, the Lord of Death, to retrieve the bones of the people of the fourth sun. With these bones and some of his own blood, he then gave life to the humans who inhabit the present world. Quetzalcoatl was also an arbiter between life and death, shown by the severed head he holds in his left hand, and the cryptic symbols amid the feathers on his back.
- On display (G27/dc5)
- Exhibition history
1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.198
1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.198
1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.198
2009 Sep-2010 24 Jan, London, BM, Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler
- Acquisition date
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number