This past week in my Latin American Art History class I did a short, informal presentation on this sculpture of the Aztec mother goddess, Coatlicue and thought I’d share a bit about her with all of you!
The Aztecs were my favorite ancient civilization to learn about in high school. The fact that at the beginning of conquest, the Spanish found this vast empire makes me laugh! They had a complex religion that was deeply ingrained into their very developed society – complete with beautiful and looming architecture, intense rituals (complete with human sacrifice), and an expertise cultivation of maize that sustained the civilization. The Aztecs were an absolute force to be reckoned with.
This massive sculpture represents the fierceness of the Aztecs. For the mother goddess, most probably wouldn’t consider this statue to portray a warm, motherly character! This is not something you look at with love, but of fear and awe. Standing at ten feet tall, Coatlicue is supposed to invoke reverence through fear and represent the need for human sacrifice. This is seen through her necklace of hands and hearts as well as her severed head being replaced by two serpents facing each other (symbolic of flowing blood).
“She of the serpent skirt” is what Coatlicue’s name is translated to mean, and that is an easy identifier when looking at this sculpture! The intricate carving of her skirt, based on actual snake skin, as well as throughout the entire sculpture, shows the expertise and skill that the Aztecs had in stone carving at this point. There isn’t an attempt at making this figure look naturalistic or human, but depicting a goddess isn’t supposed to be aimed at making her look like a person! Representing a deity is a tricky thing due to the Aztec belief that they are not singular figures, but created by the power of natural forces. So depicting a goddess in the way Coatlicue is depicted here as an amalgamation of both human and animal features, with neither being wholly realistic, is due to the Aztec beliefs about the very nature of deities.
I think my favorite fact about this sculpture is that it was accidentally found in 1790 and then was reburied due to it’s terrifying nature! Eventually it was re-dug up and now is in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. I’ll definitely have to make a trip to visit her someday.
Have a great week!!