Friday, October 2, 2015

Coyolxuahqui Monolith


This is a relief sculpture made from stone of an Aztec female who has been decapitated and dismembered.  The subject is very decorated which leads me to believe that she was an important figure.  She wears a large feathered headdress and ornate jewelry and sandals.  Snakes are tied around her waist and appendages.  Faces are also carved on her knees and elbows.  Although the composition is a bit chaotic there is still a circular movement and flow to the piece.

Researched Information

The figure in this work is Coyolxuahqui, an Aztec goddess featured heavily in the culture's mythology.  She can be identified by the dismembered body and the bells on her face, Coyolxuahqui translating to "Bells Her Cheeks".  The figure is displayed naked, which was seen as a sign of humiliation in this culture.  Her folded skin in the stomach area and sagging breasts suggest that she was a mother.  The scalloping shapes along the arms, legs, and neck represent torn flesh and pieces of bone can also be seen protruding from her appendages.  The stone was originally painted with vibrant colors which would have made the artwork much easier to read.  The background was painted red to represent a pool of blood, her skin would have been painted a shade of yellow, and her accessories would have been highlighted as well.  This stone was found at the Templo Mayor, the main temple of the Aztecs, in Mexico City.  The Templo Mayor is separated by two temples that are located on top of the pyramid.  The monolith was placed at the base of the stairs on the  side of Huitzilopochtli, an Aztec deity associated with warfare and the sun.  This artifact was so important to the Aztecs that as the temple grew and was expanded upon, the stone was buried and new versions were recreated and placed on top of the previous ones at the new base of the temple.  The Aztecs had a festival devoted to the myth of Coyolxuahqui where they would sacrifice war captives on the Huitzilopochtli side of the temple and roll the bodies down the stairs to symbolically reenact the killing of Coyolxuahqui. 


Coatlicue, the mother of Coyolxuahqui, was sweeping on top of snake mountain when a ball of feathers falls into her lap and she is miraculously impregnated.  Coyolxuahqui becomes furious and gathers her 400 brothers to storm the mountain and kill their mother.  Huitzilopochtli then springs from his mother's womb as an adult and fully armed and fights his siblings off.  He cuts the head off of Coyolxuahqui and tosses her body down the mountain where it breaks into pieces at the base of the mountain.

Photo Credit:  Miguel Angel Alvarez Bernardo  


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