Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History



  • Deity Figure (Cihuateotl), 15th–early 16th century
    Mexico; Aztec
    Stone; H. 26 in. (66 cm)
    Museum Purchase, 1900 (00.5.30)

    The Aztecs believed that the souls of women who had died in childbirth were transformed into terrifying demons called Cihuateteo, or Celestial Princesses. They resided in the west known as Cihuatlampa, or region of the women, and accompanied the sun daily from its zenith at midday to dusk on the western horizon. The Cihuateteo were the female counterparts of warriors who had perished on the battlefield and who were thought to escort the sun through the underworld to its rise each morning. On five specific days of the Aztec ritual calendar these malevolent female spirits were believed to descend to the earth and haunt crossroads hoping to snatch the young children they were never privileged to have. The sign for one of these days, "1 Calli" (1 House), is carved on the top of the figure's head. The sculpture is one of several equally fine, identical images of the goddess that have differing date glyphs on the top of their heads. The sculptures were probably once placed in a shrine dedicated to Cihuateotl in the main temple precinct in Tenochititlan.

    The fearsome goddess sits on her clawed feet, her back slightly arched and her massive clawed hands raised, ready to pounce on her prey. She is bare breasted and wears an unadorned skirt held with a belt tied in a simple knot. Her face is a skull with big staring eyes and an open fleshless mouth with prominent, bared teeth. Her hair, carved in swirls and twists, typical of the mortuary aspect of earth deities, streams down the back of her head.

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  • Deity Figure (Cihuateotl), 15th–early 16th century
    Mexico; Aztec
    Stone; H. 26 in. (66 cm)
    Museum Purchase, 1900 (00.5.30)

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