Deity Censer (Xantil)

Date: 1200–1521

Geography: Mexico, Tehuacan Valley

Culture: Eastern Nahua

Medium: Ceramic, pigment

Dimensions: H. 22 5/8 x W. 15 1/8 x D. 9 in. (57.5 x 38.4 x 22.9 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969

Accession Number: 1978.412.10


During the last few centuries before the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521, the people in the Tehuacán Valley in the southeast corner of the state of Puebla near Oaxaca produced unusual censer covers. Censers were braziers for holding incense, which most commonly was a tree resin widely called copal, and when burnt it yielded abundant smoke. Tehuacán censer covers were known as xantiles, and are in the form of seated human figures with tubelike arms and legs, and a modeled head attached to the hollow, cylindrical body. The rising smoke escaped through the open, fanged mouth of this figure, and was a means of communicating with the gods. This figure is amply decorated with finely painted designs and wears prominent ear ornaments. The headcrest and rosettes with tassels on either side of the head suggest that Macuilxochitl-Xochipilli, god of music, dance, feasting, and sexuality, is depicted.