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Brief Identification Edit

This small fertility stone- sculpture, known as the Maize Deity (Chicomceoatl)[1] depicts the image of Chicomceoatl, an Aztec[2] goddess of sustenance, and corn. In this basalt sculpture, Chicomceoatl is standing on her bare feet, wearing a belted skirt, holding maize ears[3] in her right hand, with a distinctive headdress referred to as an amacalli[4], or temple headdress. (MET) During Aztec religious rituals, Chicomceoatl impersonators would wear their own amacalli. This period of Aztec life is most often described as a celebration of Chicomceoatl, also known as the "Seven Serpent", as the number seven in her name is associated with luck and generative power. [5]
Maize Deity
Maize served as a cornerstone in the development of the Aztec empire as well as communities throughout Mesoamerica. The sprouting and harvesting of maize was associated with the cycle of birth, destruction, and regeneration of life. This idea is embodied in the three Aztec female deities of maize, in which Chicomecoatl represents the seed maize preserved for planting the next year’s crop. Sacred performances expressing the community’s gratitude for the bounty of the crop and hope for agricultural abundance in years to come took place throughout the maize cultivation season in honor of these maize goddesses. (Art Institute Chicago) [6] Small fertility figures, such as this one, are often artistically undistinguished, and were mass produced during Aztec times, probably serving as household idols. This sculpture in particular, however, currently resides at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is on view on view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 358. (MET)

Technical Evaluation Edit

The Maize Deity, Chicomceoatl, is a small sculpture made from basalt[7]. It was carved from a stone slab in a "flat, and angular style" (MET). Although the Aztec's metalworking technology was highly sophisticated, carving was done with simple stone and wood tools, fiber cords, water, and sand. (Funk and Wagnall's) Most Aztec sculpture was painted using a variety of bright colors. This tradition began with the Olmec peoples from the Gulf Coast, roughly around the second millennium B.C, but perhaps even before that. (Ancient EU) This piece is currently on display at the MET, in New York City. It was purchased from the Louis Petich Collection which was loaned to the MET from 1894, to 1900. (MET) This collection was gathered by Chevalier Louis Petich who was formerly the minister of the Italian government to Peru, and later the minister of the Italian government to Mexico. His collection consists of 1,614 pieces which represent the most advanced period of Toltec, Aztec, and other Mexican civilizations. The collection is only second in size to the Mexican exhibit in the Museum of the City of Mexico. (The American Archeologist 304-305)

Local Historical Context Edit

The Aztec civilization consisted of Indian people who dominated central Mexico at the time of the Spanish Conquest.[8] When the Aztecs settled in the Valley of Mexico toward the end of the 12th century they were a poor nomadic tribe which absorbed the cultures of nearby states until founding their capital, Tenochtitlan, in 1325. [9] The Aztecs were politically autonomous by the 15th century, however, they paid tribute to neighboring tribes until they became a powerful civilization, politically and culturally in the 16th century. When the Aztecs became a major political power they established hegemony over their neighbors in both the North and South. Their culture, through conquest, absorbed cultural elements resulting in a mixed civilization that attained advanced development in engineering, architecture, art, mathematics and astronomy. The Aztecs additionally further developed sculpture, weaving, metalwork, ornamentation, music and picture writing for historical records.

Their political and social organization was based upon a caste system. There were three castes: nobility, priesthood and military/merchants. Among these casts, the priesthood was the most powerful political and religious force. The Aztec government was centralized, and many conquered chiefs and tribes kept their own political autonomy, but paid tribute to the Aztecs to keep commerce open. The Aztec's army was large and powerful, and they used prisoners of war for human sacrifice to satisfy their many gods. (Funk and Wagnall's)

In 1519, Hernan Cortes[10] arrived with the Spaniards, while Aztec civilization was at it's peak. Many subject groups, such as the conquered Indians, were eager to join the invading Spanish, and rebel against Aztec rule. At first, the Aztecs believed these Spanish invaders were descendants of their god, Quetzalcoat[11]l, who aided their conquest. Montezuma[12], the last of the independent Aztec rulers, thus, graciously received Cortes. However, Cortes then imprisoned him, and attempted to rule through him. As a result, the Aztec's revolted, Montezuma was killed, and Tenochtitlan was destroyed. Cuahtemoc[13], the last of the Aztec emperors, was murdered and thus began the Spanish subjugation of Mexico. (Funk and Wagnall's)

This sculpture speaks to a larger trend in the Aztec culture. These small fertility figures were often mass produced and served as household idols during this time period. In the Aztec religion, several gods ruled over their daily life. Chicomceoatl, was the most revered deity among the farmers of Central Mexico because she was the goddess of corn and sustenance. Countless images of Chicomceoatl were produced, ranging from poorly made sculptures for family worship in rural communities, to ornate sculptures which were placed in temples. (Smithsonian)

World Historical Significance Edit

Chicomceoatl is representative of early religious trends in world history. In the Aztec religion, several gods ruled over daily life. The Aztecs envisioned the world as a result of the ancient and ongoing struggles between their powerful deities that represent the primal forces of nature, and the universe. They believed that the role of humanity, then, was to appease their gods, who subsequently appeased these primal forces that dominated their lives. These forces included climatic patterns, as well as patterns of famine and bounty that controlled their agricultural and hunting success. (Issitt) According to Aztec religion, there were 5 gods who created the world, a similar ideology to ancient Egypt[14], and ancient Rome[15] which believed several gods were the lords of creation. [16]

Human and animal sacrifices were an integral part of the Aztec religion. Warriors believed the ultimate honor was to be slain in battle, or to volunteer for sacrifice in a major ritual. Their prisoners of war were often used for less important rituals. [17] This connects to another early religious trend as in Mesopotamia, the Sumerians also fed their god's through sacrifice, as they too believed they were responsible for climatic patterns, and natural disasters.

The Aztecs, as with their cultural predecessors the Olmecs, employed art as a tool to reinforce their military and cultural dominance. They imposed buildings, frescoes, sculptures and manuscripts at important sites in Tenochtitlan. This not only represented important aspects of Aztec religion, but also served to remind subject peoples of their wealth and power. An example of the way in which Aztecs used art to convey their political and religious dominance is seen through the religious messages at the Templo Mayor[18], a pyramid, at Tenochtitlan. The pyramid was designed to represent the sacred snake, an important symbol in Aztec religion and mythology. This implementation of a hierarchy of deities is seen elsewhere in the ancient world, as the Zhou[19] similarly make their own more powerful god to justify their war against the Shang dynasty[20]. They, like the Aztecs, believed their god was the most powerful, supreme deity, above those who they conquered.

The Aztecs allowed existing political and administrative structures into their conquered territories, however they constructed temples. In doing so, they imposed their own gods in a hierarchy above local deities. They additionally did this through architecture and art, as well as sacrificial ceremonies at the new sacred places they built. Little is known about the average Aztec sculptors. Similar to Rome and Egypt, these artists were negligible in the eyes of the elite, whom he worked for. (Sturdevant 12)

Bibliography Edit

"Aztec." Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2016): 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

STURDEVANT, WILLIAM D. “THE WORLD OF AZTEC SCULPTURE.” Archaeology, vol. 26, no. 1, 1973, pp. 10–15. www.jstor.org/stable/41685213.


Mark Cartwright. “Aztec Art,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified January 06, 2014. http://www.ancient.eu /Aztec_Art/.

Mark Cartwright. “Olmec Civilization,” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified August 30, 2013. http://www.ancient.eu /Olmec_Civilization/.

LÓPEZ LUJÁN, LEONARDO, and GIACOMO CHIARI. Color in Monumental Mexica Sculpture. Vol. No. 61/62, Print. Anthropology and Aesthetics.

Aztec." Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia (2016): 1p. 1. Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. Web. 13 Nov. 2016.

Snyder, Dr. J. F, ed. The American Archeologist. Vol. 2. Columbus, Ohio: Landon Printing, 1898. Print.

THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO. "THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO Department of Museum Education Division of Teacher Programs Crown Family Educator Resource Center Head of Xilonen, Goddess of Young Maize." Art Institute of Chicago. Art Insitute of Chicago, n.d. Web. Nov.-Dec. 2016.

Smithsonian. "Mexica Chicomecoatl - Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian - George Gustav Heye Center, New York." Mexica Chicomecoatl - Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian - George Gustav Heye Center, New York. Smithsonian, n.d. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.


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