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m 9-m 

N Burchvood, Katharine Tyler 
6550 The origin and legacy 
of Mexican art. 

Burchwood, Katharine Tyler, 1891- 

The origin and legacy of Mexican art South Brunswick. A. 
S. Barnes [1972. cl971] 
« 159 p. aius. 29 cm. $12.50 

Bibliography: p. 153-154. 

1. Art. Mexican— History. I. Title. 

N6550.B8 709'.72 

ISBN 0-498-07840-X / 

Library of Congress 72i72r72jrev 






(41S) 626.16M 



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Library of 

New College of California 

The Origin 



of Mexican Art 

Also by Katharine Tyler Burchwood 
Art Then and Now (with Kathryn D. Lee) 

The Origin 


of Mexican Art 

Katharine Tyler Burchwood 



© 1971 by A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc. 
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 71-146748 



A. S. Barnes and Co., Inc. 
Cranbury, New Jersey 08512 

Thomas Yoseloff Ltd 

108 New Bond Street 

London WIY OQX, England 

ISBN 0-498-07840-X 
Printed in the United States of America 

To my Mother, 
Ellen Richmond Tyler 


Acknowledgments 9 

1 Art Begins 13 

2 The Art of Building 25 

3 Monte Alban 33 

4 The Aztecs 42 

5 The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 54 

6 Independence in Art and State 74 

7 Art Awakens 82 

8 Mexican Murals 91 

9 Diego Rivera, 1886-1957 102 

10 Jose Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949 110 

11 David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1898- 118 

12 Modem Mexican Art 126 

13 Popular Arts of Mexico 144 
Bibliography 153 
Index 155 


My grateful appreciation and thanks are ac- 
corded the following for permission to use 
illustrative material and their help in obtain- 
ing it: 
Miss Inez Amor, Galeria De Arte Mexicano, 

Mexico City. 
Mr. Edward Barry, Art Editor, The Chicago 

Miss Dorothy Bishop, Department of Arts, 

International Business Machines Corpora- 
tion Collection, New York. 
Miss Anita Brenner, Mexico City. 
Mr. Michael E. Carbine, Director of Public 

Relations, Mundelein College, Chicago. 
Miss Renee D. Gallindo, Secretary, Art of 

Mexico, Mexico City. 
Mr. Charles E. Guptill, Mexican Government 

Tourism Department, Mexico City. 
Mr. Kermit Holt, Travel Editor, The Chicago 


Miss Ursula Kiihl, Foreign Department, Artes 
De Mexico, Mexico City. 

Mr. A. J. Misrachi, Central Art Gallery, Mex- 
ico City. 

Miss Enricjueta Sanchez, Director, Mexican 
Government Tourism Department, Chi- 

Mr. David Weber, Correspondent, The Chi- 
cago Tribune, for Mexico City. 

Mr. Comad White, Granville, Ohio. 
Also to: 

Ari:es De Mexico. Publication by The Na- 
tional University of Mexico. 

Galeria De Arte Mexicano, Milan, Mexico 

Mexican Government Tourism Department. 

National Banks of Mexico, Tourism Service. 

National Railroads of Mexico. 

The Origin 



of Mexican Art 


The legacy of Mexican art is rooted in mys- 
tery—in a peoples' unquenchable love of 
beauty. Across centuries of alternate torture 
and triumph, in a land both hospitable and 
cruel, the creative urge rose again and again 
over natural and human catastrophes which 
should have fractured its tradition perma- 
nently. But each time, a new synthesis was 
formed, until in the flowering of the twen- 
tieth century native art combined the earth- 
iness of cactus with the mysticism of eternity. 

The land itself is framed in contrasts, with 
Eden-like shore lines, impassible jungles, 
desolate deserts, rich verdured plateaux, 
mountains soaring thousands of feet above 
sea level, volcanos smoldering under icecaps, 
and gigantic mountains towering as guard- 
ians over all. Owing to the varying altitudes 
and to location in both temperate and tropi- 
cal zones, the climate is diversified, ranging 
from tropical to cool temperature. Average 
temperature in the central plateau is 60 to 
70 degrees F; in the coastal plains 80 to 90 
degrees. (Plate 1. Popocatepetl. Viewed from 
Ameca, depicts such scenic contrasts). 

Mexico's political history rivals the geo- 
graphical. Origins have vanished in a pre- 
historic past or remote antiquity, while later 
times present fabulous panoramas. Obscure 
tribes grow to imperial power, then fall into 

obscurity or utterly vanish with equal mys- 
tery. Immense cities, rivaling in beauty those 
of the ancient world, rise as if by magic from 
jungle or plain or are abandoned abruptly 
to vines and the elements, to be discovered 
almost intact centuries later by scientists 
whose ancestors did not know of the builders' 

The Mexican people are largely descended 
from Oriental tribesmen who crossed Bering 
Strait from northeastern Asia, entering the 
western hemisphere at the end of the last 
Ice Age. Trekking southward, they reached 
this land where their descendants founded a 
new civilization known as Mesoamerican. To- 
day's population of 30,000,000 includes many 
living in isolated mountain villages who still 
speak the Nahuatl language and wear the 
same type of clothing as did their ancestors 
who met the Conquistadores. Roughly esti- 
mated, a third of the people are pure Indian 
of remote Asian heredity. Another third, ap- 
proximately 10,000,000 are Mestizo, a blend 
of Indian and Spanish, closely integrated 
with Western culture. They are strong, force- 
ful people of dignified bearing, with ex- 
emplary qualities which have made them 
leaders in government, the army, the pro- 
fessions, and the arts. A few inhabitants are 
a blend of Indian and Negro, while the re- 



The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 1. Popocatepetl, viewed from Ameca. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism Depart- 

maining population, of pure Spanish descent 
and known as "Castillian," boasts 500 fami- 
lies living today in urban centers. 

The tenacity with which ancient tradi- 
tion clings is illustrated by the people of 
Anahuac— Valley of the Waters— an important 
early art center. Although this rich farm land, 
where background mountains rise like mono- 
liths against its sky, was rent asunder by 
Cortes, natives still speak the Aztec-Mexica 
tongue. Their unique descent from an Ori- 
ental-Occidental amalgam is reflected in an 
art that combines awareness and appreciation 

of nature's beauty and the chastening eflFect 
of a long history of tribulation, which be- 
came Mexico's art legacy. 

Areas near coastal stretches on the Gulf 
bordering humid jungles, known as "rubber- 
hot-lands," were the home of art-minded 
people about 1000 b.c. Their artists carved 
huge stone heads which have been submerged 
in jungle growth near southern Vera Cruz, 
Chiapas, and western Tabasco. For centuries 
these colossal heads remained embedded 
near tribal burying grounds and pyramids. 
The heads, many over nine feet high, were 

PLATE 2. Olmec stone face. Relic of Mexico's 
oldest civilization. Plaster reproduction. La 
Venta, Tabasco. Courtesy American Museum of 
Natiu-al History, New York 


skillfully modeled, realistic renderings of 
round-faced young men. The Spanish called 
the primitive sculptors who had carved them 
Olmec ( deriving the name from olli meaning 
"rubber"), and the strange idols are believed 
to symbolize strength and power attributed 
to a god or important person. The heads are 
characterized by Mongolian features, having 
flat noses, broad nostrils, thick lips, and nar- 
row eye-slits, and they are carved in direct, 
forceful style (Plate 2. Olmec Head. A m,as- 
sive relic of Mexico's oldest civilization). 

These ancient Mexican idols bear a strong 
resemblance to the arts of Asia, Polynesia, 
and Oceania, as was noted when relics from 
both sides of the Pacific were shown at the 
1950 exposition of pre-Columbian Art, Mu- 
seum of Natural History, New York, where 
interesting comparisons were made with stone 
relics excavated by Dr. Matthew Stirling in 
Mexico. An idol wearing a cap resembling a 
football helmet, discovered by the Smith- 
sonian Institute, was named "El Ray" by the 
archaeologists, who believed it to be the 
image of an ancient king. Other Smithsonian 
relics of heads show spreading tiger-like 
fangs carved in dynamic style. This type of 
pattern became dominant throughout Mexi- 
can ancient history, and many such carvings 
were found at Tres Zapotes and dated by 
radio carbon at around 30 b.c. Also discov- 
ered there were stela (grave stones) and 
calendar calculations with dot-bar cuts which 
indicate a primitive Mexican numeral sys- 
tem. Although tribal sources yield few cer- 
tainties determining origins, these relics and 
art findings of stone do ofiFer reliable clues. 
Archaeologists have uncovered skillful carv- 
ings in three-dimensional form which may be 
viewed equally well from all sides. Among 
these small works in blue-green jadeite are 
masks and figurines discovered in the Olmec 
homeland (Plate 3. Head of a Woman). 

Early migrations ended about 1000 B.C., 
and invaded peoples who had trekked from 
the far north began settling on farms in fer- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

tile areas. Their dependable food crop of 
com (maize or teosinte) encouraged wan- 
dering hunters to remain and form agrarian 

PLATE 3. Head of a Woman. Olmec style. Jadeite, 
of uncertain provenance. Courtesy London Illus- 
trated News, June 21, 1947 

communities, which resulted in forming an 
agricultural civilization wherein tribal settle- 
ments were bound by blood ties. The Indians 
bom into a clan or calpulli claimed common 
heritage and gradually, as numerous tribal 
subgroups and villages formed, they enlarged 
into great nations: Toltec, Zapotec, Olmec, 
and Tarascan (Plate 4. Map: Pre-Conquest 

During the long period ending with the 
arrival of the Spanish, the tribal nations were 
shocked again and again by wars causing 
them to fall and rise. Fortunately, it was an 
established Mesoamerican practice for invad- 
ing, conquering peoples to settle and live in 

Art Begins 

peace with vanquished tribesmen, which en- 
abled them to absorb valuable learning and 
skills. For example, it is believed that after 
the artist people of the hot-lands had been 
conquered, probably by the Maya, they, in 
turn, fell before barbaric northern invaders 
who absorbed sections of Olmec territory, 
thus creating a new and strong tribal strain 
which produced the Toltec nation. In later 
time, when another tribe, the Chichimecs, 
captured the Toltec capital city of Tollan in 
a surprise attack, they gradually extended 
control over a large plateau area and the con- 
quering invaders took a place among the 
other Mesoamerican nations. Interestingly 
enough, the early tribesmen, despite innum- 
erable defeats and conquests, were able to 
fuse and retain traditions and customs, in- 
cluding popular handicrafts. Dependable 
knowledge of ancient tribes is to be found 
in art relics such as clay figurines and pot- 
tery; though loosely labeled, they supply 
helpful sources for tracing cultures. 

Inspired by a deep love of beauty, native 
art persisted, despite devastating wars, fi- 

PLATE 4. Map showing distribution of Mexican 
tribes. The Aztecs were in the area first occupied 
by the Toltecs. 

nally to reach a chmax three thousand years 
later— in our own time. Ancient tribal farmers 


so adjusted their time as to allow leisure 
for worship, participation in religious cere- 
monials, dreaming, sorrowing, enjoying Hfe, 
and creating arts and handicrafts. By nature 
the Indian is not competitive, as we under- 
stand that term, and because a primary love 
of beauty was ingrained in him, he willingly 
spent time in the development and perfec- 
tion of art skills. He listened to hidden pres- 
ences in sky, cloud, mountain, plant, and 
animal, expressing in art what he felt and 
saw. After meditation he had an urge to pro- 
duce something beautiful. Many remains of 
the ancient hunter-farmers of the Valley have 
been found in the region around Anahuac 
(Plate 5. Seated Man). 

In Mexico, as elsewhere, tribal arts were 
always preceded by handicrafts, and ancient 
weaving that served many practical pur- 
poses made use of readily available cactus 
fibers of various types known as agave, ma- 
guey, oi metl. Tribal women were the first 
weavers, and they soon learned to design 
their weavings with geometric, stylized, all- 
over patterns, the motifs being derived from 
plants, birds, men, animals, and fish. The 
first looms were of the primitive saddle-back 
or horizontal type, consisting of two wooden 
bars between which warp threads extended 
lengthwise. Sometimes one bar was fastened 
to a tree or pole, the other to a leather belt 
around the weaver's waist, and the weaving 
of the woof thread was done with a single 
shuttle. This type of loom, known as the "old," 
is still used by many weavers who produce 
beautiful textiles featuring creative nature 
designs. The petate (Aztec for "mat") is a 
practical and popular woven wrap which is 
as popular and useful now as in pre-Conquest 
days. Basically it provides a bed or mattress 
of woven reeds, covered with a cloth woven 
from maguey fibers; this often serves as a 
burial wrap for humble Indians. The ancient 
craft of weaving has become an important 
and profitable Mexican industry today, and 
many skilled artisans in Puebla, Guerrero, 

PLATE 5. Seated man. Pre-Columbian Mexican 
sculpture of Jalisco, Mexico. Courtesy Chicago 
Natural History Museum 

Art Begins 

and Oaxaca are engaged in the large-scale 
production of woven articles. 

Settled agrarian living created the need 
for domestic implements and containers, 
hence pottery-making wsis an early craft. 
Mexican soil provides quantities of clay well 
suited for pottery and the earliest bowls and 
jugs were made of coarse, red-yellow clay 
fired under burning wood, though later pot- 
tery for utilitarian needs (corriente) was 
baked in ovens or kilns. Craftsmen learned 
to mix limestone with cement, which they 
crushed to a fine sand and combined with 
an adhesive to provide a smooth surface on 
which designs could be etched or painted. 
The first designs consisted of flowing curvi- 
linear motifs rendered in black or white 
strokes on reddish clay vessels. The patterns 
were applied in bands around the sides of 
bowls and on the necks of jugs. 

Women made most of the household pot- 
tery, using simple molds such as basket con- 
tainers, though pottery for domestic use was 
often the work of an entire family in the 
average home, where children learned to be 
little craftsmen, their efforts being regarded 
with special pride. Pottery became a popular 
medium of exchange at the weekly tiaquiz 
and tribes developed stylistic differences in 
their wares. Early potters at Cholula became 
noted for their red and black wares, and they 
also excelled in making weapons and carving 
figurines in clay, terra-cotta, and jade. An- 
cient pottery and carvings are prized by 
archaeologists, for these relics offer more ex- 
act cultural information than architecture 
and folk-lyric legends. 

After their fame in ceramic skills spread 
throughout the central highlands, experts 
among Olmec and Zapotec craftsmen were 
sent as roving tutors to instruct other tribal 
groups. In time, capable artisans located near 
die great religious centers dominating the 
Valley of Anahuac— at Cholula, Monte Alban, 
and Teotihuacan. During the most prosperous 
period of the Toltec nation, professional pot- 


ters formed guilds for production of cere- 
monial vessels and elaborate mortuary vases 
for use in symbolic-religious services. Many 
rare ceramic treasures have been found in 
tombs at Monte Alban, where beautifully 
decorated funeral pieces were intended to 
contain food and drink for the dead. These 
were polished to a deep, high luster achieved 
by vigorous rubbing and burnishing with ob- 
sidian scrapers and agate stones. Though pre- 
Columbian pottery was unglazed, a shiny, 
glaze-hke effect was achieved entirely by 
hand. Made without the aid of a potter's 
wheel, famous primitive funeral vases are 
perfectly shaped and the elegant polished 
black ware, produced between 272 b.c. and 
A.D. 1, is regarded as among the finest pottery 

PLATE 6. Terra-cotta head. Totonac sculpture. 
Classical Period. Courtesy The Cleveland Mu- 
seum of Art, Purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund 

made by Mesoamerican peoples. 

When in the sixteenth century the Spanish 
introduced the potter's wheel, along with 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 7. Tenoned head. Man with Dolphin Hel- 
met. Totonac sculpture. Courtesy International 
Communications Foundation, Monterey Park, 

molds and glazes, missionary priests taught 
the Indians newer methods of pottery-making 
along with their Gospel lessons. The Indians 
of Puebla were the first to receive this priestly 
instruction and rarely beautiful ritual pieces 
were made there for the church. Fine secular 

pottery has etched designs of birds, flowers, 
reptiles, and human figures. Mexican pottery 
of today, following the tradition of early 
times, enjoys a world market and villagers 
take pride in displaying it and their weaving 
on travel routes. 

Art Begins 

Early Mexican ritual sculpture required 
symbolic interpretation, for it was intended 
solely for religious purposes and naturalistic 
designs were restricted to secular use. During 
the Classic Period of Mexican sculpture (a.d. 
1-900) only archaic forms prevailed. Later 
artists produced carefully studied, naturalistic 
portrait heads, and remarkably skillful carv- 
ings of structural anatomy were made by 
Totonac sculptors. Terra-cotta Head (Plate 
6 ) is a work of firm musculature and belongs 
to the Vera Cruz art tradition of careful and 
detailed workmanship. A profile assigned to 
the eighth-ninth century is the Tenoned 
Head. Man with a Dolphin Helmet (Plate 7). 
A realistic sculpture individually character- 
ized, it expresses a more advanced phase of 
Totonac culture. 

An early work of special interest (500 b.c- 
A.D. 500) is a statue carved from sandstone, 
Human Figure with Staff (Plate 8), made in 
Tampico, Mexico. The figure here shows con- 
scious distortion to secure significant art 
values. A limestone carving known as Hacha 
(Plate 9) in the Vera Cruz tradition (a.d. 
400-800) is a significant example of the 
Trajin Style. The height of this exquisite 
carving is thirteen-and-one-fourth inches. 

Clay figurines and heads found near Vera 
Cruz depict people who lived there during 
the seventh century. There is no information 
regarding what later happened to them; 
whether they were conquered or became 
tribute payers to a series of conquerors is 
unknown. Typical of this art is Head of a 
Smiling Woman (Plate 10). Totonac sculp- 
tors were expert in modehng small figurines; 
they invariably had smiling faces and so be- 
came known as "laughing heads." Their lively 
human interest and charm have special ap- 

Because the Mesoamerican peoples were 
constantly exposed to severe dangers, they 
sought protection through the magic aid of 
idols, which served to charm away or ward 
ofiF danger and disaster. Carved idols often 


represented jaguars shown in ferocious, dis- 
torted poses emphasizing dynamic power and 

PLATE 8. Figure of a man leaning on a staff. Vera 
Cruz, Haustec, 900-1200 a.d. Museum of Primi- 
tive Art, New York 

drive— a sculptural motif which remained 
popular in Mexican art for thousands of years. 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 9. "Hacha." Carved limestone. Vera Cruz. 
Tajin style 400-800 a.d. (height 13«") Courtesy 
Art of Mexico 

Art Begins 

Large carved heads, originally made to deco- 
rate temples, have been found in Totonac 
jungles. They confirm the existence of an 
early art civilization there a thousand years 
before Cortes came, and indicate that the 
Totonacs had lived there consecutively from 
500 B.C. 

PLATE 10. Head of a Smiling Woman. Vera Cruz. 
Pre-Columbian. Courtesy London Illustrated 
News, March 7, 1953 

Thousands of small idols made for a fer- 
tility cult w^ere found in the vicinity of Teo- 
tihuacan, where Valley farmers worshiped 
during the Archaic Period. Since the mother 
of the gods was their most important goddess, 
idols were made representing the creative 
force ascribed to women. These female forms 
of clay, jade, terra-cotta, or stone, have pro- 
truding eyes, large hips and thighs, and tiny 
wasp-like waists. Similar cult figurines have 
also been found in what are now the states 
of Guerrero and Oaxaca, where they prob- 
ably were dropped in corn fields to conjure 
good crops from the gods (Plate 11. Clay 
Figurines of the Archaic Period). Obsidian 


and rock crystal found in volcanic soil were 
carefully chipped by Indian sculptors to 
make figurines for cult worship. Having no 
steel knives or fine chisels, the ancient artists 
depended solely on crude implements made 
from volcanic rock with which to accomplish 
their carving. Many skillfully cut jade idols 
have been found, although jade is the hard- 
est of Mexican stones to carve. 

Massive Toltec construction was charac- 
teristic of the architecture of this period. 
Sculptural forms were often used as columns 
for holding roofs and the figures so employed 
were symbolic designs merely suggestive of 
the human form. Low-relief carvings in struc- 
tural stone were used to convey the effect 
of strength and beauty when incorporated 
with architecture, although all decorative fea- 
tures were in symbolic style. 

When the Aztecs conquered the Toltecs, 
they adopted all of the architectural and art 
forms of these gifted artist-builders. Both the 
Toltecs and the Zapotecs, who were Mexi- 
co's greatest builders, achieved difficult con- 
struction feats without the help of mechanical 
methods for lifting and placing huge stones 
in position and without pack animals for 
transporting materials. How they accom- 
plished their tasks remains a debated mys- 
tery. Quarries located in what is now the 
State of Guerrero, supplied trachite and 
tezontl for building. The latter is a porous 
red rock derived from lava, which was used 
for hundreds of years and provided remark- 
able permanency. A notable example is the 
Palace of Cortes at Cuemavaca, which is still 
in good structural condition and is used 
today as a museum and courthouse. 

The people of Mexico had not lived long 
as settled farmers when they undertook the 
building of vast temple-cities. Stepped pyra- 
mids were erected between the eighth and 
ninth centuries b.c. which included a com- 
plex of courtyards wherein a ball game called 
trachti was played. A partly excavated To- 
tonac city in northern Vera Cruz province 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 11. Clay figurines. Totonac culture. Archaic 
period. Courtesy Mexican Arts Publications 

contains a palace, a ball court, and a seven- 
tiered pyramid with nearby burial grounds 
covering ancient shrines. Crumbling ruins in 
the city of Tzintzuntzen, one-time capital of 
the Tarascan nation, contain idols, basalt 
axes, and weapons of obsidian and flint. These 
relics remind us that countless submerged re- 
mains await archaeological spadework. 

Although tribal chiefs retained power as 
rulers during development of the Mesoameri- 
can civilization, tribal priests supervised and 
managed temple building, which at first con- 

sisted only of mounds of rock and lava. As 
reUgion became of greater importance, the 
power of the priests increased in the tribes 
and they secured builders, architects, and 
sculptors for all the huge temples that were 
later built, calling up labor forces and con- 
trolling expenditures for the tremendous tasks 
of temple construction. Priests also deter- 
mined the calendar form to be followed and 
the dates for festivals, and they directed all 
ceremonials and rituals. 


During the prehistoric period, mounds of 
rock, adobe, and lava served as shrines for. 
worship, the sites later becoming locations 
for pyramid-temples, and thus began Mexi- 
co's large-scale building culture. The Pyramid 
of Cuilcuilco, erected by the Olmecs about 
600 B.C., is the earliest extant monumental 
construction in the central highlands. It was 
completely submerged around a.d. 300 by 
volcanic eruption, which the Indians believed 
was an act of angry gods. In 1922 the pyra- 
mid was excavated by the Department of 
Archaeology of the University of Arizona and 
was found to be in a relatively good state of 
preservation because it was covered by a pro- 
tective layer of lava. The pyramid consists of 
four truncated cones, each increasing in size, 
with an overall height of sixty-five feet. Lo- 
cated near the national university campus at 
the capital's edge, it is only fifty miles from 
the ancient religious center of San Juan Teo- 
tihuacan. Remains of the ancient Pyramid of 
Cuilcuilco constitute a highly prized Mexican 

Other similar, though much smaller, pyra- 
mids were built on rectangular or square 
bases, diminishing toward the top either step 
by step or by graduated sides to the summit 
where a sanctuary was enthroned. Carved 
symbols of skulls and feathered serpents ex- 

tended out on pegs from the walls of these 
early pyramids. In El Tajin, near Vera Cruz, 
is the Pyramid of the Niches, a Totonac mon- 
ument of the Classical Period believed to 
have been part of an ancient city. Made of 
volcanic rock and adobe, its sides were cov- 
ered with brightly painted stucco. 

When wild northern tribesmen, led by 
their conquering chief Mexicoatl, subdued 
the Vall6y of Anahuac about a.d. 700, they 
settled and intermarried with the civilized 
people there, whose forebears had cradled 
Mesoamerican highland culture. Learning 
the art of building from them, they were des- 
tined to be Mexico's master builders, and 
ancestors of the great Toltec tribe. Their last 
legacy included enlargement of the religious 
center at Teotihuacan and building of the 
city of Tollan (also called Tula), which be- 
came the Toltec capital. This ancient city 
contained the imposing Plaza with its Temple 
of Tlaloc honoring the God of Rain. Four 
huge statues of warriors have been excavated 
on the site, near a former Temple of War- 
riors. These Toltec warrior statues, known as 
the Giant Atlantes (Plate 12), were exca- 
vated between 1940 and 1945, and are now 
on exhibit in the archaeological zone of Tula, 
state of Hidalgo, along with other relics of 
that area which had been successfully occu- 



pied by Toltecs,Chichimecs, and Aztecs. Also 
found there were large carved friezes of coy- 
otes and eagles which have the bold elaborate 
artistry typical of early Indian decoration. 

PLATE 12. Toltec Warrior; known as the Giant 
Atlantes. Tula, Hidalgo. Colossal stone sculpture. 
Courtesy Juarez Museum, Chihuahua 

These huge, fearsome warriors of a bygone 
epoch stare out over the niins of the once 
mighty Tula, capital of the Toltecs. Origi- 
nally there were four giant warriors and the 
fifteen-foot-high statues, together with pillars, 
supported the roof of a temple on top of the 
Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl, chief deity of the 

The Toltecs, who became highly success- 
ful agriculturists, produced large grain sur- 
pluses, but more important, they built a 
vastly enlarged religious center at Teotihua- 
can, dedicated to nature gods from whom 
they sought plentiful crops and continued 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

prosperity. The Toltec religion ascribed a 
soul to the elements of nature, believing that 
spirits of the gods governed fertility and the 
heavenly constellations whose forces fur- 
nished them with all the elements of life. 
These spirits lurked in clouds, rainbows, sun- 
sets, and winds. Later Indians worshiped a 
vast pantheon of gods, principal among 
which were the Sun God; his consort, the 
Moon Goddess; the Rain God, Tlaloc; his con- 
sort, the Water Goddess; the War God; and 
Quetzalcoatl, god of air, life, sky, and earth, 
who controlled the wonder of creation. Propi- 
tiation of the gods was by prayer, rituals, sac- 
rifices, participation in fiestas, ballad-singing, 
art, and folkloric dancing, for the Indian be- 
lieves that aesthetic expression helps his iden- 
tification with the spirit world. He willingly 
trudges miles to special religious rituals and 
festivals; the roads to shrines are filled with 
Indians, some walking and some riding bur- 
ros or leading them with heavy burdens. 
Others drive goats and turkeys on the road 
while bearing large bundles on their heads. 
Women carry babes on their backs while 
holding the hand of a toddler. Priests arranged 
dates of rituals and fiestas on the same days 
as the market dates (tiaquiz) in order to 
combine pilgrimages and permit the atten- 
dance of the entire family. 

The name Toltec is derived from the tribe's 
great capital city, Tollan, and the nation en- 
joyed three hundred years of supremacy and 
continued prosperity in its vast domain. But 
before the Toltec nation crumbled under the 
onslaught of barbaric foes, it left a vast 
legacy of massive construction, the temple 
city of Teotihuacan. Altars and idols have not 
yet been fully restored at the pyramid tem- 
ple there, but visitors can climb the Pyramid 
of the Sun— which has been completely exca- 
vated—and view a far-reaching countryside 
and mountain terrain comprising Toltec do- 
mains, to which the tribe became heirs after 
conquering the Teotihuacans. The Toltecs 
wisely built upon what they found there 

The Art of Building 

and enhanced the "Place of the Gods" by 
erecting a huge square pyramid, its excava- 
tion being near the town of San Juan Teo- 
tihuacan. The historic reHgious center, or 
"Habitatation of the Gods," was later aban- 
doned and suffered neglect and ruin before 
the Aztec conquest of the Valley. Teotihua- 
can's slow decline began after the great 
drought of A.D. 890, when the center was 
little used. By around a.d. 1100 it was a de- 
serted ghost city called "Place of the Dead." 

Although the old Toltec "builder-peo- 
ple" were subordinated when Aztec control 
brought a strong warrior class into prom- 
inence, some codex records tell that a few 
Aztec emperors continued to make pilgrim- 
ages to Teotihuacan for rituals up until the 
Conquest. Moctezuma II was a follower of 
the Toltec faith and the Aztecs are credited 
with efforts to preserve the ancient religious 
heritage. Teotihuacan's three largest units 
comprised the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyra- 
mid of the Moon, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, 
and a lesser group included the Temple of 
Agriculture with its plaza and array of tall 
columns. The Pyramid of the Sun has five 
terraces; a monumental stairway leads to the 
summit sanctuary. This vast construction was 
erected to express the Indian's yearning to 
honor the Sun God with a majestic shrine. 
Though the Pyramid of the Moon and the 
Temple of Agriculture were much smaller, 
they also were settings for symbolic pageant- 
ry and elaborate ceremonials. 

Teotihuacan's niins are today a huge mass 
of bleak gray stones, rising somber and tall, 
but the visitor can visualize processions of 
priests in ornate cult paraphernalia, and col- 
orful assemblages, mounting the pyramid 
steps to the temple top all sparkling in the 
sun. The temple complex also contained sev- 
eral three-storied palaces used by priests 
representing various fertility cults. Though 
now in niins, some recovered parts of walls 
contain painted relics of what were once an- 
cient murals. Priests of the Classic Period 


were students of astronomy and their pre- 
served records enumerate the calendrical rit- 
uals honoring gods who governed the seasons, 
sun, and soil. All religious-agrarian obser- 
vances were strictly kept by priests, who, as 
representatives of the gods, received absolute 
obedience. The priests were also closely 
linked with artists and architects and it was 
their duty to promote preservation of art 

Now a treasured archaeological zone, Teo- 
tihuacan was originally intended for a sacred 
city to which pilgrimages could be made 
from distant parts of Mesoamerica. It was 
first constructed by an unknown race during 
the Archaic Period, the date being mere 
conjecture since Teotihuacan's origin is buried 
in mystery. Though it is known to have been 
used constantly as a shrine between 200 b.c. 
and A.D. 900, the entire center was laid out 
on three square miles containing five pyra- 
mid temples. The temples were a half-mile 
apart and each had its own platform. The 
largest construction, the Temple of the Sun, 
rose to a height of 216 feet. All construction 
was of volcanic stone blocks placed in pyra- 
midal form. Restoration of other parts of the 
complex, erected in honor of various gods 
and heavenly planets, is progressing and has 
in some instances been completed. The pres- 
ent accomplishment, however, represents 
the greatest single Mexican archaeological 
achievement of our time. 

During the Toltec regime, the Teotihuacan 
center included the majestic spectacle of the 
entire Valley, having a population of ap- 
proximately 100,000. Located on a site thirty 
miles northeast of the present capital, its 
vast size dwarfs, by comparison, all else in 
Mexico, and is today both majestic and im- 
pressive, gracing an area where mountain 
vistas show two great volcanoes to the 
south, Ixtaccihuatl and Popocatepetl, whose 
snowy peaks reach the clouds (Plate 13. 
Pyramid of the Sun ) . 

This massive structure is greater in size 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

than any other pyramid, differing in shape 
from the Cheops Pyramid of Egypt which 
rises tall and smooth to a sharp point and 
was built for a tomb, whereas Mexican pyra- 


PLATE 13. Teotihuacdn: Pyramid of the Sun (2 
views). Courtesy Conrad White, Granville, Ohio 

mids were intended for temples of worship. 
The architectural zone of Teotihuacan con- 
tains many valued relics, including sculpture, 
stone sarcophagi, stone implements, and clay 
death-masks, all proving that Toltec crafts- 
men excelled in varied art fields. Among 
excavated relics of Toltec ceramic art are 
rare cylindrical vases with three feet and 
fitted lids, the handles being designed 
in the form of birds. Practical resourceful- 
ness of the Toltecs is noted in their invention 
of Tamscal steam baths, created by running 
water over heated stones; these baths served 

as models for the Aztecs, who improved them 
as they did the Toltec Codex records. Pub- 
lic markets for buying and selling were intro- 
duced by the Toltecs, who began the custom 
of Mexican tiaquiz which persists throughout 
Mesoamerica (Plate 14. A Typical Market 
Scene). The Toltecs' greatest legacy is their 
remarkable architecture, notable through the 
ages for its massive strength. Toltec construc- 
tion continued as a major influence for thou- 
sands of years after the nation had com- 
pletely fallen apart. 

PLATE 14. Typical market day scene. Tiaquiz. 
Arts of Mexico. Courtesy Mexican Arts Publica- 

About a mile from the Pyramid of the Sun 
stood a vast rectangular enclosure containing 
the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, dedicated to the 
God of Air and Life and in Toltec days used 
chiefly for agrarian rituals. This section of 

The Art of Building 


PLATE 15. Plumed Scrf)e7U. Caivcu ^a i'yramid. 
Teotihuacan. Stone carving. Courtesy Anita Bren- 
ner and Bank of Mexico Tourist Service, Mexico 

the large complex also contained smaller 
pyramids, which tradition tells were dedi- 
cated to the stars— the Indians' symbol of 
eternity. The Temple of Quetzalcoatl was 
profusely decorated with gargoyle-like, bar- 
baric, stone heads symbolic of the Rain God, 
Tlaloc, with numerous sculptures honoring 
the plumed or feathered serpent— Quetzal- 
coatl's symbol (Plate 15. Plumed Serpent). 
These cryptic carvings on each tier of the 
temple are now in a fair state of preserva- 
tion. Grotesque stylized heads, repeated in 
high relief on tier after tier of masonry, show 
serpent heads wreathed in quetzal plumes 
to represent the god's symbol; these are be- 
lieved to have been carved by the Toltecs. 

(Plate 16. Serpent Heads). Other carvings, 
in linear style, are of clouds, raindrops, sea- 
shells, skulls, tigers, astral signs, and dot-bar 
numerals, believed to be among the oldest 
architectural low-relief carvings in central 

Toltec decline was brought about by in- 
ternal turmoil when religious-civic strife 
raged among numerous tribes. After the Tol- 
tecs assumed the peaceful religion of Quet- 
zalcoatl, which had been practiced by some 
of their conquered people, many of the na- 
tion's tribes would not subscribe to it and 
they continued to worship the God of War, 
the chief deity of their barbaric past, who 
demanded continual warfare of his followers. 
Quetzalcoatl always appeared to his wor- 
shipers as a bearded old man with white 
skin, wearing a flowing white robe, and he 
is so rendered by Orozco in his famous mural 
(Plate 17. Quetzalcoatl, God of Peace. Mural 
detail representing the Toltec legend). The 
Toltecs further believed that their ruler, who 
was both king and priest (a.d. 925-947), was 
a reincarnation of this god, who required his 
people to live in peace and forbade human 
sacrifices, asking his worshipers to present 
him with fruits and flowers only. Quetzal- 
co'atl's symbol, the feathered or plumed ser- 
pent, was derived from quetzalli, a bird of 
beautiful plumage, and coatl, a serpent. 

When drastic civil war developed, the king 
fled his palace at ToUan (a.d. 927), which 
he burned after secretly burying the national 
treasure. He took refuge among the Olmecs, 
but proijiptly sailed away in a small craft 
upon open seas and was probably lost, though 
he had promised to return with the invin- 
cible aid of Quetzalcoatl to avenge the de- 
struction of his kingdom by the disloyal 
Toltec tribes. In spite of severe civil-religious 
conflict within the Toltec nation, it survived, 
though in a weakened condition, for another 
two hundred years, when, in a.d. 1168 it 
was destroyed by a northern tribe of barbaric 
Chichimecs. After total dissolution of the 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 16. Temple of Quetzalcoatl. Stone carvings 
of the Plumed ( or Feathered ) Serpent at Teoti- 
huacan. Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism 

Toltec nation, the entire Valley was in utter 
chaos and the tribes fought each other un- 
der sponsorship of different gods. After Tol- 
lan was razed, many Toltecs fled, although 
some remained in the Valley, some settled at 
Oaxaca and Puebla, and others migrated to 
Yucatan. Though the Chichimec people 
never fully established their own empire, 
they controlled much of the Valley for hun- 
dreds of years, their kings being loyal to 
tribal authority. The small, present-day vil- 
lage of Tenayuca, eight miles northwest of 

Mexico City, was once an important Chichi- 
mec center; it contains some excavated re- 
mains of great archaeological interest. 

During a later period of severe unrest (c. 
A.D. 1300) a strong, art-gifted people known 
as Mixtec-Puebla, descendants of an old cere- 
monial civilization in the Valley, occupied 
Teotihuacan, establishing themselves there 
as artists and teachers of art skills while liv- 
ing peacefully. These Mixtec-Puebla people 
continued there until the Aztecs conquered 
the whole area, although during the interval 

The Art of Building 

prior to the Conquest they succeeded in fos- 
tering a Golden Age of Peace, enjoyed by 
many tribes including Olmecs, Zapotecs, To- 
tonacs, Mixtecs, and Puebla peoples. It was 
through their united efforts that the ancient 
center at Monte Alban realized renewed im- 
portance and was again occupied. At this 
time religion and peace were symbolically 
interpreted in art, and though Aztec ascen- 
dancy brought military emphasis, art skills 
and knowledge were strongly stressed. These 
redevelopments of ancient Mesoamerican cen- 
ters filled a need of the people. 

The fine art of fresco painting in the Valley 
of Anahuac had been strongly linked with 
religion during the Toltec phase at Teotihua- 
can, as is shown in murals discovered there 


and on walls of temples crowning pyramids 
at Cholula, and in tombs at Monte Alban. 
Much pre-Hispanic mural art found in Zapo- 
tec and Toltec cities consisted of geometric 
interlaced designs featuring religious symbol- 
ism, though paintings found at Teotihuacan 
emphasized agrarian calendar rituals. Poly- 
chrome renderings of butterflies and greatly 
enlarged insect heads were painted on wall 
panels of Cholula's pyramid. These are simi- 
lar to recently discovered paintings in the 
Palace of Butterflies now on exhibit at the 
museum maintained on the site of the Pyra- 
mid at Teotihuacan. It is believed that these 
naturalistic works were painted in the third 
or fourth centuries of the Christian era. Ren- 
derings of gods, goddesses, and priests elab- 

PLATE 17. Quetzalcoatl, God of Peace. From Tol- 
tec legend. (Fresco detail) by Jose Clemente 
Orozco at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New 
Hampshire. Reproduced by permission of the 
Trustees of Dartmouth College 


orately arrayed in cult costumes have been 
discovered in large tombs at Monte Alban. 
Other interesting pre-Hispanic murals show 
jaguars and coyotes found on palace walls 
in apartments occupied by Toltec nobles. 
Paintings of the period after a.d. 1000 and 
found on altars at Tizatlan, near Tlaxcala, 
show figures of gods and goddesses similar to 
Mixtec polychrome works found near Oaxaca 
and Puebla. 

The famous pre-Hispanic city of Cholula 
is located in a lovely Valley dominated by 
beautiful Mount Orizaba, and lies eight miles 
west of Puebla. Because Cholula possessed 
many ancient burial mounds marking shrines, 
it early became a religious center and pil- 
grimage site. In A.D. 688 Cholula was the 
Mixtec capital and it remained so until the 
Conquest. Only a few ancient remains now 
exist in Cholula because a new city was built 
there and Christian churches were built on 
shrine sites, causing Cholula to be called 
"the Rome of Mexico." In pre-Hispanic times 
Cholula had been the important religious 
and urban center of the entire Valley of 
Puebla, and its large teocalli, built to honor 
Quetzalcoatl, soared to majestic height over 
the plateau. Though much smaller, this teo- 
calli resembled in grandeur Teotihuacan's 
great pyramid, and was one of the finest 
early-period stmctures in Mexico. The main 
pyramid at Cholula was excavated in 1931, 
when five different types of construction were 
discovered there. Each period is differen- 
tiated by a pyramidal adobe stnicture of dif- 
ferent size, incorporated in a pyramid of the 
preceding epoch. Today's visitors who view 
the interior are accompanied by a govern- 
ment guide, who carries a lantern to permit 
seeing the ancient stages of construction 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

while on a tour of inspection winding 
through a mile of tunnels cut into the pyra- 
mid's adobe bricks. 

Today the site is crowned by a handsome 
Christian church built by Spanish Colonials 
as replacement for the Indian teocalli they 
destroyed. The church has an impressive 
green tile dome and interior walls of native 
marble and onyx combined with ornamenta- 
tion of gold leaf in Spanish-Colonial style. 
The ancient and unique city of Cholula is 
remembered as the historic site where Cor- 
tes's army encamped beside the old teocalli, 
and where he received warning of a native 
plot against the Spanish. When the mes- 
sage was brought him by an Indian inter- 
pretor, Cortes ordered the killing of hundreds 
of natives assembled for prayer in the teo- 
calli. After the massacre, Cholula was burned. 
Bernal Diaz del Castillo, the Spanish soldier- 
historian who marched with Cortes's army, 
wrote an eyewitness report of these events, 
including the burning of Cholula. 

Later, when the Spanish Conquistadores 
had forced their way into Aztec territory and 
were approaching the capital, the Indians 
recalled with anguish their neglect in Toltec 
days of the god Quetzalcoatl. They were con- 
vinced that the god had sent the white- 
skinned men to destroy them, and, because 
they were terror-stricken in the belief that 
the Spanish were reincarnations of Quetzal- 
coatl, their resistance was paralyzed. During 
the struggle between the Aztecs and Cortes's 
army in 1519, the Emperor Moctezuma sent 
a Mask of Quetzalcoatl to Cortes. This Aztec 
mask, a work done in Guerrero, was made 
of stone combined with a mosaic of turquoise 
and coral, with eyes of shell and obsidian. 


Monte AlMn, an archaeological site built in 
the Classical Period, consisted of an amazing 
ceremonial center located high on a bleak 
mountain six miles west of the modem city 
of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. The center 
covered an area of twenty-five square miles, 
and rose 1500 feet over the plain. Ancient 
Indians selected this spectacular site for the 
home of their gods because they considered 
it a worthy location for communion with 
the nature forces they worshiped. Monte Al- 
ban was a temple city before Teotihuacan 
was built, and is believed to have had a popu- 
lation of over one hundred thousand. The 
origin of Monte Alban is vague but some 
archaeologists of the University of Mexico 
believe that it was at one time controlled 
by the Oknecs though largely built by the 
Zapotecs. Active from about 1000 b.c.-a.d. 
1522, it was the only ceremonial center con- 
tinuously used until the Conquest. Originally 
built by an unknown people, it was com- 
pletely destroyed before the Toltecs con- 
trolled the Valley. Relics of Monte Alban's 
hieroglyphics, calendar, and astronomical 
studies indicate that its original inhabitants 
and builders were of an advanced culture 
and superior to other Mexican people. After 
Zapotec leadership at the Mount ended, a 
tribe known as the Mixteca, which lived in 

the Oaxaca area, took over control of the 
ancient center. They were a religious and 
art-conscious people and their period was 
one of peace. Pilgrimages were made on foot 
to shrines and often meant travehng for miles 
(Plate 18. Mexican Woman Enroute to a 
Shrine). When the Aztecs took over the en- 
tire area, the Mount had been used consecu- 
tively as a rehgious center for over a thou- 
sand years. The Mixtecs were not hindered 
by the Aztecs, who allowed them to continue 
in their art-loving way of hfe because of 
appreciation of their art accomphshments. 

Monte Alban's vast ceremonial center con- 
tained a crowning rectangidar plaza 3,300 
feet long and 850 feet wide, with an altar 
of sacrifice which was reached by four stair- 
ways (Plate 19. Monte Alban's Excavations) . 
Stone was used to construct solid rock masses 
through which passageways were cut, honey- 
combing the entire Mount with timnels of 
elaborate masonry. The ancient Zapotec 
builders were expert stone masons and res- 
toration gives proof of their skillful and 
original engineering projects ( Plate 20. Monte 
Albdn. Passageway). 

The great center contained a ball-court 
intended for the game called tlachtli, and 
there was a large grandstand for spectators. 
This was the first athletic-field construction 


PLATE 18. Mexican wonmn enroute to shrine 
worship. (Tepepulco, Caja Del Agua) Courtesy 
Art of Mexico 

PLATE 19. Excavatiom. Monte Albdn. (2 views). 
Courtesy Conrad White 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 20. Passageway, room interior. Monte Al- 
ban. ( 2 views ) . Courtesy Conrad White 

in the Americas. Also included were palatial 
apartments for the king, nobles, and priests, 
whose tomb locations extended on high abut- 
ments, while lesser tombs were built on the 
Mount's lower spurs (Plate 21. Tomb. Monte 
Albdn). Though only a few structures of the 
vast Monte Alban complex have been exca- 
vated and restoration on the larger units of 
pyramids and temples has progressed slowly 
according to plan, there is ample proof of 
the magnificence of its ancient construction 
and the great skill with which it was done. 

During the center's period of gradual de- 
cline (a.d. 900-1420), a series of severe 
droughts caused many of the Mount's people 
to move to Mitla, an ancient city twenty-six 
miles from Oaxaca, and the great site was 

then used mainly as a burial place although 
some Mixtec inhabitants remained at the 
Mount after the Conquest. 

The rare art skills of Mixtec people are 
attested by excavated relics, which include 
stone carvings and bas-reliefs discovered in 
tombs. Some of these show astronomical de- 
signs of fine workmanship. Among the most 
famous relics are some life-size stone relief 
carvings, probably part of a temple frieze, 
showing nude men in rhythmic motion re- 
sembling dancing; all 140 figures, however, 
suggest caricatures and they are believed to 
portray tribal chiefs and warriors taken pris- 
oner in war. These "dancer stones," as they 
are called, are considered a mystery of Monte 
Alban. Some tombs of Zapotec noblemen and 

Monte Alban 

priests contained murals, carvings of the Corn 
God, urns, gold masks, rare ceramics, and 
incense burners (Plate 22. Funeral Vase) 
(Plate 23. Two painted vessels of about a.d. 

A landscape mural covering one wall por- 
trays the Paradise of Tlaloc, the Rain God; 


it shows dancing figures among flowering 
trees. Notable finds in tombs were "black 
ware" ceramics polished to a high glaze and 
regarded as the finest vases in all Meso- 
america. Mixtec artist-craftsmen produced 
elaborately designed jewelry. The pictured 
necklace (Plate 24. Necklace. Mitla) is an 

PLATE 21. Tomb. Monte Alban. Courtesy Art of 


PLATE 22. Funerary urn. Zapotec Culture from 
Oaxaca, Monte Alban Tomb 103. Pictorial orna- 
ment. Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism 

exquisite piece of gold filigree beads which 
are flat and carry three tiny bells. The two 
disks are ear ornaments, each in the form 
of a hummingbird's head holding a pendant 
made with three bells. Many examples of 
Mixtec jewelry, fine jade carving, and metal- 
lurgy show that these artisans were flawless 
technicians. The Mixtecs were also expert 
in making ceremonial gold masks, for which 
they invented a new technique of pressing 
gold sheets into molds. Many of these beau- 
tiful gold pieces were melted by the Spanish, 
who stole them for the precious metal. The 
high quality of Mixtec artistry is evident in 
a fantastic horde of treasures which were 
discovered when Tomb 7 was opened in 
1931. It contained a rich collection of jewels. 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

large pearls, and gold breast-plates; alto- 
gether the cache weighed over nine pounds 
and consisted of quantities of rare treasures 
made with great skill. Although 169 other 
tombs were opened, none held articles com- 
parable in value to those in Tomb 7. 

In 1937-38, some brightly colored frescoes 
were found in Monte Alban tombs, and in- 
cluded there were the skeletons of nine 
priests. Although examples of rare Mixtec ar- 
ticles found at Monte Alban are widely 
scattered throughout museums of the world, 
the most comprehensive exhibits are in the 
Museum of Natural History in Mexico City, 
State Museum of Oaxaca, and the Museum 
of Mitla. 

Codices intended for use as books were 
made of deerskin, stag hides, or maguey 
leaves, and folded like a screen. Pictographic 
annals were made at Monte Alban, primarily 
to preserve information about historic events. 
These annals have special art interest be- 
cause of their fine drawing, coloring, and 
engaging charm, being decorated with col- 
ored miniatures and combined with hiero- 
glyphics which recorded events year by year. 
They often included genealogies of noble 
patrons, though many dealt with calendar 
rituals, taxes, trade, and property deeds. 
Some Mixtec codices found at Monte Alban 
contain map drawings, astronomical charts, 
and research projects in mathematics. These 
records reach farther into antiquity than any 
made by other Mesoamerican people. Though 
the Spaniards burned many codices, eight 
rare Mixtec books were fortunately spared 
and they are now among the world's great 
historic treasures. A section of the Codex 
Borgia, in the Vatican Library, is the finest 
Mexican manuscript; painted at Cholula on 
deekskin, it measures thirty-four feet long by 
ten and five-eighths inches wide and folds 
like a screen. It deals with agrarian calendar 
rituals and astronomy. Oxford University 
Library has the famous Aztec Codex Bar- 
bonicus; it enumerates calendar rituals and 

PLATE 23. Painted vessels. Cholula area. Cour- 
tesy Art of Mexico 

PLATE 24. Necklace. Gold filigree. Mitla area. 
A.D. 1200-1500 from Oaxaca. Courtesy London 
Illustrated News, September 4, 1948 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 25. Palace of Repose. Wall carvings. Mitla 
about 14th century. Courtesy Mexican Govern- 
ment Tourism Department 

historical events and is enhanced by minia- 
tures in color. The paintings in codex records 
form part of ancient Mexican art; their lovely 
miniatures rendered by priest-artists at Monte 
Alban display excellent drawing and color. 

The Mixtec Art Legacy 

It is believed that ancestors of the Mixtec 
tribes lived in the Olmec rubber country and 
later migrated to the central plateau region 
w^here they established a ceremonial culture 
at Cholula in the Oaxaca area, finally becom- 
ing known as the Mixteca. By around 1350 
they moved to Monte Alban because the 
Zapotecs had vacated the center. Although 
the Mixtecs were later subdued to some ex- 

tent by the Aztecs, they continued to exert 
a dominant cultural influence on all Meso- 
american life, largely because of their art 
skills, which were highly diversified to in- 
clude painting, sculpture, ceramics, gold- 
smithing, and mosaic work. 

A famous architectural relic is the remains 
of a temple complex at Mitla, twenty-five 
miles south of the Mount. Originally it was 
part of a group of five buildings erected be- 
side the usually dry Mitla River. Mitla is 
believed to have once been a Zapotec center, 
previously used by the Toltecs and before 
them by the Olmecs. Today the ancient ruins 
are knovvoi as "Mitla Ruins," "Place of Eternal 
Rest," and "City of the Dead." Tribal ances- 
tors of the Zapotecs had lived peaceably as 

Monte AlbJn 

Sun Worshipers, and it is believed that they 
may have built the temple group. The cen- 
ter's plaza and flat-roofed palace have re- 
cently been restored, and are now regarded 
as treasures of Mexican archaeology. Wall 
carvings of intricate stone designs cut in geo- 
metric shapes called rilieves are fitted with- 
out mortar (Plate 25. Palace of Repose. Wall 
Carvings). This architectual mosaic work is 
the finest in Mexico and resembles a textile 
pattern although the unit forms are some- 
what similar to a Greek fret. The remains of 
this ancient palace-temple's walls of about 
the fourteenth century are covered inside and 
out with stone mosaic work (Plate 26. Stone 
columns. Hall of Monoliths. Palace of Re- 
pose ) . 

Monolithic stone columns, twenty feet high, 
served as dividers for halls of the ancient 
Palace of Repose, and were intended to sus- 
tain the palace roof, which is believed to 
have been the largest roofed room at that 
time in all Mesoamerica. These tall columns 
are characteristic of Mexican architectural 
solidity of structure. The excavation and 
restoration of the six pillars are impressive 
achievements, especially important because 
the mosaic decorations on them have been 
carefully restored to their original appear- 
ance in ancient times. 

Although ancient mosaics have usually 
been removed from their original location 
for display in museums, Mitla's remain in 
their original architectural setting. The his- 


PLATE 26. Palace of Repose. Columns. Mitla. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism Depart- 

toric palace, with its superb proportion and 
beauty, today stands roofless, but presided 
over by six strong pillars, which, as remnants 
of the Temple of Repose, are silhouetted 
against the Mexican sky hke ghosts of a past 


when the Aztecs conquered the Toltec 
stronghold in the Valley of Anahuac they 
left a powerful impress on history and the 
art of Mesoamerica. Believing it their duty 
to support Toltec traditions, they used Toltec 
architecture as models for construction and 
readily rebuilt the old empire by conquest 
of tribes until all central Mexico became their 
vast domain. Aztec force and vigor overcame 
difficulties, and their rise as supreme rulers 
of the vast Sun Kingdom came about in a 
comparatively short time. 

Barely four hundred years after the Aztec's 
humble tribal beginnings in near barbarism, 
the Tenocha-Aztecs, a migrant tribe from 
the Chichimec area, built their impressive 
capital city of Tenochtitlan in the lovely Val- 
ley of Anahuac. In honor of their tribal god 
of war, Mexicali, they named their country 
Mexico, adding the suffix "co" which signi- 
fies "place." Today, over a million and a half 
"Nahuatar'-speaking people are direct de- 
scendants of the founders of Tenochtitlan's 
vast temple-pyramids and palaces. 

The Tenocha-Aztec tribe made its first 
settlement where an eagle was perched on a 
"tenoch" while devouring a serpent held in 
its beak. This symbol was adopted by the tribe 
and has persisted through the years; when 
in 1821 national independence was won by 
Mexico, it was made the national insignia 

and now is incorporated in the seal of state 
(Plate 27. Eagle and Serpent. Fresco detail 
from History of Mexico by Diego Rivera). 

PLATE 27. The eagle and serpent. Fresco detail. 
By Diego Rivera. From History of Mexico, Na- 
tional Palace, Mexico City. Courtesy Mexican 
Government Tourism Department and Bank of 
Mexico Tourism Service 

"Tenoch" was then added to the tribal name, 
which became "Tenocha-Aztec"; the capital 


The Aztecs 

city, also so named, was destined to become 
the home of the powerful Aztec tribe, but 
following the Conquest the capital's name 
was changed to Mexico City. 

Bernal Diaz del Castillo, a writer, soldier, 
and comrade of Cortes, describes how the 
Spanish Conquistadores looked down from 
a high mountain pass, and, seeing Tenoch- 
titlan far below, marveled at its bright, 
stucco-coated palaces, temples, and swim- 
ming pools surrounded by fruit trees. The im- 
pressive vista, revealing the Aztec wealth, in- 
cluded inventions such as removable bridges, 
aqueducts, and floating gardens. Many houses 
of adobe, sundried brick, were brightly 
painted and roofs were tiled. The usual Mexi- 
can home ( Plate 28. Mexican Home with In- 
terior Court and Patio) was coated on the 
exterior with a soft blend of rose-pink stucco. 
When Cortes became fully aware of all this 

PLATE 28. Mexican home. Interior court, patio. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism Depart- 


Aztec splendor, he vowed to capture Tenoch- 
titlan in the name of Charles V, Emperor 
of Spain, and then to demoHsh it and the 
entire Sun Kingdom, for he believed it his 
mission to Christianize the New World; 
hence his entourage always included several 
missionary priests. 

The rapid rise of the humble Tenocha- 
Aztec tribe resulted in its conquering all 
people of the Valley. Their first settlement 
(a.d. 1400) was beside a lake on a high site 
in the beautiful forest of Chapultepec, which 
in Aztec means grasshopper hill. This lovely 
section is now a park and houses the famed 
Museum of Archaeology, History and Art. 
Following the Conquest, a Spanish city called 
Mexico City was built on the razed Aztec 
capital, centering around a plaza— once the 
heart of the old city— known as the Zocalo, 
a point at which ten streets converged. In 
Aztec days it was the sacred area of Tenoch- 
titlan, for it contained the great teocalli 
honoring the gods. Mexico City's magnificent 
cathedral, built on the site where the pagan 
pyramid-temple had stood, now dominates 
the Zocalo. Ironically, it was built with the 
stones of the demolished Aztec temple. A 
fine present-day market stands on the Zocalo's 
southeast corner, in an area where Aztec 
games used to be played and where Spanish 
bull-fights were later held. 

Cortes marveled at the tiaquiz where fine 
animal pelts, fabulous jewels, and gold and 
silver were sold and traded. Today the Zo- 
calo is an impressive area covering 500 by 
620 feet, surrounded by handsome buildings 
including the great Municipal Palace, the 
walls of which are decorated with Orozco's 
frescoes depicting Mexican history. Like an- 
cient Tenochtitlan, Mexico City is famed as 
a city filled with beautiful flowers; the Zo- 
calo's flower booths have colorful displays 
at all times of the year and hours of the 
day (Plate 29. The flower market. Fresco de- 
tail by Diego Rivera). Xochimilico, a section 
reminiscent of Aztec days, is known as the 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 29. The Flower Market. Fresco Detail. By 
Diego Rivera. Court of Labor, Ministry of Edu- 
cation, Mexico City. Courtesy Mexican Govern- 
ment Tourism Department 

The Aztecs 


PLATE 30. Codex. Porfirio Diaz. Detail National 
Museum of History, Mexico City. Mexican 
Government Tourism Department 

"place of flowers." Flat-bottomed boats like 
those of the Aztecs today ply canal waters 
through a network of islands and floating 
gardens while native arts and handicrafts are 
offered for sale by Indians just as in Aztec 

The Aztec council conferred absolute power 
over the Sun Kingdom on its emporer, who 
assumed semi-divinity. During the reigns of 
eight emperors, covering 120 years, the na- 
tion prospered and vast tribute money poured 
into the treasury. Matters of military policy 
were decided by the emperor and his chiefs, 
but the priests, who interpreted the will of 
the gods, called up sacrificial victims from 
tribal villages. Although warfare had brought 
the Sun Kingdom its vast tribal dominions. 

the state was dominated by the mystic power 
of gods represented by priests who served 
as Aztec overlords. 

Priest-artists made pictographic records 
and painted miniatures on manuscripts and 
codices, which became an important Aztec 
art. The first writing by the primitives was 
picture writing or hieroglyphics, which re- 
produced objects, animals, or persons in a 
pictographic stylized or symbolic form. The 
bright colors on some codices were obtained 
from flower petals, vegetables, and pulver- 
ized minerals (Plate 30. Codex Porfirio Diaz. 
On maguey paper, fifteenth century). The 
famous Codex Florentine. The Ofrenda (Plate 
31.) shows in this illustration an offering 
given the dead, usually on special saints' 


days. The Florentine codex was a translation 
by priests from the Nahuatl tongue into Span- 
ish. Cortes sent several codices to Spain, 

PLATE 31. Codex Florentina. "The Ofrenda." Na- 
tional Museum of History, Mexico City. Courtesy 
Mexican Government Tourism Department 

vs^here they were first regarded as curiosities 
of New World art, later to become treasured 
relics of museums and libraries. Antonio de 
Mendoza, the first viceroy to Mexico, ordered 
the making of a rare codex (known as The 
Mendoza) which was purchased in 1831 by 
the Bodleian Library of Oxford University. 
Many pictographic records have listings in 
ink of tribal taxes; sketches show bales of 
cotton, embroidered garments, feather mo- 
saics, gold dust, jade beads, and bird feathers, 
which were all items used in Aztec trading. 
Also translated by priests are "Songs of the 
Gods," which declared them to be "possessors 
of the earth and all it contains." Cortes was 
guided by maps and codices given him by 
Emperor Moctezuma for his trip to Honduros, 
and after the Conquest, accurate drawings 
of waterways and canals throughout Tenoch- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

titlan were discovered in the emperor's 
palace. The Spanish found Indian glyphs in- 
comprehensible and burned many in the 
Texoco public market, believing them a hin- 
drance to the spreading of Christianity among 
the Indians. Later, attempts were made to 
locate some codices which had escaped burn- 
ing and the first bishop of Mexico made ef- 
forts to retrieve the sixty-three which had 
been hidden. 

Among fifteenth-century relics of Aztec 
sculpture is a well-preserved block-like, stiffly 
robed figure (Plate 32. The Corn God). The 
feet serve merely as stands to support the 
sturdy figure; the face has large, almond- 
shaped eyes; a heavy ceremonial headdress 
surmounts all. Worship of the god was vital. 

PLATE 32. The Corn God. Stone Sculpture. Aztec. 
National Museum of History, Mexico City. Cour- 
tesy Mexican Government Tourism Department 

The Aztecs 


PLATE 33. Coatlicue, Mother of Aztec Gods, God- 
dess of Earth, Life, Death. 8' statue from Te- 
nochtitlan, 1519. National Museum Anthropol- 
ogy, Mexico City. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Tourism Department 


for this deity provided food for tortillas. Aztec 
sculptors and artists were not especially in- 
terested in imitating nature; rather, they 
transformed what they saw and knew to 
create an individual expression (Plate 33. 
Coatlicue ) . Coatlicue was revered by the Az- 
tecs as "Mother of the Gods," also as Goddess 
of Earth, Life, and Death. The free-standing 
statue of her, from Tenochtitlan, is eight feet 
high. Her skirt is made of carved snakes. 

Aztec worship of their God of War re- 
quired that human sacrifices constantly be 
made. During Moctezuma II's reign (1503- 
20) tension mounted when astrologer-priests 
reported the skies filled with ominous signs 
demanding double the calls for human sacri- 
fices to propitiate the god. Later, when white- 
skinned, bearded men landed at Vera Cruz 
with eleven ships, sixteen horses, dogs, and 
cannon— all of which were unknown to the 
Aztecs— the nation was engulfed in fear. It 
was then that priests confirmed the appre- 
hension, saying that the god Quetzalc&atl had 
sent these emissaries to destroy the Sun King- 
dom. History records how the Spanish in- 
vasion quickly proceeded. On Cortes's arrival 
at Tenochtitlan he was graciously received 
by the emperor, but conquest came within 
two years; it brought death to Moctezuma 
and his successor, Cuautemoc, and the com- 
plete subjugation of all Mexico (1521). This 
last Aztec emperor had proved his ability 
as a great military leader of his people and, 
when finally captured, he was tortured in 
the hope that he would tell where Aztec 
treasure was hidden. This he refused to di- 
vulge and he was murdered. Cuautemoc is 
greatly revered for bravery and service to his 
people, and an important statue of him has 
the place of honor on the Pasco de la Re- 
forma. Designed by two Indian sculptors, 
Miguel Norena and Gabriel Guerra, it is 
rated among the finest statues in the capital. 

Several reasons are advanced for Cortes's 
amazingly easy conquest of Mexico. These 
include Aztec injustice to conquered tribes; 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

failure peaceably to absorb villages taken in 
sudden attack; inequality in caUing sacrificial 
victims; lack of loyalty throughout the Sun 
Kingdom, even among nominally Aztec tribes. 
Another cause of disunity came from the Az- 
tec rigid caste system which divided the 
population. The lowest group (peons), com- 
prising the bulk of the population, worked 
without pay on noblemen's estates, which re- 
sulted in bitter resentment. This group's dis- 
unity infected Mexican life for 300 years, 
until a bloody revolution brought a proclama- 
tion of equality. From this social ferment, a 
new art developed to champion freedom for 
all. The Mexican Renaissance had begun. 

In the holocaust following the Conquest, 
all Aztec architecture was destroyed. In con- 
quering the Sun Kingdom, the Spanish aimed 
to obliterate Indian culture completely; Az- 
tec monuments perished with finality, How- 
ever, in Tenayuca, a small present-day village 
eight miles northwest of Mexico City, an an- 
cient pyramid-temple, similar to the large 
one at Tenochtitlan, has been excavated and 
restored. It features the same sloping sides, 
upper platform, and stepped terraces topped 
by twin temples and reached by stairways. 
Great stone carvings of open-fanged serpents, 
resembhng those of Tenochtitlan's great pyra- 
mid-temple, serve as the principal decoration. 

Aztec sculpture was the nation's supreme 
contribution to art. Some statues were carved 
"in the round," permitting their being viewed 
equally well from all directions. Aztec sculp- 
ture appeals to the modern eye because of its 
simplified volume, plastic beauty, and ex- 
pressive power. Aztec sculptors were su- 
premely capable of accomplishing realistic 
renditions of high quality, as is proved by 
two outstanding examples in the British Mu- 
seum. A carving in translucent (juartz of a 
rabbit and another of a skull in rock-crystal 
are fine examples of realistic carving. Aztec 
sculptors worked with complete freedom 
from formal art rules or conventions, their 
art being expressive of individual creative- 

The Aztecs 

ness. They enjoyed carving as an engaging 
activity, and there are quantities of both 
large and small stone renderings which are 
the work of humble artisans whose sheer de- 
light in the doing of their art dictated its 
expression (Plate 34. Carved Boulder). 

Pretentious religious sculpture intended 
for Aztec temple decoration featured formal 

PLATE 34. Carved Boulder. Aztec. Showing a face 
in jaws of a feathered serpent. Courtesy Chicago 
Natural History Museum 

symbolic interpretations, such as s"erpent 
heads and writhing water snakes. Statues of 
the Goddess of Water, patroness of aque- 
ducts, show her with her head entwined in 
serpents, her skirt consisting of snakes 
massed together. Such Aztec sculpture was 
intended to inspire awe and fear by its grim, 
austere style. However, some sculptures for 
public structures were works of restraint, 
such as the caryatides using human forms 
incorporated with architectural columns, 
which were intended for functional needs. 
Terraces on teocalli were enhanced with re- 


lief carvings of water-snakes and some of 
the friezes had simplified designs. These 
were made during Tenochtitlan's last and 
greatest building phase, probably by talented 
Mixtec-Puebla sculptors then working at the 

The famous Aztec Calendar Stone (Plate 
35. Calendar Stone) used in the temple for 
sacrificial offerings was carved about 1480 
from a piece of porphry. This round stone 
is twelve feet high and weighs 24 tons. A 
greatly revered relic, it is engraved with 
cryptic cylindrical designs and bordered 
with carved bands of jade and turquoise 
containing elaborate symbols. Centered on 
the disk is the face of Tenariuh, the Sun God, 
surrounded by astrological symbols of the 
cycles of creation. Though the Calendar 
Stone was lost for a long time, it was found 
in 1790 when paving was being done in the 
Zocalo. It is now on exhibit in the Museum 
of Anthropology, History and Art in Chapul- 
tepec Park. 

Another historic Aztec relic, the Stone of 
Tizoc (Plate 36. The Stone of Tizoc), is 
carved in cylindrical form from volcanic 
trachyte. It is eight feet in diameter and its 
central disk, carved in low relief, has rows 
of Aztec warriors with their captured ene- 
mies. The stone's elaborate carvings express 
the Aztec belief in sacrificial payment of 
blood to the gods and it was used in the 
temple as the sacrificial place. King Tizoc 
had dedicated his conquests in wars (1481- 
86) to the Sun God, and the stone was carved 
in commemoration of his achievements. This 
great relic was also temporarily lost but in 
1792 it was discovered buried beneath the 
present location of the National Pawn Shop. 
It now is on exhibit in the foyer of the 
museum at Chapultepec Park. 

An example of Aztec ceramic sculpture is 
a statue twelve-and-a-half inches high (Plate 
37. Standing Warrior. Ceramic sculpture). 
This work becomes alive because of its skill- 
ful handling of anatomical form and detail; 


PLATE 35. Calendar stone. The Aztec Calendar 
stone of the Sun, 15th century. From Tenochti- 
tlan. In National Museum of Anthropology, Mex- 
ico City. Courtesy Mexican Government Tourism 

The Aztecs 

it represents a typical warrior serving in the 
militia, probably a clan member and tax- 
paying native. As every tribesman was neces- 
sarily a warrior, the statue is a representative 
Mexican type. The average Indian's height 
is 5'2"; he has a thick-set body, broad head, 
and coarse black hair, though he has no hair 
on his body or face; his skin is of a warm 
brown color. 

The Aztecs regarded trading and selling 
of importance second only to warfare. Es- 
sentially art-minded, the Indians carefully 
planned their tiaquiz displays with careful 
consideration for color harmonies, for they 
never separated utility from beauty. A dis- 
tinctive and colorful handicraft of Aztec 

feather mosaic was popular, though few, if 
any, Mexicans are today continuing this art 
and it is considered a lost craft. The Aztec 
artist arranged feathers according to size and 
color and, after stripping them, left only the 
fragile feather tip, for the stems were woven 
into the cotton backing and fastened with 
glue to the cloth. Because of overlapping, 
many feathers were needed to cover a square 
inch, necessitating the plucking of hundreds 
of rare birds to make elaborate mosaics. The 
cloak that Moctezuma gave Cortes, and that 
he in turn sent to Emperor Charles V, is 
now in the Vienna Museum. Feather mosaics 
were worn on Aztec warriors' headgear, were 
worn by priests for ceremonial cloaks, and 

PLATE 36. Stone of Tizoc. From Tenochtitl4n. 
Now in National Museum of Anthropology, 
Mexico City. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Tourism Department 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

were used as wall-hangings. The mosaicists 
were supplied with feathers from birds in 
royal aviaries located near their workshops. 
Beautiful Aztec feather mosaics are exhibited 

PLATE 37. Standing warrior. Ceramic Statue, 
A.D. 400-800. Mexico, Jaina Style. Courtesy The 
Art Institute of Chicago, Primitive Art purchase 
fund and Edward E. Ayer Fund. 

at the Museum of History, Mexico City, and 
at the Louvre and British Museum. After the 
Conquest pure gold threaded embroideries 
were sewn by Aztec craftsworkers for cere- 
monial vestments and bull-fighters' costumes. 
No other Aztec art equaled their fine gold- 
smithing, designing, and intricate setting of 

rare jewels, which were rendered with great 
skill. Exquisite articles were often made in 
the form of animals, birds, or flowers. Work- 
ing with precious stones, the craftsmen also 
fashioned small ornaments in the shape of 
ducks, tigers, lions, and monkeys. Perfection 
was achieved in a jewel formed like a fish 
with alternating gold and silver scales and a 
necklace containing emeralds and rubies in 
the shape of tiny gold bells. Because emer- 
alds were the Aztec's most highly prized pre- 
cious stone, Moctezuma presented Cortes 
with one of great size cut in pyramidal form. 
A rare collection of jewels was sent by Cor- 
tes to Emperor Charles V in 1519. They were 
praised by craftsmen of Seville and Madrid 

PLATE 38. Gold breastplate. Mixtec Culture from 
Tomb 7, Monte Alban, Oaxaca. Now in Museum 
of Anthropology, Oaxaca. Courtesy Gisele 
Freund, Paris 

The Aztecs 


who "despaired of equaling their perfection," 
and by Albrecht Diirer who wrote in his 
Nuremberg Diary: "I have never seen, in all 
my life, things that so delight my heart." 
Aztec goldsmiths surpassed the artistry of 
Benvenuto Cellini, their rare craftsmanship 
being a hundred years in advance of work 
done by European artisans. 

Aztec lapidarists carved extensively in jade 
and amethyst, using gold and silver for cere- 
monial temple needs and for funeral masks. 
Jade was of special value and an item for 
tribute payments, and though an extremely 
hard stone to carve, Aztec lapidarists accom- 
plished the art with skill. Craftsmen im- 
proved the techniques for gold embossing, 
plating, sheathing, and hammering, details 
of which they learned from skilled Mixtec- 
Puebla artisans who were working at Te- 
nochtitlan (Plate 38. Gold Breastplate. 
Mixtec. 15th century). 

The Conquest far exceeded a dramatic 
seizure of Aztec wealth and land; it was 

actually a rape of Mexico, for all was deso- 
lated. It was the Spanish aim to win Mexico 
for God and king, their determination being 
rooted in a zealous religious cause— that of 
bringing an end to human sacrifice. The Az- 
tec people were ridden with grave doubts, 
even to questioning whether the sun would 
rise the next day. A complete change, a new 
concept, an entirely new idea of social values 
was in process of evolving and was destined 
to mature after 300 years. The humble Mexi- 
can, laden with sorrow, through these years 
became the subject of great art when native 
artists sought to help bring beneficial changes 
into Indian life. Artists used their talents to 
build a new national consciousness, though 
it was their aim to preserve the primitive art 
of the land and people they loved. Modem 
Mexican artists present messages from an- 
cient history and legend that form a legacy 
to benefit the conquered and the conquerors 
through the power of native art. 


The 300-year Colonial Period is divided for 
convenience into periods of distinct art 

Primitive (1521-1571) Church building 

Renaissance (1521-1600) Reflecting art in- 
troduced by imported artists; the influ- 
ence of masterpieces sent by the Crown to 
churches; foreign art used as models for 

Baroque (1600-1760) Offering native artists 
creative growth and opportunity to ex- 
press originality. Three developments 
within the style are: Baroque (proper); 
Plateresque; Chiurigueresque 

Neo-Classic (1760-1850) Reaction to simplifi- 
cation, bringing restraint and return to 
Greek and Roman influence 


Conversion of Indian to European Culture; 
Church Construction 

Although the Sun Kingdom was no more, 
its survivors became the ancestors of today's 
Indians, representing a unique people who 
possess much art ability. The Conquest had 
broken the Indian's heart; the Conquista- 
dores had taken his land and gold and re- 
duced him to slavery. Most Indians were 
landless serfs called peons, who labored 

without pay on Spanish farms. Though the 
Crown's grants of land in Mexico were in- 
tended for the Spanish-bom, a few Indian 
chieftains and warriors among Aztec, Tlax- 
calan, and Texaco tribes were honored with 
land grants, titles, and coats-of-arms. This 
encouraged intermarriage between certain 
Indian families and those of Spanish gran- 
dees, which began a creole or crillos class. 
Another group, of Spanish and Indian blood- 
blend called mestizo, received less favor, 
though in later time it became powerful be- 
cause its leaders were highly capable and 
succeeded in all phases of work, including 
the arts. The mestizos remained somewhat 
repressed, however, until after the Revolu- 
tion of 1910, when they assumed leadership 
throughout Mexico. 

Class division brought to Mexico a Europe- 
an-Medieval concept of government, for when 
a strong power developed in the Church dur- 
ing the 300-year Colonial period the social 
situation in New Spain became increasingly 
difficult. A European feudal class concept 
brought Mexico a system of land ownership 
called hacienda, which, although originally 
intended to offer the Indians paternal guard- 
ianship, degenerated into a complete subju- 
gation of them. Severe abuses took place in 
Mexico and these were destined to continue 


The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 

until bloody uprisings and revolution freed 
the peons. A hacienda was similar to a large 
farm and somewhat like a village, having its 
church, store, and places for laborers all 
owned by a single Spanish family. 

Although the Crown's interest in humble 
Indians was kindly, attempts to help them 
were blocked by powerful landowners. The 
Crown, along with missionary priests, advo- 
cated payment to peons for labor and 
wanted a law enacted to prohibit slavery, 
but these attempts were opposed. Strong 
animosity and dissension increased between 
Spanish-bom gentry and the creole class, 
who were dissatisfied with the restricted 
rights they received for they claimed more 
favor in consideration of their descent from 
the Conquistadores. When a creole wanted a 
public oflBce he was ignored or refused, and 
this caused severe antagonism between the 
two classes even though their efforts were 
united to keep the peons in complete servi- 
tude. Continued exploitation of peons on 
haciendas and in mines included severe 
whippings and other terrors which touched 
off uprisings (Plate 39. Enslavement of the 
Indians. Fresco detail, History of Mexico by 
Rivera). Episodes showing hardships of 
peons have been painted by Orozco, Siquei- 
ros, Goitia, and other Mexican artists of our 

Although Spain had been well governed 
under strong monarchs and conditions in 
Mexico were favorable then, a change came 
after the destruction of the Armada in 1588 
and the colony was adversely affected. The 
value of Mexico's gold and silver decreased 
and political turmoil worsened. Creole envy 
of wealthy Spanish-bom hacienda owners 
caused them to be called gachupines, a deri- 
sive nickname meaning centaurs. During in- 
creasingly severe times, the Indians turned 
for consultation to priests, who brought them 
their joy in a new-found religion. 

After the Conquest, the Spanish began 
vigorously to proselitize all natives, who were 


being taught the language and Gospel les- 
sons, although many continued secretly to 
worship their idols, even hiding them behind 
Christian altars. Their new rehgion offered 
hope of salvation, and even though Spanish 
control was far from desirable, one great ad- 
vantage was that human sacrifice had ceased. 
A religious conquest began directly after the 
destruction of Tenochtitlan, for spreading 
Christianity was considered justification for 
the capture of Mexico to require conversion 
of the Indians. The natives accepted the new 
religion, willingly becoming devout believers. 
After their rude awakening to a strange 
Spanish control of their lives, with nothing of 
their former Aztec ways of life remaining, 
they turned wholeheartedly to the Church 
for solace and devotion. Christianity caused 
them to forsake old pagan ideas and they 
welcomed belief in one God, Father of all 
men; their faith helping them to endure 
hardships. Ministrations of the Fathers gave 
helpful release, and delight in folkloric art 
known as "art of the fields" helped mend the 
broken spirit of the Indians. 

The Crown gave generous support to re- 
ligious work in Mexico and missionary 
Fathers aided the peons. Typical of this de- 
votion was the service of a Flemish monk, 
Peter of Ghent, who labored fifty years 
founding schools and teaching art. His school 
for Aztec children in the Franciscan center at 
Mexico City also housed the first native sem- 
inary. A Franciscan historian, Bernardine de 
Sahagun (1499-1590), converted thousands; 
his Nahuatal-Spanish dictionary, a labor of 
twelve years, is still used. He translated Holy 
Writ and the catechism, and recorded many 
Indian sagas; his writing about the "Brown 
Madonna— Our Lady of Guadalupe" helped 
bring devotion to this beloved native saint. 
Leading Mexican artists have painted works 
showing friars helping the Indians, such as 
Orozco's famous work Franciscan Father and 
the Indian (see chapter 10). 

Under the guidance of different Church 

PLATE 39. Enslavement of the Indians. Fresco- 
detail by Diego Rivera. Palace of Cortes, Cuer- 
navaca, Mexico. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 

Orders, the Indians were taught to use Span- 
ish tools, plant fruit trees, develop art skills, 
make pottery and do leather tooling. It is 
estimated that over a thousand Indian con- 
verts were baptized daily during the late 
sixteenth century. The Spanish imported 
plants, trees, and animals; introduced iron, 
steel, wool, the upright loom, pottery-wheel, 
glass-blowing, glazing, and fine ceramic 
techniques. The Dominicans built a vast 
"fortress-monastery" in Mexico City which 
contains monk's cells decorated with murals 
and wood-carved statues that show the crea- 
tive power of priest-artists who taught the 
natives art skills. They delighted in garden- 
ing, and planted vines, trees, and flowers to 
surround the plazas near monastery arcades 
where they hung cages for singing birds. 

The Jesuits remained in Mexico City to 
assist in the Colonial government; Carmel- 
ites and Augustinians directed construction 
of religious buildings, many being made with 
hand-fitted stones, and some church centers 
were in process of building for two hundred 
and fifty years. The nation was fast being 
Christianized. When church bells tolled at 
certain hours the Indians would leave their 
tasks to kneel and pray; the women, when in- 
side church, wore the traditional Spanish 
mantilla, a head-covering which was hand- 

The Church of San Francisco, built in 
1524 on the site of Moctezuma's palace, was 
constructed with stones salvaged from it. 
This ancient church contained the first school 
where natives were taught Spanish and Holy 
Writ; today the church, convent, and chapel 
stand as a revered historic landmark in the 
midst of Mexico City's business section, and 
visitors to the site realize that it breathes an 
aura of devoted service. The Church of San 
Francisco of Cholula (Plate 40. King's 
Chapel. Church of San Francisco, Cholula) 
is likewise one of the oldest churches in the 
Americas. The ornate bell tower with 
twisted columns and the colorful tiled dome 


on this church present a blend of Spanish- 
Moorish styles, also combining rare lace-like 
carvings on high towers and capitals. This 
beautiful chapel served for centuries as an 

PLATE 40. King's Chapel. Church of San Fran- 
cisco. Cholula. Courtesy Anita Brenner and Na- 
tional Railways of Mexico 

oasis of peace and protection through the 
troubled times when governments rose and 
fell. In this old religious center four Tlaxcalan 
chiefs were baptized into the Faith. Founded 
by Franciscan friars in 1552 and located on a 
high plateau 116 miles east of Mexico City, 
its brightly colored domes give the efiFect of a 
Persian garden. Sevillian architects imported 
by Cortes worked at Puebla and Cholula, in- 
structing Indians in the art of building, intro- 
ducing such architectural features as cupolas 

and minarets, which reflect the Sevillian- 
Mcxjrish styles then popular in Spain. At this 
period Puebia and Cholula became famous 
for their many beautiful churches. Use of 
handsome colored tiles was lavish, these be- 
ing made by Puebia natives whom the Span- 
ish had taught the intricacies of ceramic art 
and tilemaking. 

During the Colonial period architecture 
was the major art expression. Indian crafts- 
men under direction of the Spaniards super- 

PLATE 41. Church of San Cristdbal. Puebia, 17th 
century. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

imposed Indian motifs and details on Euro- 
pean styles, creating richly complicated 
designs. The Church of San Cristobal in 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

Puebia (Plate 41) is a fine work of Colonial 
seventeenth century, having a notable fa9ade, 
tall towers, and a beautiful dome. One of the 
most famous Colonial churches in Mexico 
City is the Church of Santo Domingo (Plate 
42) built about 1526. Its massive thick walls 
of red tezontl were erected three blocks 
north of the Zocalo, facing the Plaza de Santo 
Domingo. This ancient church is on the 
site, in the center of the Aztec city of Tenoch- 
titlan, where warriors marched in rhythm 
while trumpeting Moctezuma. The Church 
of Del Carmen (Plate 43) in Mexico City 
has a dome of blue, white, and yellow tiles 
and a rarely beautiful fagade. It stands to- 
day in one of the poorest quarters of the 
city to serve a large parish there. A rare 
Colonial construction is the Cathedral of 
Durango (Plate 44) which is enhanced by 
the architectural beauty of its fountain and 
ironwork next to the stone masonry of the 
beautiful curved portal. 

Throughout the long Colonial period many 
monasteries were built in Spanish-Roman- 
esque style, combining low, broad solidity 
with heavy doors and small, slit-like win- 
dows fitted with glass made in Puebia; in- 
teriors were decorated with colorful glazed 
tiles; roofs were of red clay tiles curved like 
half -cylinders. Many of these thick- walled, 
fortress-style monasteries also combined some 
elements of Gothic and Moorish styles. 
Churches had a single nave; ribbed vaulting 
supported an arched roof; fagades were en- 
hanced with carved statues around the portal 
and a rose window above, made of colored 
glass from Puebia. The Colonial monasteries 
were surrounded by a walled courtyard hav- 
ing a spacious patio and arcades adjoining 
the plaza, which was furnished with huge 
stone water-basins, shade trees, and flower 

These vast religious constructions and their 
fine decoration offered the art-conscious In- 
dians many interesting approaches to crea- 
tive art expression and much use of their 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 

PLATE 42. Plaza and Church of Santo Domingo. 
Mexico City. About 1690. Courtesy Mexican 
Government Department of Tourism 

talent was evidenced in carved statues, poly- 
chromed reliefs, paintings in oil, and many 
frescoes. Native artists of the Colonial period 
believed destiny led them to work on the 
beautifying of New Spain's churches and 
they delighted in expressing their feelings 
for the supernatural. Friars encouraged In- 
dian artists to carve statues and paint mon- 
astery walls, thereby expressing their deep 
sensibility of the sufferings of Jesus and the 

The House of Tiles (Plate 45) in Mexico 
City was built by a nobieman for his own 
residence about 1700, when mansions erected 
throughout Mexico showed strong Spanish- 
Moorish influence. The fagade has blue and 
white tiles arranged geometrically around 
balconies enhanced with lavish wrought-iron 
work; the interior now houses murals by 
Orozco. The House of Tiles is primarily 

noted for its abundance of rare ceramic 
tiles made in Puebla by expert Indian crafts- 
men, and, well located in an exquisite and 
interesting setting in the center of the city, 
it is now used as a fine restaurant and shop. 

The building of the magnificent cathedral 
in the Zocalo ( Plate 46. Cathedral of Mexico 
City was begun in 1553 and it has been 
rebuilt several times during the past 252 
years, the most extensive remodeling having 
been undertaken in the seventeenth century. 
Originally constructed from stones taken 
from the demolished Aztec teocalli, it in- 
corporates several styles in a formal con- 
glomeration, both on the fa9ade and in 
the interior. Today the cathedral represents 
an elegant and impressive example of neo- 
Classic architecture at its best. Beauty and 
restraint are seen in the design of two bal- 
anced towers surmounted on pillars. Don 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 43. Church of Del Carmen. Mexico City. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 44. Cathedral of Durango. Fountain, por- 
tal, iron grille. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 


Manuel Tolsa, the architect, came to Mexico 
from Spain for the commission; his accom- 
plishment has received world acclaim. Larg- 
est in the Americas, the cathedral's vast in- 
terior stirs the beholder's imagination with 



PLATE 45. House of Tiles. Mexico City. D.F. 
18th century. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 

compelling awe and wonder. The adjoining 
chapel, by contrast, is an architectural gem 
of eighteenth-century Baroque, exemplifying 
a light and airy architectural design which 
has received the highest praise. 


Art; Architecture; Painting; Sculpture; 
Native Folk Art "of The Fields"; 
Fine Art "of City Artists" 

For the first fifty years following the Con- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

quest, the Church made a religious conquest 
of the Indians by substituting "altars for 
idols." Church schools taught the natives an 
imitative art, which resulted in the suppres- 
sion, to an extent, of their true creative im- 
pulses along with their idols. The Indian's 
art was belittled by professional artists, who 
disregarded it into oblivion. But Indian folk 
art "of the fields" continued to exist in scat- 
tered locations far removed from art cen- 
ters where arbiters of established taste pre- 
vailed. Native artists living in rural parts 
continued to interpret original concepts, re- 
ceiving their inspiration from fantasy and 
nature and expressing it in creative ways. 
Their religion offered art opportunities which 
were kept alive by local popular demand for 
wood-carved crucifixes and figures of saints 
made from maize paste, and for papier-mache 
Judases, some ten feet high, intended for 
burning in monastery patios on the Saturday 
night of Holy Week. Ceremonials and fiestas 
created needs for handiwork by local artists. 
Indigenous art persisted in these ways and 
it existed in readiness for a revival of Mexi- 
can art in the modern movement of our 

Folk artists were busy painting popular 
works showing miraculous events, such as 
cures which were credited to intercession by 
devout persons. These works, representing a 
miracle of healing and recovery and known 
as retables, were made on tin, copper, wood, 
or canvas and were presented as a thank of- 
fering by a donor to the church. Many Mexi- 
can churches have miracle paintings that are 
centuries old. The rural retable artist gener- 
ally plied his craft in his spare time for he 
was otherwise engaged in making pottery, 
or was a weaver or a farmer. The retables are 
really little stories of religious character as 
told in pictures and they always represent 
a happening in which severe misfortune was 
threatened but averted through the gracious 
and opportune intervention of some saint in- 
voked by the person in distress. Some retable 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 46. Cathedral. Mexico City. D.F. Courtesy 
Mexican Government Department of Tourism 

canvases represent ill persons in bed while 
loved ones fervently pray to invoke all-pow- 
erful help for the stricken one, who is prob- 
ably in danger of death. 

"City artists" expressed their ideas of re- 
ligious themes by making paintings of "fine 
art" in pretentious altarpieces with elab- 
orately carved, gilded, or painted sections 
combined with sculpture placed in adjoin- 
ing niches. Oftentimes the altarpiece was 
flanked with numerous smaller panels around 
a large centerpiece. 

Many artists were invited to Mexico from 
Spain, and on arrival they trained talented 
Indian art students at San Carlos Art Acad- 
emy to assist them. Miguel Cabrera (1695- 
1768), frequently called the leading Mexican 

artist of the century, was a Zapotec Indian 
from Oaxaca. He was the favorite painter of 
the Jesuits and Court artist for the archbishop; 
almost every important church in Mexico 
possesses a Cabrera canvas. He was a careful 
and worthy portrait painter whose work was 
characterized by fine draftsmanship, and he 
invariably attained his goal of realistic like- 
ness to the model. He painted the cupola of 
the Cathedral at Mexico City. 

The Museum of Colonial Painting in Mexi- 
co City is the seventeenth-century Church 
of San Diego monastery, which has been re- 
stored in keeping with its original architec- 
ture, and it contains works of almost three 
centuries of Colonial rule. There are works 
by Francisco Antonio Vallejo, Baltazar de 


Echave Ibia, and Jose and Nicholas Rodriguez 
Juarez painted in the manner of the Spanish 
artist Murillo in a somewhat derivative man- 
ner, though there are some excellent portraits 
by Manuel Tols^, who was also a famous 

In addition to the strong influence of ar- 
tists and architects who came to Mexico to 
work and teach, many churches were re- 
ceiving rare gifts of art from the Crown. 
These included priceless tapestries designed 
by Rubens and many marble altarpieces. 
Titian's painting The Entombment was sent 
to the Church of San Francisco in a small 
village near Patzcuaro. An Assumption and 
an Altarpiece of Our Lady by Murillo was 
received by Guanajuato Cathedral. Mexican 
artists began to copy these masterpieces 
slavishly, particularly Murillo's works, for 
many were in Mexico and this resulted in a 
weakly derivative type of productiveness by 
Mexico's "city artists." Native art was de- 
valued at this time, although when the Span- 
ish arrived in Mexico they found art that 
astounded them. The pre-Columbian peoples 
had erected buildings of great beauty and 
fine craftsmanship and their ritual masks, 
murals, jewels, pottery, and sculpture were 
equally excellent. 

Colonial viceroys were liberal art patrons, 
commissioning paintings which they gave to 
churches and also donating generously for 
decoration of their vacation refuge at Tepot- 
zotlan, Morelos, twenty-five miles from the 
capital. This luxurious villa was used ex- 
tensively during the seventeenth and eigh- 
teenth centuries, and was restored in 1964 
to its original beauty. It is now part of a mu- 
seum containing the finest collection of early 
Mexican paintings in the Americas. The col- 
lection includes many madonnas painted by 
native artists who worked in the Flemish- 
Renaissance style. These artists were talented 
Mestizo painters who successfully imitated 
foreign art and their work became known 
as that of "city painters," who mainly sup- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

plied religious subjects commissioned by the 
higher clergy and other patrons. Because 
these artists were recognized leaders of "cor- 
rect style," they displaced the artists of the 

The National Museum of the Colonial 
period at Tepotzotlan is mainly on the site 
of a former Jesuit monastery and seminary, 
and it and related stnictures are among the 
most beautiful religious complexes of Mexico 
after restoration in 1964 when they were in- 
corporated as the present museum. One of 
the principal buildings is the temple of Saint 
Francis Xavier, former seminary of San Mar- 
tin, with its adjacent chapels and church, 
founded toward the end of the sixteenth 
century and executed in the late Baroque 
style. The fa9ade of the Monastery at Tepot- 
zotlan (Plate 47) contains extremely ornate 
but beautiful reliefs and sculptures of saints, 
and the interior of the monastery is equally 
heavy with adornment and lavish use of gold 
leaf, the whole being well preserved and 
sparkling. The body of the church is cruci- 
form in design and in it are conserved seven 
magnificent reredos in Baroque style. One of 
the most beautiful is dedicated to the Virgin 
of Guadalupe, as painted by Miguel Cabrera 
in 1767. The beauty and tranquility of the 
orchard and garden surrounding it cause 
the Tepotzotlan complex truly to reflect the 
Colonial period of Mexico. Its lovely grounds 
and courtyards are shaded with protecting 
trees and many fine works of sculpture in the 
cloisters and paintings inside the church make 
Tepotzotlan beautiful in every respect. 

An exer-increasing number of Spanish, 
French, and Italian architects and artists soon 
flocked to the colony, and Mexican art soon 
was dominated by them. The Church took 
on the role of "Mother of Mexican Architec- 
ture" when, in 1526, Cortes offered liberal 
pay to Spanish architects if they would come 
to Mexico. He also gave funds for construc- 
tion of the Cathedral of Cuemavaca and for 
his palace, which was begun in 1540. The 

Dolls of woven palmetto fiber, dyed. 
Typical indigenous craft. Courtesy School Arts 

Cathedral. Guadalajara. State of 
Jalisco. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 47. Fagade: Church of Tepotzotldn. More- 
los, 18th century. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 

palace has been remodeled many times, yet 
the original red lava stone stnicture is in good 
condition today. A notable site of historic in- 

PLATE 48. Cathedral. Cuernavaca. Bell Tower and 
Balcony. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

terest, the ancient structure has been en- 
hanced by Rivera's magnificent murals in the 
loggia depicting the history of Mexico. A 
Spanish artist, Rodriguez de Cefuentes, made 
a series of portraits of early viceroys, which 
were formerly hung in the palace, though 
these paintings have now been removed to 
the National Palace in Mexico City. It is 
to be regretted that the Cefuentes portrait 
of Cortes was lost. 

The bell tower of the Cathedral of Cuer- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

navaca (Plate 48) combines typical Spanish 
arches on its balcony and an ornate dome- 
crowned tower which is notable for its 
slender grace. The Church of San Francisco 
in Cuernavaca (Plate 49) has a fine old 
dome and a unique architectural shell repre- 
sentative of Spanish architecture as inter- 
preted in Mexico at its best. 

The beautiful Colonial Church of Santa 

PLATE 49. Church of San Francisco. Cuernavaca. 
Dome and Shell. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 

Rosa in the State of Queretaro (Plate 50) 
is a famed architectural treasure of Mexico. 
Of special interest are the ornate balconies 
and bell tower in Queretaro (Plate 51), a 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 50. Church of Santa Rosa. Queretaro. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

PLATE 51. Balconies and bell tower. Queretaro. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

distinctive example of graceful Colonial carv- 
ing presenting Spanish Baroque architecture 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

as seen in edifices of that aristocratic period. 

Among structures of Colonial architecture 
in Mexico City are The National Pawn Shop 
and The Hospital of Jesus of Nazareth, the 
oldest hospital in the Americas. Founded by 
Cortes, it is on the site where he received 
gifts from Moctezuma. Another great Colonial 
landmark is the National Palace, at the east 
end of the Zocalo; its construction, directed 
by Cortes, originally covered a square block. 
Rebuilding in 1692 completed the old struc- 
ture, though some portions still remain at the 
rear of the present Palace. Today's gray 
stone structure of three stories covers three 
city blocks and houses government ofiRces 
and the National Museum where Rivera's 
frescoes cover the walls of the great staircase 
and central patio with scenes of national 

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 
Mexico City (Plate 52) was erected on the 
site of an apparition of the popular saint 
in 1531. The world's largest basiUca, it is on 


PLATE 52. Basilica, Our Lady of Guadalupe. 
Mexico City, D.F. Courtesy Mexican Govern- 
ment Department of Tourism 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 53. Temple de los Remedios. Interior. 
Cholula. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

the Aztec site of the Temple of Tenayzin, 
honoring the mother of the gods, Coathcue. 
Destruction of the temple by the Spanish 
saddened the natives but their grief was later 
assuaged by their love for the Virgin Mary, 
whom many Indians associated with Sefiora 
de Guadalupe. A favorite portrait of their 
most beloved saint was painted by Marcos 
Cipac in the early sixteenth century. It shows 
her standing on a crescent moon and is a 
treasure gracing the high altar tabernacle. 
Cipac was a student in Mexico's first school 
of art, the San Carlos Academy. 

The Basilica of Guadalupe is considered 
the most important sanctuary of the Amer- 
icas. It was built in honor of the Virgin of 
Guadalupe who, by popular choice, is the 
patroness of Mexico and Latin America. Ac- 

cording to legend. Our Lady of Guadalupe 
appeared before Juan Diego, a humble native 
in 1521. A miracle occurred in an arid spot 
that was suddenly transformed with a spring 
and rose garden, on the site of the present 
basilica. The Virgin is venerated by millions, 
who each December 12 congregate at the 
shrine to offer thanks to and to beseech her 
aid for personal needs. The Basilica now 
houses a famed and unique Museum of Re- 
ligious Art. 

Baroque architecture enjoyed a long popu- 
larity in Spain and likewise, after the first 
quarter of the seventeenth century, in Mex- 
ico, where it was appreciated by both the 
Spanish and Indians and was the style for 
160 years. During this long period the Ba- 
roque evolved through three phases— Baroque 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 54. Ceiling. Church of Santo Domingo. 
Oaxaca, 17th-century polychrome rehef. Courtesy 
Mexican Government Department of Tourism 

Proper, the Plateresque, and the Churrigue- 
resque. Typical examples of Baroque Proper 
are two seventeenth-century churches in 
Mexico City, the Church of Jesus Maria and 
the Church of San Lorenzo; another, in Cho- 
lula, is the famous Temple de los Remedios 
( Plate 53. Temple de los Remedios. Cholula ) . 
This notable church has a rarely beautiful 
interior of skilled workmanship which com- 
bines rare artistry with creative variety. Ba- 
roque architecture as here expressed tran- 
scends the usual version of this style, for it 
has an enlarged concept, one that inspires 

awe, though Baroque Proper usually was in- 
tended to impress by elegance alone. 

Later Baroque adaptations called Plater- 
esque (meaning "silver-like") became in- 
creasingly ornate and this second phase of 
the style used elaborate curves, flowing lines, 
and scrolls made freely on plaster ceilings 
( Plate 54. Interior, Church of Santo Domingo. 
Ceiling Detail. Oaxaca). The third Baroque 
phase, known as Churrigueresque, is far more 
elaborate. Named for a Spanish architect, 
Jose Churriguera, it is characterized by carv- 
ings of garlands in wood, plaster, and stone. 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 

Gold leaf was applied to plaster and wood 
carvings to create an effect of glittering 
light and shade. Notable examples include 
the Church of San Francisco at Tepotzotlan, 
twelve miles from Cuernavaca; two churches 
in Queretaro, those of Santa Rosa and Santa 
Clara; also the famous parochial church at 

The impressively ornate church of Santa 
Prisca and San Sebastian (Plate 55) was be- 
gun in 1757, its large cost covered by a 
thank-offering of Jose la Borda, a French 
miner whose fortune was made in a silver 
mine on the site where the church was built. 
Its two tall, ornate towers, blue-tiled Moorish 
cupola, numerous belfries, and heavily carved 
wooden portals represent a hybrid of styles, 
though predominantly Churrigueresque-Ba- 
roque. The interior with its twelve altars, and 
the ceiling with its polychromed and gilded 
angels make Santa Prisca representative of 
the final ornate Baroque style. 

The great church, built to withstand earth- 
quakes, proved strong enough to hold Revo- 
lutionary cannon on its tile roof, and the 
church's tall twin towers rose proudly over 
a war-torn countryside. Throughout the orna- 
mentation of Santa Prisca, native artists ren- 
dered carvings inspired by nature and its 
animals, and these motifs are carved around 
doors and windows and on chancels and 
choir stalls. Among notable examples of secu- 
lar use of the third phase of Baroque is 
Casa del Alftenique, now a provincial mu- 
seum at Puebla. 

Mexico offers incredible variety in its lovely 
villages and towns. Taxco has kaleidoscopic 
interest and is filled with art. It is built upon 
a hillside in a section of Mexico which has 
long been a great source of silver ore, and is 
dominated by the large blue-green domed, 
impressive Church of Santa Prisca, built in 
sumptuous Baroque architecture. The beau- 
tiful Parochial Church of Taxco ( Plate 56 ) is 
representative of Colonial design in its lovely 


PLATE 55. Parochial Church of Santa Prisca and 
San Sebastian. Taxco, Guerrero. 18th century. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

portal. Another outstandingly lovely building 
in Taxco is the Teatro (movie house) (Plate 
57), which also contains the large School of 
Fine Arts. 

Neo-Classic architecture came to Mexico 
in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, 
in a strong reaction toward simplification 
following the superabundance of late-Ba- 
roque ornamentation. Its leading architect, 
Manuel Tolsa (1757-1816), who was equally 
distinguished as a sculptor, redesigned the 
Cathedral of Mexico City in Neo-Classic 
style, the success of which gave it instant 
popularity, and this new style became the 
accepted architectural form for municipal 
and national structures throughout the world. 

Tolsa also designed the handsome eques- 
trian statue of Emperor Charles V, on the 


Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City's 
finest bronze monuments. Another notable 
Spanish sculptor, Alonzo Cano, carved nu- 
merous church fa9ades and statues of saints 
for Mexican churches. 

The 300 years following the Conquest were 
a socially unproductive era, but the Colonial 
Period may lay claim to great accomplish- 
ment in the construction of inspiring churches 
and in the founding, in Mexico City in 1539, 

The Origin and Leiacy of Mexican Art 

of the first university in the western hemis- 
phere. The establishment of the university 
came about through the pioneering eflForts of 
Fray Bartelome de Casas, who took his 
plan for the project to Spain, where he re- 
ceived a foundation grant from Charles V. 
In the twentieth century advanced art con- 
cepts have been successfully promoted by 
architects and artists to make the university 
buildings examples of world renown. 

PLATE 56. Parochial Church. Taxco, Guerrero. 
Side view. 18th century. Courtesy Mexican Gov- 
ernment Department of Tourism 

The Colonial Period, 1521-1821 


PLATE 57. Teatro. Taxco, Guerrero, (movie 
house.) Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 


Mexican art was destined for a long time to 
be involved with national and political 
struggles and with providing tribute to re- 
former-heroes who fought for betterment of 
the people amid severe class enmity. The 
colony in Mexico was surprised to learn in 
1808 that a Napoleonic invasion of Spain 
had forced abdication of their Emperor and 
imprisonment of his son, Ferdinand. Al- 
though Joseph Bonaparte had possession of 
the Spanish throne, the colony refused to 
recognize him, and this caused class dissen- 
sion to flare. The gauchupines, the Spanish- 
born hacienda owners, opposed Colonial ef- 
forts toward independence because they 
feared it would bring more power to the Cre- 
oles and the mestizos, who represented liberal 
political ideals. Enmity increased between 
the higher clergy and the Uberal groups. 

The start of the independence movement 
came on September 16, 1810, when a humble 
village priest, Miguel Hidalgo, initiated a 
people's revolt by proclaiming the "Grito de 
Dolores" (cry of Dolores). After ringing the 
church bell to bring his parishioners, he pro- 
claimed from the pulpit, "Long live Ferdi- 
nand, and death to the gauchupines," which 
class the Creoles and mestizos wanted re- 
moved from power. The Church of Dolores 
(Plate 58) is now a famous memorial of 

Mexican freedom. On hearing the priest's 
message, angry mobs proclaimed Hidalgo 
leader of the uprising, which soon became 

PLATE 58. Church of Dolores. Hidalgo. Courtesy 
Mexican Government Department of Tourism 

a stoimy revolt aiming to abolish the haci- 
endas. Hidalgo's forces, 80,000 strong, over- 
ran Mexico with furious rage, burning and 
kiUing. His army fought under the banner 


Independence in Art and State 

of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the gauchupines 
and the Viceroy's forces, joined by the higher 
clergy, fought under sponsorship of the Vir- 
gin de los Remedios. At first the rebels suc- 
ceeded, but they were later defeated and 
Hidalgo was executed a year after the up- 
rising began. But his revolt began the long 
struggle of downtrodden natives to secure 
social justice which resulted in the Mexican 
Revolution. Hidalgo is revered as "The Fa- 
ther of Independence"; his tomb in the Ca- 
thedral at Mexico City is at the base of the 
great Independence Monument. Hidalgo and 
the Liberation of Mexico (Plate 59) by Jose 
Clemente Orozco is a dramatic portrayal of 
the emotional impact of this revolt and it 
gives a moving portrait of the priest-leader 
who raised his hand against tyranny. Strong, 
sweeping diagonals give emphasis to the 
stirring scene, the interpretation being un- 
surpassed for its mastery of emotive power. 

Another large and excellently rendered 
portrait of Hidalgo is by Antonio Fabres, 
showing the priest holding the banner of 
Our Lady of Guadalupe. Both portraits hang 
in the National Gallery. 

Mexico's famous Independence Bell, now 
suspended over the central entrance to the 
National Palace, was nmg by the patriot- 
priest Hidalgo in the little town of Dolores 
on the night of September 15, 1810, when 
he called to arms the rebel patriots who, after 
eleven years of difficult fighting, finally 
achieved independence from Spain. Each 
year, on the same date and hour, Mexico's 
President rings this bell from a balcony of 
the Palace. The Mexicans are ever aware of 
the agreeable call of bells which everywhere 
so fill the air with their gently persuasive notes 
that visitors from other lands conclude that 
all the church bells in Christendom have 
been gathered there in Mexico to be rung 
simultaneously. But Mexicans are conscious 
of the special significance of their Indepen- 
dence Bell. 

When the great movement for Indepen- 


dence was born in 1810, old roads and high- 
ways formed what has been called "The 
Liberty Route." It is charged with historic 
reminders of brave heroes who heralded free- 

PLATE 59. Hidalgo and the Liberation of Mexico. 
Oil by Jose Clemente Orozco. Senate Chamber, 
Government Palace, Guadalajara, Jalisco. Cour- 
tesy Mexican Government Department of Tour- 

dom, and it serves as a relic of yesterday in 
the heart of Old Mexico. Among such his- 
toric reminders is the House of Don Miguel 
Hidalgo, which has been preserved as a mu- 
seum in the town where he rang the bell 
in the Church of Dolores. 

Another uprising in the same year ( 1810 ) 
was led by Jose Morelos. It brought nearer 
the colony's break with Spain and helped 
social goals, while Morelos's leadership pre- 
pared for the Revolution of 1910. Though 
his ideals were not achieved for 100 years 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 60. Morelia Cathedral and the Charro 
Parade. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

and he was defeated and executed, Morelos's 
efforts lighted the spark of continued hope 
for betterment. Among other plans, Morelos 
proposed benefits for Mexican artists, which 
later were realized and helped to create the 
twentieth-century Renaissance of Mexican 

art. His home was in the town of Valladolid, 
which honored his memory by changing its 
name to Morelia in 1928 (Plate 60. Morelia 
Cathedral and Charro Parade). The cathe- 
dral there is one of the most dignified and 
architecturally harmonious of all Mexican 

Independence in Art and State 

churches. Built of trachyte, a tawny-pink na- 
tive stone, its handsome twin towers loom 
high against the Mexican sky. 

The dire needs of the Mexican people be- 
came the theme of artists who had asserted 
their freedom from dictation of foreign stan- 
dards of taste, and now they proclaimed an 
expressive national art. The Rear Guard 
(Plate 61), a print by Orozco, is a forceful 
work that shows Mexican women partici- 
pating in the war effort, marching with the 
army, their babies strapped on backs. Orozco 
subordinated pictorial details to achieve the 


dramatic expression of these humble, strug- 
gling women. Dark, sinister tones here con- 
vey a strong feeling against injustice, as the 
formless mob pushes forward, following sol- 
diers armed with bayonets who lead the way. 
In the background, a row of weapons pro- 
vides strong contrast to the single figure of a 
woman emerging into light. 

Following Morelos's uprising of 1810, 
Colonel Augustine de Iturbide took short- 
lived control. During his stormy dictatorship 
he proclaimed himself Emperor Augustine I; 
his deposition brought the formation of new 

PLATE 61. The Rear Guard. Print by Jose Cle- 
mente Orozco. Courtesy Mundelein College, Chi- 
cago; owned by: I.B.M. Corporation Collection 
New York 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 62. Juarez and the Reform. Fresco detail 
by Jose Clemente Orozco. Courtesy National 
Museum of History, Mexico City 

leadership which was even more disastrous 
for Mexico. General Antonio Lopez de Santa 
Anna became dictator, instituting a poorly 
managed rule under which Texas was lost 
(1836) and over half of Mexican territory 
taken by the United States in the Mexican 
War ( 1845-48 ) . When Santa Anna was over- 
thrown (1855), the nation was in financial 
and social chaos, with oppression and poverty 
afflicting the people, who were incensed by 
the display of wealth by landowners and 
higher clergy. The time had come for the de- 
mands of the masses to be met. 

Benito Juarez (1806-72), a great leader, 
carried the nation out of despair by insti- 
tuting "The Reform" (1858-61), which 
brought many needed changes to Mexico. 

Juarez, a mestizo from Oaxaca, boldly at- 
tacked problems of land apportionment, 
church domination, and the privileges of 
higher clergy and military factions in his 
Reform or "constitution" (1857), largely 
modeled on that of the United States. Church 
property was confiscated. Monastic Orders 
and church schools were disbanded, and 
freedom of worship was introduced. New 
laws regulated apportionment of land, prop- 
erty rights, marriage, and divorce. The heroic 
work Juarez and the Reform. Fresco detail 
(Plate 62) by Jose Clemente Orozco shows the 
great reformer's face, much enlarged in the 
center of the fresco, placed against a back- 
ground of fire, from which his head emerges 
victoriously in a cloud; his face expresses firm- 

Independence in Art and State 


PLATE 63. Zapatistas. Oil by Jose Clemente 
Orozco. 1931. Museum of Modern Art, N. Y. 
Courtesy The Museum of Modem Art, N. Y. 

ness and serenity, and above floats the tri-col- 
ored Mexican flag with the national insignia of 
the Aztec eagle, wings outspread. 

Although Juarez overcame powerful re- 
actionary enemies, international intrigue 
stopped his work for a time. Napoleon III 
made a pretext of a loan owed France to 
intervene in Mexican affairs, and he pro- 
claimed an Austrian nobleman, Maximilian, 
Emperor of Mexico. Although the idea of an 
empire in Mexico was opposed by Juarez, the 
leading mestizos, Creoles, and the masses of 

people— all of whom desired a Republic, it 
was supported by landowners and the higher 
clergy. Maximilian's unfortunate three-year 
reign ended when France withdrew its pro- 
tective troops from Mexico because of need 
for them in Europe. Juarez soon defeated 
Maximilian's army; the emperor was exe- 
cuted and Juarez elected President. He 
brought Mexico a new nationalism; his laws 
secured order and stability, but unfortunately, 
death came to him after only five years as 
President. He is revered as the great liber- 


ator and lawmaker of Mexico, and a hero of 
world renown. 

During Mexico's critical times Mexican art 
expressed ideals of nationalism and portrayed 
the true condition of the people. Jose Guada- 
lupe Posada (1851-1913), an artist of origi- 
nality and great creative talent, made carica- 
tures pointing up evil social conditions, which 
caused him to develop as a political prophet 
and pioneer realist of Mexican art. Posada's 
lithographs and wood and metal cuts ex- 
pressed a picture of life with character, 
truth, and strength. He used his skill to point 
out the severe lacks in the regime of Gen- 
eral Porfirio Diaz, who became President af- 
ter Juarez's death and held office for thirty- 
four years. Posada's bitterly acid portrayals 
of Diaz's shortcomings and the nation's needs, 
presented in newspaper cartoons, had im- 
mense effect on social and political life. His 
talent is reminiscent of that of Daumier, the 
French realist, and of Goya, the Spanish 
satirist; Posada's bold draftsmanship and 
great originality had a profound influence 
on Mexico's artists and art. 

The Diaz era, called "Porfirian," had no 
concern for humble Mexicans but favored 
wealthy foreign investors whom the Presi- 
dent urged to acquire large holdings in 
Mexico and promote mining and railroad 
expansion, offering liberal inducements to 
capitalists. This policy allowed Mexico's vast 
mining and agricultural wealth to be con- 
trolled by rich foreigners, who became strong 
supporters of Diaz's political retention as 
President of Mexico. During this period, Po- 
sada's art made vicious attacks on the Diaz 
regime, which helped precipitate his leaving 
to live in Paris. Francisco Madero then ex- 
posed the corrupt Diaz elections and led a 
Revolution to give the Mexican people their 
agrarian rights. The war brought an end to 
the Diaz rule and Madero was murdered 
by political enemies. His successor, Emiliano 
Zapata, a peasant, led a people's army— many 
soldiers being barefoot— with the slogan 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

"Land and Liberty." Zapata's rapid revolu- 
tionary gains were a menace to powerful 
Mexican financial interests and his enemies 

PLATE 64. Zapata Leading the Agrarian Revolt. 
Fresco detail by Diego Rivera. Palace of Cortes, 
Cuemavaca, Mor. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

contrived to have him murdered. Zapata, the 
"people's leader," was the subject of many 
murals and portraits depicting him in his 
work as a revolutionary activist (Plate 63. 
Zapatistas. Oil by Orozco) (Plate 64. Zapata 
Leading the Agrarian Revolt. Fresco detail 
by Rivera). 

Independence in Art and State 81 

Notwithstanding the loss of great leaders, for decoration of public buildings by native 

the revolutionary conflict continued until the artists proved of value to both the public 

government responded to the people's grie- and artists. Improved transportation facilities 

vances by favorable changes. Freedom of the aided villagers living in remote areas to se- 

individual became for the first time a reahty cure urban markets for their art and handi- 

in Mexico. Under President Obregon's special crafts. Renderings of Mexican scenes, pre- 

enactment (1921), the administration estab- sented by native artists with realism, showed 

lished a department of public education, the people at work and play; native artists' 

which included fine arts instruction with interpretations of the nation's pre-Conquest 

scholarships for talented art students. Projects heritage and art legacy were encouraged. 



In the opening years of the nineteenth cen- 
tury, art continued on the basis of its Colonial 
background, although attempts were later 
made to improve the San Carlos Academy. 
Its director, Pelegrin Clave, a Spanish artist, 
introduced the use of living models in class- 
rooms and required that portraits be true 
likenesses of the sitters. During Maximilian's 
regime the Academy introduced French 
styles, foohshly transferring them into a Mex- 
ican setting. In Diaz's presidency, native 
artists were prevented from independent ex- 
pression; Antonio Fabres, then director of 
the Academy, advocated imitative art in the 
manner of the two popular Spanish painters 
— Sorolla and Zualoga. 

But a clue to the grandeur of the art im- 
pulse in Mexico's people comes to light around 
every comer in Mexico City and down each 
cobbled street, wherein lies another chap- 
ter in the nation's turbulent struggle for 
peace, beauty, freedom, and honor among 
nations of the world. The Palace of Fine Arts 
(Plate 65) is a magnificent white marble 
structure of rarely beautiful architecture con- 
taining the national theater and a museum 
displaying some of Mexico's best art. It was 
begun in Diaz's time, and the costly structure 
was designed with limited seating capacity 
and was intended for use only by the privi- 

leged classes, though when it was remodeled 
in 1934 the handsome edifice of imported 
Italian marble was rebuilt with large seating 
areas and added balconies to meet the needs 
of all the people. Its Teatro de Belle Artes 
presents popular programs like the Ballet 
Folklorico for large audiences, as does also 
the National Opera which is housed there. 

During the early nineteenth century folk 
artists were painting with sincere ingenuous- 
ness in a delightfully fresh, direct style. These 
unknown native artists, though lacking train- 
ing in sophisticated art techniques, recorded 
what they saw, making attempts to handle 
tonal harmonies in their paintings. Portrait 
of a Child (Plate 66) by an anonymous co- 
lonial portrait painter exemplifies the art of 
these sincere painters who provided a defi- 
nite link between the sixteenth-century friars' 
art of the monasteries and the modem Mex- 
ican art movement. 

When Alfredo Ramos Martinez (1881- 
1946) returned after several years of study 
abroad, he taught the use of scintillating, 
clear color in his popular outdoor painting 
classes. The government later sponsored 
twenty-seven similar classes, offering free 
lessons to many who later became famous 
Mexican artists, among them Rufino Tamayo. 
Impressionist technique began in Mexico 


Art Awakens 


PLATE 65. Palace of Fine Arts. Mexico City, 
1904-1934. Adamo Boari, architect. Courtesy 
Mexican Government Department of Tourism 

through the eflForts of Martinez and Dr. Alt 
(1877-1964), both having studied it in Paris. 
"Dr. Alt," was an assumed name, a pseudo- 
nym of Gerardo Murillo, with which name 
he was christened when bom in Guadalajara. 
He changed it to Alt, which means Water, 
in the Nahuatl tongue, because he disliked 
the art of the many Mexican copyists who 
imitated the Spanish Murillo's work, for at 
that time derivative Mexican artists made 
many copies of Murillo's pink and blue paint- 
ings. Dr. Alt is known for the aid he gave 
to Mexican folk art and for his strikingly 
original landscapes, of which he painted a 
series showing volcanos at different hours of 
the day, each indicating the effects of light 

on lava or clouds as the color changed. Dr. 
Alt lived near the volcano Popocatepetl in 
order to study the varied lighting at different 
hours, and his studies of atmospheric effects 
are accurately transcribed. 

A devoted group of artists who gathered 
around Dr. Alt were inspired by his original 
methods and the leadership he attained 
when he urged the government to allow 
native artists to exhibit their paintings and 
sculpture at the show planned to celebrate 
the centennial of Hidalgo's "Grito de Do- 
lores." The Diaz government had originally 
planned to show only the art of leading 
Spanish painters— Sorolla and Zualoga— but 
after Dr. Alt protested, a large show of native 

Art Awakens 

art was allowed, for which the government 
granted 3,000 pesos to cover the cost of as- 
sembling it. The native show included vari- 
ous entries, enough to fill several galleries, 
and it had an enthusiastic reception and 
received the highest praise. 

Although impressionistic painting was 
never popular in Mexico, it brought a de- 
sire for new art ideas and initiated attitudes 
which relieved the declining academic art 
then being taught at the Academy. Some 
talented students of Martinez who opposed 
the teaching of the Academy rented a small 
house in Santa Anita near Mexico City, where 
they painted outdoors— in this respect re- 
sembling the Barbizon artists of Paris— and 
called themselves "Mexican Barbizons." Na- 
tive artists were urged to feature Mexican 
subjects and present-day Indian life with 
realism, aiming to make native art a national 
asset and to present all phases of art— murals, 
posters, caricatures, engravings, woodcuts, 
portraits, and landscapes. 

Mexican art began to develop as an expres- 
sion by individual artists of their personal 
feelings, based on experiences of what they 
saw and knew. Representative of this ideal 
is the work of Francisco Goitia (1884-1960), 
oldest of the Revolutionary artist group, who 
painted with deep sympathy for the tragic 
struggle of Mexico's people; his art is a procla- 
mation of toil-weary Indians stniggling in 
humble life situations. His Tata Jesucristo 
(Plate 67. Father Jesus Christ), painted in oil 
in 1926, is a masterpiece which won world 
acclaim for the grandeur of its Expression- 
ism. A representative exhibit of works by 
Goitia and Posada hangs in the Palace of 
Fine Arts, Mexico City. 

Goitia, along with Jose Posada, became a 
vital precursor of modern Mexican art. After 
studying on a government scholarship in 
Spain and Italy, Goitia returned to Mexico 
in 1912 and saw service in the Revolution, 
later working for the government at Teoti- 
huacan (1918-25). While there he painted 


typical scenes of Mexican life, many record- 
ing the griefs and sorrows of humble people. 
Goitia's art was a mystic interpretation suf- 
fused with sympathy, portraying the lowly 
Indian's spirit. A deep student of the native 
art heritage and of folk art, he was a lifelong 
art teacher, his message the promotion of 
social consciousness favoring the Mexican 
masses. His profound expression of his aware- 
ness of his mission has given Goitia a high 
place in world art. 

Mexicans from all sections of the nation 
left their work on farms, in mines, and in 
stores to join the army and help in the war 
for freedom. All classes were together, and 
though the mestizos became leaders in the 
armed forces, the humble peons displayed 
great courage while making their fine con- 
tribution for victory. In gratitude for their 
fine service, the post-Revolutionary govern- 
ment gave them special aid in its reconstruc- 
tion program. Government help was given 
to art under direction of the cultural bureau 
chairman, Jose Vasconcellos, Minister of Edu- 
cation, who instituted a plan for the decora- 
tion of public buildings, maintenance of art 
exhibits, study and research in archaeology, 
excavation of historic ruins, and restoration 
and display of pre-Columbian relics. Recon- 
struction policy urged individuals to help the 
nation by patriotic use of art talent, skills, 
and abilities. President Obregon, a mestizo 
Indian, carried forward the principles of so- 
cial justice inaugurated by Juarez, as did his 
successor. President Cardenas. In 1934 a six- 
year government plan provided equitable 
land adjustment by assigning parcels to peons 
for theiir ownership and cultivation, the 
subsidy being made possible by the reversion 
of one hundred million acres of land to the 
nation when haciendas and church holdings 
were absorbed. These long-delayed grants 
gave the Mexican masses new heart. 

Large numbers of native artists arrived in 
1921 to paint Mexico City's public buildings 
for the government. Diego Rivera, Xavier 

jLATE 66. Portrait of a child. By an anonymous 
Polonial artist. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 


PLATE 67. Father Jesus Christ (Tata Jesucristo). 
Oil by Francisco Goita. 1927. Palace of Fine 
Arts, Mexico City, D.F. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

Guerrero, and Roberto Montenegro were 
among the first to begin work. Orozco and 
Siqueiros soon joined them and became lead- 
ers of the large art project. Later workers 
were Rufino Tamayo, Carlos Merida, Julio 
Castellanos, Miguel Covarrubias, Jesus Gue- 
rrero Galvan, Alfredo Zolce, and Leopoldo 
Mendes, who constituted a younger group 
who promoted Mexico's modern art move- 
ment on the completion of the great mural 
art project. Immediately following the Min- 

istry of Education assignment of commissions 
to decorate walls of public buildings, all 
Mexican artists eagerly grasped the oppor- 
tunity to serve their country. Rivera began 
his murals by portraying Mexican themes 
which helped start the nationalist art themes; 
thus the Reconstniction period offered ar- 
tists much opportunity for portrayal of timely 
local scenes of human interest, which brought 
Mexican art on a forward creative path to 
the inauguration of a new aesthetic. 

Art Awakens 

A syndicate organized by Mexican artists 
in 1922 presented its aims to help meet post- 
Revolutionary and Reconstruction needs. The 
syndicate's aim was to unite art workers for 
the creation of works expressive of the In- 

PLATE 68. Zapata leading the Agrarian Revolt. 
Fresco detail by Diego Rivera. Palace of Cortes, 
Cuemavaca, Mor. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

dian spirit by presenting native life and its 
traditional heritage, and then to extend art 
influences by placing large-scale art in places 
where the public could view it. A mural of 
special interest, painted by Rivera, presents 
Zapata, the popular peasant leader ( Plate 68. 
Zapata Leading the Agrarian Revolt. Fresco 
detail). Rivera's skillful spatial design and 


decorative arrangement of the large-scale 
figures are here combined with harmonious 
line directions of rope, weapons, poles, and 
banners. This work exemplifies post-Revolu- 
tionary art in a richly decorative, narrative 
style. It depicts the eventful flow of Mexican 
history and combines it with the new aes- 
thetic achievement by the Republic. 

Through such influences, national Mexican 
art crystallized into a thoroughly popular 
style characterized by strong lines, and values 
and colors reminiscent of the art of pre-Con- 
quest artists. Modern artists were seeking 
and finding sources of inspiration in ancient 
Indian art, returning also to use of primitive 
materials. Art had turned abruptly away 
from formalism to express with freedom the 
true scenes of local Indian daily life. Styles 
varied, with some artists working with Ex- 

plate 69. Parochial Church. San Miguel de Al- 
lende. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

pressionism while others developed dynamic 
realism; still others aimed merely for decora- 
tive effect. But the whole program was in- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 70. Chapultepec Castle. National Museum 
of History and Anthropology. Mexico City, D.F. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

Art Awakens 

PLATE 71. Street Art Fair. Mexico City, D.F. 
Courtesy Mexican Government Department of 

tended to make a truer statement of Mexican 
life for the world to see and understand. 

The Parochial Church of San Miguel de 
Allende (Plate 69) is one of the most un- 
usual architectural monuments in all Mexico. 
Its graceful towers pierce the air with a beau- 
tiful blend of neo-Gothic style in a supreme 
elegance of construction. This lovely Mexi- 
can town was designated a national monu- 
ment by government decree in order to 
preserve its Colonial atmosphere, which com- 
bines in a beautiful manner Baroque em- 
phasis with the older Gothic. 

The Chapultepec Castle, now the National 
Museum of History (Plate 70) was built 
atop a hill in Mexico City in a park of the 
same name. "Chapultepec" in the Aztec 
tongue means "Hill of the Grasshoppers," 
and this was the main site of governing rule 
in pre-Hispanic years. The Castle was erected 
during the Colonial period but was aban- 
doned in 1841 when it became a military 
college, although the lovely structure is 
linked with the short-lived empire of Maxi- 
milian and Carlotta, who used it as their 
official home. After the French intervention 


collapsed, the Castle served as a summer 
residence for President Porfirio Diaz. In 1940 
the Republic of Mexico declared it the Na- 
tional Museum of History and the handsome 
building now contains murals by Siqueiros, 
Orozco, Rivera, and other famous painters. 

That art has awakened is evidenced in 
the Sunday morning art fairs in Mexico City 
(Plate 71), which are held to benefit strug- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

gling artists who hope for recognition by, 
and sales to, the public. Mexican artists have 
long displayed their work at street fairs and 
have indeed thereby created much interest 
among the city dwellers. Just about every- 
one in Mexico tries his hand at painting 
and many artists' colonies are scattered 
throughout the Republic. 


The government's extensive program of pre- 
Columbian research and archaeology in- 
creased interest in Mexican indigenous art, 
leading both artists and public to find in- 
spiration in the nation's ancient art legacy. 
In 1922, under the influence of Teotihuacan's 
murals, Mexican artists learned from them 
how primitive painters made their frescoes. 
Xavier Guerrero, Jean Chariot, and Jose Cle- 
mente Orozco all conducted successful ex- 
periments which resulted in the improvement 
of modern fresco painting. Artists were in- 
spired to use colors typical of pre-Hispanic 
art found in the newly excavated murals at 
Teotihuacan. Their study proved that various 
minerals were basic materials used in murals 
found in Monte Alban tombs and on walls at 
Teotihuacan. Most ancient paintings repre- 
senting nature's forces were in landscape 
settings showing the "paradise of the gods" 
and Tlaloc, God of Rain, being implored 
to aid the Indian's crops. Other ancient mu- 
rals with religious motifs were of priests, with 
many geometric designs of interlocked lines. 
Pre-Conquest Indians painted directly on the 
walls of palaces and temples. During the 
Colonial period friars and natives decorated 
churches and fortress-like monasteries with 
pictures that were a delight to the Indians. 
Religious subjects were rendered in large- 

scale paintings on walls, like the mural by 
an unknown artist at Tepepulco (Plate 72). 
These works helped the Christianizing work 
of priests among the natives. 

The now famous Bonampak frescoes, dis- 
covered in 1946, were painted during 
the Classic period, around a.d. 600-700 
and they represent the finest pre-Columbian 
murals in the Americas. Found in a tropical 
jungle at Chiapas, between Guatemala and 
Mexico, they were submerged in the "hot 
lands" for centuries. Among ancient ruins of 
buildings discovered there is one containing 
three rooms, the walls of which were painted 
with difi^erent scenes. One shows richly 
dressed chiefs; another is of servants dressing 
priests in ceremonial robes; and a third room 
displays musicians and dancers. Head of a 
Chief (Plate 73) is a fresco detail, part of a 
large painting in the Temple of Bonampak. 
Another is a battle scene (Plate 74), which 
indicates that the warriors of Bonampak 
used the spear as their weapon. Here the 
men, arrayed in magnificent costumes and 
jewelry, are apparently carrying out a raid. 
Battle Scene occupies three walls, which has 
led experts to believe that warfare was a 
principal activity of these ancient people. 
Sections present an exchange of prisoners, 
and a dance where finely attired people are 



The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 


PLATE 72. Religious mural. By an unknown artist. 
Tepepulco. Colonial period. Courtesy Art of 

Mexican Murals 

being entertained by musicians playing tribal 
instalments. The three groups of paintings, 
in separate rooms, are executed with different 
types of bnishwork, composition, and color. 
The Battle Scene is composed of strong 
linear rhythms created with broken lines to 
show violent action. All the Bonampak mu- 
rals are painted with material which is partly 
tempera. Various bright colors were freely 

Giles Grenville Healy, an American ex- 
plorer-photographer, has recently taken infra- 
red photographs of the Bonampak murals, 
which have brought renewed interest in this 
ancient but newly discovered art. His pictures 
include murals found in three excavated rooms 
where noticeable differences in the art style 
indicate that several artists worked collective- 
ly on the frescoes. Of special interest are the 
space rendering and action. The mystery 
about these murals is increased by their hav- 
ing been made in a remote and isolated 
place bounded by sea, jungle, and desert, 
indicating a culture entirely dissociated from 
any other people. 

The Mexican government's modem mu- 
ral project was planned to meet a national 
need. It began in 1921 and 1922 by com- 
missioning artists to decorate walls of the 
National Preparatory School ( Preparatoria ) , 
including its patio and auditorium (Amphi- 
teatre Bohvar). The Mexican Mural Renais- 
sance is usually dated between 1920 and 
1925. Rivera painted there through 1923 and 
also worked in the Ministry of Education 
Building ( Secretaria ) , though many other 
Mexican muralists also painted there. Rivera's 
Worker's United (Plate 75) is on the wall 
of the third-floor corridor. A notable later 
mural by Rivera which enforces this artist's 
belief in the unified effort of labor is his 
Pan-American Unity at San Francisco Junior 
College (Plate 76). 

A bold and highly decorative Colonial 
work is the interior decoration of the Church 
of Santa Maria at Tonantzentla (Plate 77). 


This striking work in strong color and force- 
ful relief is by an unknown artist of the 
eighteenth century. It shows details of heads, 

PLATE 73. Head of a Chief. Pre-Columbian wall 
painting. Temple of Bonampak, Chiapas. Cour- 
tesy UNESCO World Art Series, begun 1954 

masks, and floral motifs, and the ornamen- 
tation is so elaborate that it covers all parts 
of the interior and combines painting with 
gilding of stucco and scrolls. 

Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro 
Siqueiros painted extensively in the National 
Preparatory School (Secretaria). Orozco's 
theme of the Revolution stresses social im- 
provement, a subject near his heart. Siquei- 
ros 's panels include his famous Burial of a 
Worker. The great mural project in Mexico 
slowly proceeded to completion, when it be- 
came a valuable form of mass communica- 
tion, interpreting with force scenes of native 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 74. Battle Scene. Pre-Columbian mural. 
Fresco detail from Temple of Bonampak, Chia- 
pas. Courtesy UNESCO Publishing Center 

life which were rendered dramatically yet 
showed realistically the truth concerning op- 
pression of the peons and the later winning 
of their independence. While fostering im- 
proved social goals the mural program en- 
couraged nationalism and appreciation of 
Mexico's indigenous art heritage. The huge 
program transcended anything ever at- 
tempted by a national art project and art- 
ists' brushes became the means whereby all 
Mexican hearts were captured. Native 
painters were dedicated to their gigantic 
task of depicting the long and tortuous saga 
of Mexico's land and soul, and each artist 
accepted the challenge individually. Some 
featured the laborer and his work; others por- 
trayed thrilling historic events whereby cour- 

age and sacrifice brought national freedom. 
Orozco's later mural at Pomona College, 
Claremont, Cahfornia portrays his powerful 
imaginative concept and emotional intensity. 
This large work covers the space above a 
fireplace in the student refectory. His Pro- 
metheus (Plate 78) reinterprets a symbolic 
subject taken from mythology. It shows the 
Titan who stole fire from heaven giving it 
to mortal man. Orozco's treatment of the Ti- 
tan figure has depth in its painting and 
composition, conveyed by sweeping diagonal 
movement. The Titan's hand is extended as 
he gives the symbolic fire to mankind and 
the artist shows masses of figures rushing 
forward to grasp the gift, which symbolizes 
the vast debt Mexico owes its heroes who 

Mexican Murals 


gave their lives on the altar of freedom for 
mankind. Orozco is believed to have been 
influenced in the development of his con- 
cept by the world's great painters, Michel- 
angelo, Tintoretto, and El Greco. This mag- 
nificent mural by Orozco, a work of 1930, 
resembles in its symbolism his later great 
works in Mexico City and Guadalajara. 

Many of Diego Rivera's Ministry of Edu- 
cation frescoes, with their fine genre themes, 
extend into its two three-storied patios. The 
smaller patio has murals of his Court of La- 
bor; the larger, his Court of Festivals series. 
The Secretariat walls bear the work of Rivera 
and his assistants, two panels being the work 
of Amado de la Cueva and Jean Chariot, 
with other frescoes by Roberto Montenegro 
and Carlos Merida. Rivera's panels have 
skillful color gradations and spatial design 
and reveal a simplicity of treatment reminis- 
cent of the great Giotto frescoes. 

Gay scenes are featured in Rivera's Court 
of Festivals, presenting with verve a fan- 
dango dance with Indian orchestra; a may- 
pole dance; the ttortite or "little bull," a 
popular entertainment at fiestas; a gay prom- 
enade along the Viga Canal on a festival 
day with flower-laden canoes; a Labor Day 
celebration, with marchers carrying banners. 
Other murals show a Saturday night before 
Easter; an All-Souls Day midnight feast; a 
cemetery with grave flowers and lighted 
candles on tombstones with braziers burn- 
ing charcoal and incense; peasants resting 
after their labor of the harvest; early mining 
days, showing peons carrying heavy loads 
as they descend mine shafts; a Colonial sugar 
mill on a hacienda; drying and dyeing of 
fibers which will be woven into cloth. In the 
Court of Labor a typical market is seen, and 
women washing clothes. 

Social emphasis prevails in murals cele- 
brating the distribution of land, Zapata's 
peasant revolt, and portrait studies of popu- 
lar native leaders. Thanksgiving Day shows 
peasants giving thanks for crops; a fire-dance 

PLATE 75. Workers United. Fresco detail by 
Diego Rivera. Secretaria, Mexico City, D.F. 
Courtesy Art of Mexico 

held annually in mining camps shows miners 
wearing masks and belts with rattles to ac- 
company dancing aroimd a bonfire; free edu- 
cation offered by the post-Revolutionary gov- 
ernment is depicted. Plate 79. The New 
School, detail of a fresco by Rivera in the 
Ministry of Education in Mexico City, pre- 
sents a young woman teaching children and 
adults while in the landscape background 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 76. Pan-American Unity. Fresco detail by 
Diego Rivera. San Francisco Junior College, 
California. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

Pan-American Unity. Fresco detail by 
Diego Rivera. San Francisco Junior College, 
California. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

PLATE 77. Interior decoration in Church of Santa 
Maria, Tonantzentla, Puebla, 18th century. 
Courtesy Art of Mexico 

fathers and husbands are tilling and plant- 
ing the fields. The symbolic mural of a 
humble peon welcoming social changes in 
an interpretation of freedom shows him cut- 
ting the rope which had tied him; a post- 

Reconstruction factory symbolizes oppor- 
timities to work and earn; pottery-making is 
shown as done in an ancient kiln. The last 
mural, the 32nd, depicts the hard treatment 
of peons on haciendas when they were forced 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 78. Prometheus. Fresco by Jose Clemente 
Orozco. Wall of Pomona College Refectory, 
Claremont, California, 1930. Courtesy Pomona 

to lift heavy bags of wheat and com, taking 
them for weighing under surveillance of a 
guard with gun ready to use if he discovers 
any theft among workers. 

Murals in the Ministry of Education por- 
tray the Mexican scene with deep under- 
standing of human rights, emphasizing the 
beauty of folk lore and also presenting 
changes wrought by post-Reconstruction re- 
forms. The Golden Age of Mexican mural 
art portrays improved social conditions while 
interpreting native life with truth and ten- 
derness. A unique mural achievement relat- 

ing art and architecture is the work of a 
great contemporary Mexican, Juan O'Gor- 
man, who designed the native stone mosaic 
fagade and sides of the University City Li- 
brary in Mexico City ( Plate 80 ) . The gigantic 
work contains symbols used by Mexico's 
earliest men, which are designed in colorful 
stone patterns. This achievement ranks as 
one of the world's most exciting mural de- 
velopments. O'Gorman, who is both an archi- 
tect and painter, also painted and directed 
the work on many murals inside the structure. 
(Plate 81. Mural in the University Library). 

Mexican Murals 


PLATE 79. The New School. Fresco by Diego 
Rivera in the Ministry of Education, Mexico 
City, D.F. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

Rivera cooperated with O'Gorman on these 1551 and it is now located in Pedregal, a 

mosaic designs. suburb of Mexico City, where it occupies 

The University of Mexico was founded in a huge area said to be the largest university 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 80. Native stone mural, mosaic fa9ade 
and sides designed by Juan O'Gorman. Univer- 
sity City Library, Mexico City. Courtesy Mexi- 
can Government Department of Tourism 

Mexican Murals 


PLATE 81. Mural exterior Science building, Uni- 
versity of Mexico. Mural art under direction 
of Juan O'Gorman. Courtesy Mexican Govern- 
ment Department of Tourism 

campus in the v^^orld. Many of its buildings 
are made of lava rock, and they make a 
fitting monument to the beauty and practi- 
caUty of contemporary architecture. All these 
structures are enhanced inside by murals by 
notable Mexican painters of today. Juan 
O'Gorman has said that his colored mosaics 
display historically the Mexican "Growth of 

Mexican artists of the Syndicate of Painters 
conceived the noble program for native art 
by w^hich a revival of wall painting on a 

grand scale would be used to help restore 
the social relationship between art and all 
the Mexican people. This aim was to be ac- 
comphshed through the influence of the con- 
tent expressed, by social criticism of existing 
conditions, and by the quality and perfection 
of the wall paintings. That this great aim 
was well accomplished by the leaders of the 
movement is proved by the momentous ef- 
fect of the Mexican mural art movement 
throughout the Western Hemisphere. 

DIEGO RIVERA, 1886-1957 

Diego Rivera's art was consecrated to help- 
ing Mexico's peasants and workers, also of- 
fering them enjoyment. His portrayal of 
social problems underlying native life fills 
vast murals and presents a panorama of 
Mexican history— heartwarming interpreta- 
tions of the native's joy of life and of the 
tragic injustices he suffered. Rivera's later 
work envisages a new opportunity through 
the modem machinery that, he believed, 
would provide Mexican labor with the chance 
to become free from over-burdening and 
frustrating conditions. By thorough study in 
Detroit of automobile manufacture, Rivera 
obtained the necessary knowledge for render- 
ing the mural commissioned by the Ford 
Company (1923-33) (Plate 82. PaH Produc- 
tion and Assembly of a Motor. Fresco detail 
by Rivera). This work presents highly in- 
formed reahsm combined with knowledge of 
the technology of automobile manufacture, 
which Rivera uses here as symbolic of the 
machine age. He here oversteps the usual 
mural subject-matter in introducing his new 
art concept. Rivera's interest and involvment 
in the study of art in life situations took 
him to many different places and his vast 
production includes frescoes, easel painting, 
portraiture, landscape, stage-sets, ballet set- 
tings, and genre art. 

Diego Rivera was bom December 8, 1886, 
at Guanajuato, a silver-mining village, but 
due to his father's unemployment the family 
moved while he was a child to Mexico City, 
where at the age of ten he entered San 
Carlos Art Academy to receive an early, 
though thorough, art training. His teachers 
inspired him with love of pre-Columbian 
sculpture, and taught him landscape paint- 
ing and draftsmanship, including the use of 
expressive line in his compositions, charac- 
teristic of Rivera's later art. He left the 
academy at sixteen to begin independent art 
work and at that time came under the strong 
influence of Jose Guadalupe Posada, whose 
original engravings deeply impressed him. 
Because he was fascinated by the imaginative 
and sarcastic cartoons, he often lingered in 
Posada's workshop. Rivera honored Posada's 
memory in 1926 by painting his portrait for 
the National Palace Series of Great Mexicans. 

Dr. Alt helped Rivera secure a govemment 
scholarship in 1907, which offered extended 
study and travel abroad, and when twenty- 
one he left for Spain with a letter of intro- 
duction to Dr. Alt's former teacher. While 
studying he frequented art galleries to view 
great works by El Greco, Goya, and Velas- 
quez; later travels took him to England, 
Belgium, Germany, Holland, and France, 


Diego Rivera, 1886-1957 


PLATE 82. Production and Assembly of a Motor. 
Fresco detail. Diego Rivera. Courtesy The Ford 
Company, Detroit 

where he studied the great art in galleries. 
Returning to Paris, Rivera came under the 
influence of Cezanne's art, which gave di- 
rection to his work. Parisian artists were at 
that time impressed by the Cubist vogue and 
had great enthusiasm for native African 
sculpture. The latter caused Rivera to use 
elements of primitive Mexican art in his 
work. At age twenty-four, he left Paris for 
a brief visit to Mexico, where he exhibited 
at the Centennial Celebration Art Show 
which Dr. Alt assembled for native artists. 
On his return to Paris he became impressed 
by post-Impressionism and neo-Impression- 
ism, especially admiring Paul Gauguin's art 

and that of Henri Rousseau. Rivera had by 
then given more complete attention to Ce- 
zanne's art, realizing that it showed the way 
for his future work. Among his friends in 
Paris were Alie Faure, the art historian, 
whose portrait he painted, and two talented 
Russian artists, Bakst, the stage-designer, and 
Archipenko, the sculptor. 

Because of the political upheaval in Mex- 
ico, Rivera's government allowance was 
stopped and he earned his living while 
studying. He met his Mexican friend Siquei- 
ros, who had arrived for study in Paris, and 
they agreed that native art should renounce 
foreign domination and express the values of 


its own heritage. He left Paris for a visit to 
Italy to study galleries and art in churches, 
where he was most impressed by Giotto's 
frescoes and Byzantine mosaics. By this time 
Rivera was fully aware of his direction 
toward the values expressed in the art of 
Cezanne and he determined to find his own 
way and create a personal style. The oppor- 
tunity came when he joyfully accepted the 
offer by the Mexican Government to decorate 
public buildings, painting frescoes expressive 
of native history and people. His life work 
began in 1922, when he adopted for his 
theme "interpretation of the Mexican scene" 
(Plate 83. Self Portrait. Lithograph by Ri- 

Post-Revolutionary times brought a popu- 
lar-theater movement with its lively portrayal 
of native life, and these theatricals influenced 
murals of Rivera's Fiesta Series, which 
used folkloric features. While on a visit in 
Yucatan, he made water-color sketches which 
later served as material for easel works. 
Fiesta Tehuana (Plate 84) combines dancing 
and music in scenes similar to those in his 
later murals of the Court of Festivals. The 
patio and ground-floor walls in the Ministry 
of Education building are adorned with Ri- 
vera's Festival of the Corn ( 1923-28 ) in the 
Harvest Festival series. Because com was a 
vital contribution to pre-Conquest life, Ri- 
vera delighted in painting renditions of it 
and his frescoes were at that time interpret- 
ing folk settings without concern for social 
problems. May Day in the Court of Fiestas 
shows his delight in native dances, where 
the scenes swing with linear rhythms and 
flowing color. Yucatan Mother and Child 
shows a tropical landscape, with glimpses 
of forest and plantation. On the south wall 
of the Court of Labor are portrayed the in- 
dustries of southern Mexico: weaving, dye- 
ing, sugar-refining, and cane-growing. These 
panels are in luminous color of rich tones 
reminiscent of Gauguin's post-Impressionist 
art. The north wall shows the mining and 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

ranching industries of northern Mexico along 
with some Revolutionary scenes, while the 
east wall depicts activities of central Mex- 
ico: silver-mining, agriculture, and pottery- 

Among Rivera's famous murals treating of 
social problems is Weighing of the Grain, 

PLATE 83. Self-Portrait. Lithograph. Diego Ri- 
vera. Courtesy Mundelein College, Chicago. 
I.B.M. Collection, N.Y. 

a powerful decorative work in his post-Im- 
pressionist manner, which uses symbolism 
where the peon's round hat suggests a halo 
above his head. Symbolism is again stressed 
in another work in the Court of Labor where 
a peon worker emerges from a mine and 
stands with outstretched arms in a posture 
reminiscent of the crucifixion. Among im- 
pressive works of outstanding decorative de- 
sign are The Dyers and Sugar Refiners. While 
Rivera was painting these great decorations, 
his workday averaged fifteen hours and he 
kept up this heavy schedule in the years 

Diego Rivera, 1886-1957 


PLATE 84. Fiesta Tehuana. Oil. Courtesy Munde- 
lein College, Chicago. I.B.M. Collection, N.Y. 


between 1923 and 1927. A work of the Court 
of Labors first patio wall, The New School 
(see Plate 80), shows a change in Rivera's 
rendering of his figures. Here the forms have 
sloping shoulders and rounded heads and 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

pingo murals were painted on the walls of 
an eighteenth-century chapel of a hacienda 
northeast of Mexico City, which had been 
taken by the post-Revolutionary government 
for development of a national agricultural 

PLATE 85. Virgin Soil. Fresco detail 1929 Chapel, 
Chapingo, Mexico. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

torsos in a style of figure-drawing very dif- 
ferent from his tall figures in eariier murals. 
This simplification of forms is believed to 
have been the result of research in the art 
of Duccio, a fourteenth-century master of 
Italy's fresco art, whose work Rivera admired. 
His later murals show still another stylistic 
change, with greater emphasis given to il- 
lustrative intention, as is seen in his Agri- 
cultural School frescoes at Chapingo. 

Although the Ministry of Education walls 
were incomplete in 1926 when Rivera began 
work on his Chapingo murals, he accom- 
plished both projects with the help of able 
assistants, Pablo O'Higgins and Maxime 
Pacheco, the latter being an artist-naturalist 
who painted flowers, birds, and animals in 
a style resembhng that of French painter 
Henri Rousseau. Rivera's world-famed Cha- 

school. The site had special appeal for Rivera 
because an Aztec temple once stood there 
and sculptural remains of ancient pagan idols 
had been found there. 

The low-vaulted Colonial chapel, three 
miles from Chapingo, became the setting for 
Rivera's glorious decorative frescoes. His 
subject The Land, or The Good Earth, was 
timely and appropriate in the agrarian re- 
form period. Included are panels of the Corn 
Field, indicating "fertilization," with com- 
panion works "germination" and "fruition" 
of The Fecund Earth (Plate 85. The Virgin 
Soil. Fresco detail by Rivera). The series com- 
bines symbolic and philosophical ideals which 
attain high power and beauty while ex- 
pressing a better day for land apportionment. 
The replenishment of mankind on the earth 
is shown in a cycle of fertilization, the con- 

OJego Rivera, 1886-1957 

cept being from pre-Conquest Mexico. A 
series of beautiful nudes is shown with per- 
fection of decorative line planning, and the 
theme of a nature cycle, replenishing the 
earth, is shown with lofty idealism (Plate 
86. The Fecund Earth. Fresco detail by Ri- 
vera ) . 

PLATE 86. The Fecund Earth. Fresco detail, 
Chapel, Chapingo, Mexico. Courtesy Art of 

On completion of his Chapingo murals in 
1927, Rivera was invited to Russia as a guest 
of the government while he served as dele- 
gate of the Peasant's League. While there 
he was commissioned to paint a group por- 
trait of officers, but was unable to complete 
the work because of a health concern that 
required him to return to Mexico. Neverthe- 
less, in the last year of his life, he went back 
to Russia and completed the portrait. Al- 
though the second-floor murals in the Mex- 
ico City Ministry of Education building were 


unfinished, he completed them on his return 
to Mexico. A panel featuring a May Day 
celebration contains portraits of both his wife, 
Frida, and Siqueiros. 

Owing to Rivera's friendship with Trotsky, 
who was hving in Mexico as an exile and 
was murdered there by enemies, Rivera's 
art was belittled by Stalin and the Russian 
critics, who disparaged his work thereafter. 
In 1929 Rivera accepted a commission from 
the American Ambassador to Mexico, the late 
Honorable Dwight W. Morrow, to paint mu- 
rals in the ancient Palace of Cortes, Cuer- 
navaca, his theme to be the History of Mex- 
ico. This great art achievement was presented 
by Mr. Morrow to the city of Cuernavaca. 
It presents historic scenes, beginning with 
Aztec days, then covering the Conquest and 
agrarian uprisings under popular leaders. The 
large murals fill walls on an open balcony 
of the Palace and contain impressive full- 
length portraits of Mexican heroes, including 
Cuauhtemoc, the last Aztec emperor; Mo- 
relos; and Zapata. One panel shows how the 
Palace was built for Cortes by slave labor; 
another shows Cortes receiving tribute pay- 
ments from Indians; while contrasting with 
these is a panel of a priest helping the na- 
tives. These highly praised murals, rendered 
with great decorative power and depth of 
feeling, portray stoic submission by Indians 
while suffering. 

Rivera's large frescoes in the National Pal- 
ace have as their center of interest the eagle- 
and-serpent Emblem of State. This, the 
largest mural, is on the staircase-landing wall 
and includes many figures representing per- 
sons in all walks of life who are making per- 
sonal contributions to help attain and retain 
the glory of Mexican freedom for all people 
of the nation. The vast work was begun in 
1929 and completed in 1935. The work is a 
great decorative achievement with much nar- 
rative emphasis. It depicts the whole pano- 
rama of Mexican history, showing the pre- 
Colonial life of Indians and the changes 


after the Revolution had given them freedom. 

A notable work performed for the Ministry 
of Health is Life and Physical Fitness, in 
which the panel depicting Strength is sym- 
bohzed by a reclining female nude; Knowl- 
edge is interpreted in stained-glass windows, 
the design for which were by Rivera, the 
glass being made at Puebla. Rivera also 
painted numerous murals in California for 
various civic groups, besides fulfilling com- 
missions for individuals and teaching a sum- 
mer-term university course. 

In 1933 Rivera began work on a large 
mural commission for the R.C.A. Building 
lobby, Rockefeller Center, New York. Rivera's 
designs brought adverse criticism because a 
portrait of Lenin was placed in a group of 
American workers; the mural was condemned 
after a court trial, but Mr. Rockefeller paid 
Rivera fully for the work. The next year 
Rivera reconstructed a duplicate of it in the 
Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City. In the Mex- 
ican version of the work, Rivera substituted 
Mexican features for the controversial ones 
in the R.C.A. version. A large mural for the 
Hotel del Prado dining-room was Rivera's 
next commission; it offers criticism of graft- 
ing office-holders who exploited national re- 
sources. At this time he turned to painting 
easel works featuring Mexican life— land- 
scapes and portraits for museums and private 

An early modern-style residence in Mex- 
ico City was designed for Rivera by Juan 
O'Gorman (1929-30) intended primarily for 
a studio home for the artist and his wife, 
Frida, who was a successful teacher of art, 
painter, and lecturer. After her death in 
1954 it was converted into a museum for her 
art and a larger studio-home was planned, 
with Juan O'Gorman again the architect; it 
contained a large museum for display of 
Rivera's collection of pre-Colonial sculptures 
and historical items, which he presented to 
Mexico. This modernistic, functional struc- 
ture was named by the artist "Anahuacalli," 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

in honor and memory of the Aztecs who had 
lived in the Valley of Anahuac. 

Rivera's last large project was a huge 
mosaic-relief decoration of exterior walls for 
the Olympic Stadium, Mexico City; his de- 
sign, Peace Between Nations, was an inter- 
pretation of the ideals of Quetzalcoatl, the 
Toltec God of Peace. Though unfinished 
when Rivera died, it was completed accord- 
ing to his design by Juan O'Gorman; made 
entirely of native Mexican materials, includ- 
ing semi-precious stones, the work consti- 
tutes a grand achievement of modern art. 
Rivera's mosaic murals on the exterior walls 
of the University Library and the Transpor- 
tation Center in Mexico City, are likewise 
made exclusively of native stones. 

PLATE 87. Flower Vendor. San Francisco Mu- 
seum of Art, San Francisco, Calif. Albert M. 
Bender Collections. Courtesy San Francisco 
Museum of Art 

The Fhwer Vendor (Plate 87), an oil by 
Diego Rivera in the San Francisco Museum 
of Art, expresses Indian primitivism in its 
simple, monumental forms combined with 
the rich earthy color typical of this master 

Rivera's art reflects his primary interest 

Diego Rivera, 1886-1957 


PLATE 88. Cathedral. Guadalajara. State of 
Jalisco. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

in the contemporary world of progress in 
machinery for labor-saving aids to relieve the 
burdens of overworked humanity. But he 
was supremely conscious of the world's social 
meanings. His early murals in the amphi- 
theatre of the Preparatory School and in the 
Ministry of Education were devoted to the 
social, economic, and political problems be- 
setting Mexico. The Revolution became the 
source of his great frescoes of Chapingo, 
which he charged with symbolism. His loy- 
alty to mankind is manifested especially in 
the murals showing Mexican peons. Rivera 

has given the art world an unhesitating and 
confident leadership to bring betterment to 
the land he loved. 

Diego Rivera died at the age of 70, No- 
vember 15, 1957, having achieved a high 
place in world art history and won acclaim 
as one of the greatest muralists of all time 
and a benefactor of Mexico and its people. 
He is buried in the Rotunda of Illustrious 
Sons of Mexico. Honoring his lifelong de- 
voted service to his homeland, a permanent 
exhibit of his art is displayed in the National 
Memorial, Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City. 


Jose Clemente Orozco, a great Mexican art- 
ist of world renown, was a master of profound 
emotional and imaginative force. Born on 
November 23, 1883, at Zapotlan, a village 
in Jalisco, he was descended from pioneer 
settlers of Spanish-Indian heredity. Mem- 
bers of his family had held public positions 
of importance at Guadalajara and his mother 
was a talented musician. The family moved 
from Zapotlan to Guadalajara while Jose was 
a young boy. This fine capital city of Jalisco 
is located in a valley surrounded by moun- 
tains, its principal structure being the im- 
pressive Cathedral of Guadalajara in the 
State of Jalisco (Plate 88), which has hand- 
some Baroque towers and beautiful interior 
decorations of that style. Another old build- 
ing is the Government Palace, made of red 
lava stone which proved strong enough to 
withstand cannon fire in the Revolution. Dur- 
ing the post-Reconstruction period its walls 
were decorated with Orozco's frescoes pre- 
senting panoramic scenes of Mexican history, 
which murals are rated among the artist's 
finest work. In 1888 the family moved to 
Mexico City, although Orozco returned long 
years later to estabhsh his studio-home in 
Guadalajara. Following his death it was dedi- 
cated as a museum in his memory. 

The artist's early training began with at- 

tendance at night classes of San Carlos 
Academy; later he received a scholarship for 
study at the National Agricultural School 
where he earned a degree in engineering 
though continuing his education at the Uni- 
versity of Mexico, studying Classics, mathe- 
matics, and architecture. Orozco's training 
in careful methods of work and research were 
of special benefit to his later career in art. 
As mentioned above, the first influence of art 
upon him came from his haunting the studio- 
workshop of Jose Guadalupe Posada, whose 
satiric caricatures, macabre drawings of fan- 
tastic skeletons, interpretations of folklore, 
and denunciation of the Diaz regime with 
derisive yet humorous sketches all greatly 
impressed Orozco. He became filled with a 
desire to help the miserable condition of 
Mexico's poor with his art. In 1905 he en- 
tered the Academy to prepare for an art 
career, adding self-planned study in anatomy 
to his art curriculum. After his father's death 
Orozco attended night classes at the Acad- 
emy, and earned his living by drawing car- 
toons for newspapers and magazines, an 
experience which gave valuable practical 
training for his future art career. It helped 
free him from academic formalism in art and 
encouraged his immediate branching out in 
development of a vital individual style. 


Josf Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949 

Due to a severe accident caused by an 
explosion, three fingers were torn from his 
left hand; ensuing infection made drastic 
surgery necessary, leaving only a blunt 
stump without fingers where his left hand 
had been. Also one eye was damaged, re- 
quiring Orozco always to wear strong lenses 
thereafter. A singular result was that his art 
often emphasized hands in later paintings, 
and he studied the way great masters used 
hands in their work. A notable example is 
Orozco's famous Prometheus fresco ( see Plate 
79) with details of Quetzalcoatl and Father 
Hidalgo portraits in which the treatment of 
hands resembles that of El Greco. 

Dr. Alt's emphasis on folk art influenced 
Orozco to paint the Mexican scene with 
sympathetic and expressive emphasis. While 
making caricatures and illustrations for news- 
papers he was led to produce works showing 
concern for severe social problems besetting 
the Mexican poor and he felt it his duty to 
inform the masses of severe injustices, urg- 
ing their correction through his art. The 
plight of innocent victims of postwar prob- 
lems caused Orozco to champion them and 
he began by depicting these people in a 
series of water colors. The Outcasts consists 
of one hundred studies portraying their 
tragic condition of life in Mexico City. The 
exhibition received highest praise for the 
vigor and plastic power of his art. His style 
underwent a decided change about 1915 
when he began to emphasize strict simplifi- 
cation of forms and undertook to develop an 
entirely personal version of Expressionism. 
His new approach was characterized by more 
rhythmic organization and willful distortion, 
which he employed to enhance the emo- 
tional content of his compositions. Though 
bearing resemblance to modern Expression- 
istic styles, his original version ofiFered a far 
more powerful interpretation. Orozco's art 
then became characterized by forceful direc- 
tion and great strength of movement, very 
diflFerent from the static, decorative orchestra- 


tion that had been perfected in Rivera's mu- 

After a visit to New York in 1921, Orozco 
returned to Mexico, where he assisted in 
forming the Syndicate of Artists and Sculp- 
tors, taking an enthusiastic lead in this 
project, a chief aim of which was to revive 
the pre-Hispanic heritages and cultures. He 
was then led into thorough research in Aztec, 
Toltec, and Mixtec art sources found in an- 
cient Mexican relics, ceramics, and folk art. 
At this time he made an extensive study of 
color chemistry found in relics of art in 
Teotihuacan's murals and fragmentary re- 
mains of pre-Columbian paintings at Monte 
Alban. He analyzed these specimens and was 
enabled to develop a new paint formula 
which permitted greater brilliance of the 
paint after it dried. Orozco's experiments be- 
tween 1922 and 1928 brought satisfying 
progress to the vast mural art program. 

Orozco's murals at the National Prepara- 
tory School include a large array of native 
scenes, the Conquest, and Colonial days— 
an example from this group being the fresco 
detail, (1922-27) The Franciscan Father and 
the Indian (Plate 89). Certain of these mu- 
rals are scenes of war showing wretched 
wives and mothers of soldiers, aged folk, 
and destitute beggars. These murals were 
rendered in deep, rich tones, portraying with 
symbolic realism the times of national de- 
spair and bloodshed. An easel painting of 
the period shows the death of Zapata (Plate 
90. Zapata. Oil). Because both Orozco and 
Siqueiros had seen active service in the 
Revolution, they vividly portrayed its hor- 
rors and the dire aftereflFects of it on family 
life. Orozco interprets this deeply felt soldier- 
mother relationship in a fresco detail. The 
Mother's Farewell (Plate 91). The mother's 
bent figure and deeply set eyes with their 
intense expression are reminiscent of Giotto's 
great emotional art. 

On a return visit to New York, Orozco was 
joined by Siqueiros, and together they in- 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

spected modem manufacturing installations 
to learn new and efficient methods for use of 
labor-saving machines, which they hoped 
could be introduced into Mexico for improve- 

PLATE 89. Franciscan Father and the Indian. 
Fresco detail. National Preparatory School, 
Mexico City, D.F. 1922-1927. Courtesy Art of 

ment of labor conditions. On a later trip to 
New York, Orozco exhibited his art widely 
and received encouragement from many sales 
to museums and universities. Private collec- 
tors also began to seek his art, and he was com- 
missioned to paint murals for the New York 
School of Social Research. On these walls he 
painted (1930) several panels featuring the 
brotherhood of all races of men. Although 
Orozco was associated with very advanced 
thinkers who had strong ideals with which 
he entirely agreed, he explained that it was 
his desire to champion only oppressed Mex- 
icans through the influence of his art. He re- 

fused to join political associations or attend 
their gatherings, saying "I live quietly with 
my family and present my true feelings and 
behefs in my paintings." But his art never- 
theless was filled with deep and vigorous 
messages for the world. 

Orozco's Revolutionary murals realistically 
present battle scenes in which gunfire with 
its accompanying smoke is dramatically ren- 
dered. The horror of active warfare is shown 
by uprising swirls indicating havoc and dev- 
astation. Orozco had never favored Impres- 
sionism as a method of painting, his color 
tones were deep, earthy colors mixed with 
gray but enlivened with brighter, warm 
tones which brought contrast. His murals 

PLATE 90. Zapata. Oil. Courtesy The Art Insti- 
tute of Chicago 

Jose Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949 


PLATE 91. The Mother's Farewell. Fresco detail. 
National Preparatory School, Mexico City, D.F., 
1922-1927. Courtesy Art of Mexico 

in two colleges— at Pomona in Claremont, 
California and at Dartmouth in Hanover, 
New Hampshire— portray Orozco's powerful 
imaginative concepts and emotional intensity. 
Orozco began work on the murals at Dart- 
mouth College in 1932, the gigantic task be- 
ing completed in two years. His theme there 
portrays Mexico's ancient peoples— the Mon- 
golian migration and the trail of Mexican 

tribes, which contains men ten feet high ar- 
ranged to give the impression of humanity 
pressing forward to reach higher goals. Other 
panels show Settlement and Human Sacrifice. 
The most moving feature of the murals is 
Orozco's showing that men were offered a 
chance to follow higher goals but they re- 
fused Quetzalcoatl's admonition to live in 
peace. The Legend of Quetzalcoatl presents 


the theme of mankind's being offered the 
worthy way of peace. The Departure of 
Quetzalcoatl (see Plate 17) shows this god, 
clad in white robe, sailing ofiF in a dramatic 
dark sea and sky into a scene "of the un- 
known." Orozco's interpretation of this most 
important of all Indian legends brings appre- 
ciation of pre-Hispanic primitives in this ap- 
peal for peace. The Return of Quetzalcoatl 
foreshadows the Coming of Cortes, Revolu- 
tion, and The Machine Age. Another fresco 
of the series ( Plate 92. Christ Destroying His 
Cross. Fresco detail) presents a militant 
Christ who holds an axe; His cross is at His 
feet, which is intended to present aroused 
spirituality rising above war weapons, which 
symbolize violence and hatred. The compo- 
sition, based on strong diagonal lines, pre- 
sents Christ in front-center, standing with 
power as the judge of men. His eyes are 
focused to meet eyes of spectators in a com- 
pelling gaze. 

Orozco's first trip to Europe was in 1932, 
when he had become world famous. He 
spared the time from work to study art mas- 
terpieces in order to find his way further to 
help all people through his great gift. On 
returning to Mexico he painted a commis- 
sion for the government in the Palace of 
Fine Arts, the subject being Strife; A Con- 
demnation of War. In Martyrdom of St. 
Stephen (Plate 93) a group of six men par- 
ticipate in the tragic stoning of a saint. 
Orozco's interpretation is a denunciation of 
prejudice practiced by a group. It ofiFers a 
plea to all men to cease the overbearing, 
destructive forces of hatred, prejudice, and 
bigotry, and presents Orozco's strong feeling 
for human rights. He continued painting 
with seemingly unlimited power and imagin- 
ative invention, next decorating (1936-39) 
the assembly hall, dome, and walls of the 
University of Guadalajara, fulfilling a com- 
mission from his native state. At this time 
Orozco's power and capacity attained their 
height; the subject Creative Man shows how 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 92. Christ Destroying His On n L russ. 
Fresco detail. Dartmouth College, Baker Li- 
brary, Hanover, N.H. By permission of the Trus- 
tees of Dartmouth College 

each man can become, through his life ser- 
vice, a mystical source of help for all man- 
kind, which is the responsibility of each. The 
mural presents mankind in all walks of life, 
showing how each man fights against sin; 
Orozco presents the belief here that the gift 
of life is a sacrament given by God's love 
of humanity to all men. He was next com- 
missioned to paint the walls of the Gov- 
ernment Palace ( 1937 ) , and there he worked 
in the historic building which, from his child- 
hood in Guadalajara, he remembered with 
awe and wonder. Panels there show historic 
and Revolutionary subjects and one, in the 
Senate Chamber, contains his famous por- 
trait of Father Hidalgo (see Plate 59). 

Orozco had painted many mural panels in 
1926 in the National Preparatory School hav-, 

Jose Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949 


PLATE 93. Martyrdom of St. Stephen. Oil. I.B.M. 
Collection of Art, N.Y. Courtesy Mundelein 
College, Chicago 

ing historic significance and great and com- 
pelling art value, such as his large, full-size 
portraits of Cortes and Malinche, his native 
interpreter. The characterization of both is 
both notable and interesting in Orozco's 
forceful style. A chapel in the ancient Found- 
ling Home contains a memorial panel to a 
priest offering aid to oppressed Indians. Man 
of the Sea (Plate 94), a fresco detail of The 
Four Elements painted by Orozco between 
1936 and 1939 in the Guadalajara Orphan- 
age, interprets how primitive Indians who 

were worshipers of nature forces, after be- 
coming Christians were aware of spiritual 
mystic presences which offered them hope 
of a better life. Among the great masterpieces 
Orozco painted in Guadalajara are those 
which are judged monumental works of 
twentieth-century art. The Cupola of the 
Auditorium there shows his ease in render- 
ing foreshortened figures with much the 
same power as that possessed by Michael- 
angelo and Tintoretto. The numerous easel 
paintings and portraits of Orozco's later years, 


now in important world collections, show his 
keen powers of interpretation. The magnifi- 
cent portrait of the Archbishop of Mexico is 
one of his last works in Mexico City. 

Orozco was always ready to accept new 
ideas, approaches, and techniques, and he 
constantly tried to promote improvement in 
methods of work though he appreciated the 
art of ancient Aztec and pre-Colimibian 
workers and was able to correlate their aims 
and accomplishments with present-day inno- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

vations. An example is the modern panels he 
made for the open-air theater and concert 
hall of Mexico City's Conservatory of Music, 
The National Allegory ( Plate 95 ) . This work, 
consisting of four panels entitled Defeat and 
Death of Ignorance, was designed for the 
National Normal School in Mexico City. Here 
Orozco used a combination of ethyl silicate 
paint on a base of concrete surface. 

In 1941 Orozco painted the Supreme Court 
Building walls, inside the ancient structure 

PLATE 94. Man of the Sea. Fresco detail from 
The Four Elements. Orphanage, Guadalajara. 
Courtesy Art of Mexico 

Jose Clemente Orozco, 1883-1949 


located on the southeast comer of the Zocalo. 
These frescoes are considered to be among 

PLATE 95. National Allegory. Exterior mural, 
National Normal School, Mexico City, D.F., 
1947-1948. Courtesy Mexican Government De- 
partment of Tourism 

his finest achievements. The first-floor fres- 
coes show the present-day values of Labor 
in the world. The famous murals in the Hos- 
pital of Jesus, Mexico City ( 1942 ) , interpret 
the Apocalypse and include one supreme 
panel, The Judgment Day. During his last 
year Orozco painted a masterful work for 
the Chamber of Deputies in Guadalajara, a 
masterpiece regarded as the best example of 
Mexican Expressionism. By that time his 
emphasis had become more subjective in its 
expression. Humanity was the theme of Oroz- 
co's great work in Guadalajara, and it was 
there and in Mexico City that his art rose 
to its greatest creative heights. 

Orozco died of a heart attack on September 
7, 1949, in his sixty-sixth year in Guadalajara 
and his memory is greatly revered by all 
Mexicans. Appropriately, his remains were 
laid in the foyer of the Palace of Fine Arts, 
Mexico City, which he had decorated for the 
government. The supreme majesty and mag- 
nitude of Orozco's art lifts it to a universal 
level, for which he is counted among the 
great in the world's history of art. 



David Alfaro Siqueiros, one of the three 
"greats" of the Golden Age of Mexican art, 
was born at Chihuahua on December 29, 
1898. Along with Orozco, Rivera, and others, 
he led the pioneer Syndicate Art Movement, 
and is a prominent contributor to modem 
art methods and techniques. Although a 
famed artist, he leads a busy life sponsoring 
improvement of various social patterns in 
his homeland and in the world. Siqueiros's 
murals depict stirring scenes of Revolution- 
ary conflict and feature post-Reconstruction 
needs for the development of Mexico. As a 
leading contemporary artist he is exploring 
new and untried media to discover better 
methods; his talents and skills are exerting 
important influences today. Siqueiros stands 
alone as Mexico's "last angry artist," though 
he is now living graciously in his Cuemavaca 
studio-home, where he fills commissions for 
portraits and easel paintings and willingly 
does all he can to help Mexican art and 

The artist's mother, of Portuguese descent, 
died when he was two, and paternal relatives 
reared him in Irapuato, Guanajuato. At age 
eleven he entered a Jesuit school in Mexico 
City, later (1911) attending the National 
Preparatory School by day and San Carlos 
Academy classes at night. He studied paint- 

ing at Martinez's open-air school, Santa Anita, 
and Dr. Alt's art courses at Orizaba. Siquei- 
ros's grandfather, a retired colonel, encour- 
aged him to follow a military career and at 
age fifteen he joined the Revolutionary forces, 
soon becoming a lieutenant and seeing active 
duty at the front; later (1914), as captain, 
he served under Zapata. His friendship with 
a fellow-oflicer, Manuel Suarez, has grown 
through the years, his friend, as was men- 
tioned above, now being a leading indus- 
trialist who has generously sponsored manv 
of the artist's projects. Following the Revolu- 
tion, Siqueiros received a diplomatic appoint- 
ment as military attache of the Mexican Le- 
gation in Paris, and meeting Rivera there, 
both young artists became interested in post- 
Impressionism and Cubist art. They felt the 
need to improve art in their homeland, which 
needed direction and guidance. Soon after 
(1921), Siqueiros left Paris for Barcelona and 
while there published an art manifesto urg- 
ing Mexican artists to follow indigenous 
sources, thereby strengthening native art 
with originahty and creativity. This early 
manifesto prepared Siqueiros to write the 
Syndicate Manifesto in Mexico City in 1921 
and to become the Syndicate's organizing 
director. The principal aims of the Syndicate 
were to make Mexican art independent of 


PLATE 96. Pegasus of the Conquest. Lithograph. 
I.B.M. Collection, N.Y. Courtesy of Mundelein 
College, Chicago 


foreign domination, to help native artists de- 
velop a socially conscious national art, to 
promote Mexican art traditions, and to insist 
that art be shovs^n publicly in places where 
the masses could enjoy it. 

In 1923 Siqueiros founded El Machete 
(The Scythe), oflBcial newspaper of the 
Mexican Communist Party, while also serv- 
ing as secretary of the Syndicate. El Machete 
was suppressed on government orders be- 
cause of seditious inclusions and Siqueiros 
was prevented from working on murals in 
the National Preparatory School because of 
public opposition to a few of his panels al- 
though he was allowed to complete them in 
1927. During his difficulties Orozco asked 
him to assist on a large commission at the 
University of Guadalajara, where a series of 
superior panels was made. 

Siqueiros developed a sculpturesque style 
of painting by which he achieved heightened 
realization of structural form, exemplified in 
his famous mural. Burial of a Dead Worker. 
Inspired by the murder of his friend, the 
Governor of Yucatan, the work is character- 
ized by extreme simplification, the forms ren- 
dered with sculptural depth based on a ver- 
sion of cubist masses. Because Siqueiros was 
interested in archaeological research of an- 
cient stone masks, he made the faces of the 
four men standing beside the cofiin resemble 
such masks. The simplification in this paint- 
ing gives it added solemnity and quiet force. 

Pegasus of the Conquest (Plate 96), a litho- 
graph, was made by Siqueiros during a 
period when he was painting numerous easel 
works in a flexible Expressionist style that 
led him toward production of nonobjective 
works. His theme is the Pegasus legend of 
the winged horse which sprang from Me- 
dusa at her death, the symbolism being re- 
lated here to the Conquest of Mexico by 
Cortes. A highly imaginative work, it shows 
a series of rhythmic swirls used to create 
an efi^ect of dynamic power and force, quali- 
ties which became a dominant characteristic 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

of many of his later works. Because his ac- 
tivities in labor organizations increased after 
he became director of the large miner's union, 
Siqueiros had less and less time to devote 

PLATE 97. The Sob. Pyroxoline. Courtesy Mu- 
seum of Modem Art. N.Y. 

to art. While attending a 1930 labor con- 
ference in Buenos Aires, he was expelled from 
the Argentine because of ultra-radical public 
statements, and later that year he was jailed 
in Taxco, Mexico, for a demonstration on 

David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1898- 

May Day. But while serving his jail sentence 
he made a series of excellent woodcuts, which 
were published, and numerous easel works 
expressing the sad condition of Mexicans, 
which were sold. A typical work of this 
period is an oil painting called The Soh 
(Plate 97). 

In 1932 he painted a large mural for the 
Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, and 
while in that city he gave a series of lectures 
on methods and processes of modern art. 
Successful experiments led Siqueiros to the 
use of newer kinds of materials as substi- 
tutes for conventional paints, and he shifted 
from oils to pyroxilin, which served the good 
purpose of quicker drying. Murals that he 
painted for the California Worker's Union 
were produced entirely with quick-drying 
paints combined with glazes applied by 
spray gun and airbrush. Siqueiros was now 
allowed reentrance into the Argentine, to 
teach art and lecture on modern mural 
painting. His outdoor painting classes were 
successful and he received numerous por- 
trait commissions, all of which are fine char- 
acterizations (Plate 98. Portrait of a Girl. 
Duco on wood). This work is in his highly 
individualized style and successfully captures 
in a glowing interpretation a momentary 
pose of an active young girl. 

On returning to Mexico Siqueiros soon en- 
countered difficulties with the police because 
of his political activities and served a year 
in the penitentiary in Mexico City, during 
which time he painted over seventy easel 
works, which were exhibited. These su- 
perior paintings proved him an artist of high 
ability. His color was of a distinctive depth, 
the tones being applied freely with heavily 
laden brush or palette knife; these combined 
happily with his sureness of stroke and a style 
that suggested great speed and force in ex- 
ecution. His New York exhibition in 1936 
was also highly successful; he received many 
commissions for portraits, among them that 
of George Gershwin. This portrait is in the 


permanent collection of the Museum of Mod- 
em Art, New York, as are also three airbnish 
paintings which are of special interest. 

Siqueiros was invited by Spain's loyalists 
to direct a propaganda program for promo- 
tion of the war, but he refused the offer and 
joined the army in 1938 as a lieutenant- 

PLATE 98. Portrait of a Girl. Duco on wood. 
Private collection. Courtesy Madame Angelica A. 
de Siqueiros 

colonel. He later helped Spanish Loyalists 
who desired to settle in Mexico, making all 
arrangements for them to be received suit- 
ably there. In 1940, following the murder of 
his friend Trotsky and during unsettled po- 
litical conditions in his homeland, Siqueiros 
departed for South America, where he 
painted a mural commissioned by the Mex- 
ican government, one to be given to Chile. 
Later he painted several murals in Cuba, 
then returned to Mexico to fulfill a commis- 
sion for a mural in the Electrical Union head- 

David Aifaro Siqueiros, 1898- 

quarters in Mexico City. He also painted 
many easel works at this time. 

One of these easel paintings, Sunrise of 
Mexico (Plate 99), executed in oil with 
heavily loaded bnish, depicts the national 
rejoicing when Mexican oil fields and their 
rights were taken away from English and 
American interests and returned to the na- 
tion. The painting is unique among Siquei- 
ros's work, with joy depicted in a wildly 
spontaneous emotion of Mexico's long-sufiFer- 
ing people as it beckons the nation's en- 
trance into a better life. Siqueiros invented 
here a freely expressive treatment with em- 
pasto paint, in swirls handled with vigorous, 
Ijold energy and yet highly controlled direc- 


tion. This modern Expressionistic work ex- 
udes a feeling of joyous freedom, its distor- 
tion of natural form and elimination of detail 
helping create an empathy which heightens 
its emotional force. 

Siqueiros has in recent years staflFed his 
workshop in New York, which produces 
large mural commissions and where experi- 
ments are conducted in use of pyroxylin, 
plastics, and lacquer. He advocated use of 
cheaper materials, which encourages fre- 
quent changes in murals where no need for 
permanency exists, and his experiments have 
brought flexibility and diversity to modem 
art production. 

When Siqueiros plans a work of art and 

PLATE 100. March of Humanity. Fresco detail. 
Olympic Stadium, Mexico City, D.F. Courtesy 
Ines Amor, Mexico City, and The Chicago 

PLATE 99. Sunrise of Mexico. Oil, 1945. I.B.M. 
Collection, N.Y. Courtesy Mundelein College, 

PLATE 101. The New Democracy. Fresco detail. 
Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City, D.F. Courtesy 
Ines Amor, Mexico City 

outlines his ideas he often welcomes a group 
of trusted helpers who may then proceed 
to complete it without weakening his orig- 
inal concept or the quality of painting. In 
Siqueiros's extensive travels in Cuba, Ar- 
gentina, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, Chile, the 
United States, and Spain he finds suitable 
helpers who have the qualities as artists to 
meet his need for highly qualified assistance. 
Large murals were painted in 1962 for the 
Museum of History at Chapultepec Castle, 
Mexico City, to celebrate the end of dicta- 
torship in Mexico following the Revolution. 
One section is Cuauhtemoc Against the Myth, 
exalting the last Aztec Emperor, a great pa- 
triot dear to all Mexican hearts. Another 
more recent undertaking is a gigantic mural 
covering 48,000 square feet designed for the 
1968 Olympics, a fresco detail entitled The 

March of Humanity (Plate 100). This sec- 
tion depicts, in the artist's words, "unhappy 
mothers with sick and hungry children." Si- 
queiros's art follows and flows from his feel- 
ing for mankind. The concept is humanistic, 
profound, and useful, because it promotes 
a sense of values to direct and aid humanity. 
This series of murals consists of fifty-four 
giant panels and presents a history of the 
Mexican people, the vast work being spon- 
sored in part by the artist's long-time friend, 
Manuel Suarez, the Mexican industrialist. 
Some of the scenes represent historical 
events; others are of pre-Columbian men, 
the arrival of Cortes, the Revolution, the 
Mexican people, and benefits brought Mexico 
by modem machinery. 

His New Democracy (Plate 101), a fresco 
painted for the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico 

David Alfaro Siqueiros, 1898- 

City, shows in detail a clenched fist sym- 
bolic of unity. Here the painting is highly 
skillful and exact, and the work expresses an 
impulsive and monumental vitality and an 
exalted force for the noblest ideals of justice 
and heroism. 

Present-day Mexican art, born of the Revo- 
lution, is ably exemplified in the art of Si- 
queiros, whose wide contribution covers fres- 
coes, easel paintings, and expressive por- 
traits. His art represents a high level of 
plastic power and creativity, and though he 
is often thought of as an Internationalist, 
Siqueiros has made Mexico his predominant 
interest, always featuring help for its people. 
Siqueiros's progressive methods and sure- 
handed, well-studied craftsmanship give life 
to modem art. His creativity covers a wide 
range, some of his art being purely abstract. 
He is not limited by time or space, and of- 
fers a wide range of aesthetic accomplishment 
that results from his amazing powers of per- 
ception and observation. Along with his ex- 
perimentation in new materials, he has al- 
ways conducted a scholarly investigation of 
mediums used by pre-Hispanic artists, in- 
cluding such materials as colored stones and 

Siqueiros is rightly proud of his ability to 
achieve a fine quality of team-work with 
his assistants on large art projects— for the 


Palace of Fine Arts and the Museum of 
History, Mexico City, and on other extended 
works of vast scale. In his younger years 
he successfully painted frescoes in the chapel 
and old university at Guadalajara and a later 
large work was the murals in the Subtreasury 
Building in Mexico City. His art career be- 
gan when he painted frescoes in a small 
stairway wall space in the Preparatory 
School (1922-24). 

In 1950, Siqueiros, together with Rivera, 
Orozco, and Rufino Tamayo, represented 
Mexican painting in the twenty-fifth Bien- 
nial Exhibit at Venice. He was highly hon- 
ored by the award of second prize, following 
Pierre Matisse who was awarded first. David 
Alfaro Siqueiros ranks as one of Mexico's 
three great muralists, although his dynamic 
approach to art requires him to ofi^er change 
and innovation to mural art expression in 
our day. His chief emphasis is on achieving 
a new dynamic expression and he is ever 
searching for ways and means to solve the 
problems of to-day's art. For this reason he 
is a forerunner. 

A champion of the rights of the Mexican 
masses, Siqueiros is affectionately called "El 
Maestro." The tremendous energy with which 
he has fought for social justice in his beloved 
homeland has been lifelong. 


Giants of the Mexican art Renaissance— Ri- 
vera, Orozco, and Siqueiros— brought great 
publicity and popularity to Mexico, and they 
inspired enthusiastic later artists to create 
a modern native art. Many younger artists 
were bom after the Reconstruction period, 
which had previously been distinguished by 
spectacular mural art, but there was no need 
later to require artists to use art for social 
reform or to satirize unworthy politicians. 
Their concern was the seeking of methods 
to arrive at plastic art values primarily to 
render the Mexican scene— subjects expres- 
sive of life's activities. Although today's na- 
tive art is not politically motivated, it retains 
the tnie values of Orozco's and Siqueiros's 
Expressionism along with the narrative har- 
monies of Rivera's decorative art. Modem 
artists have been redirected in ways leading 
to Abstractionism, Surreahsm, and the newer 
Expressionism, finally to achieve a poetic, 
exotic, modem result. Although present-day 
Mexican artists draw inspiration from pre- 
Columbian sources, they are featuring indus- 
trial development and its impact on life. Si- 
queiros's art is presenting new ideals and a 
reevaluation of Mexican hfe with its ma- 
chine-saving innovations and materials prac- 
tical for the art of today. 
When Adolph Best-Maugard introduced 

modem methods of teaching art in Mexico's 
public schools, emphasizing originality and 
creative expression, he provided ways to 
lead young pupils to paint pictures of scenes 
in their own lives. The schools provided 
capable, well-prepared art teachers who 
earned govemment scholarships for ad- 
vanced art study to improve their art ca- 
reers, and several of today's leading artists 
began their life work as teachers in gov- 
emment schools. Alfredo Ramos Martinez 
assembled a Mexican Children's Art Show, 
which was shown in many cities of the 
United States and abroad and received en- 
thusiastic appreciation and high praise. Mau- 
gard presented a first Folkloric Festival in 
Chapultepec Park, featuring native dances 
and music. Many of the colorful native cos- 
tumes and stage sets were designed and ex- 
ecuted by student art classes. 

Modern Mexican artists began to feature 
more easel paintings and many murals were 
made for recently built schools. Folk art is 
the popular subject and it was presented 
with special emphasis on simplification and 
the achieving of plastic excellence. Carlos 
Merida, who came to Mexico from his home 
in Guatemala following art study abroad, 
exhibited a series of watercolor folk sub- 
jects featuring dances in native costume; 


Modern Mexican Art 


PLATE 102. The Bird. Oil. Carlos Merida. l.B.M. 
Collection, N.Y. Courtesy Mundelein College, 

these folkloric scenes were rendered with 
plastic intention and they reahzed a fine 
integration of art values. Merida taught in 
government schools and the municipal open- 
air classes, his later work being frescoes for 
the Department of Education's recently built 
schools. His success in the latter has made 
him a leader in Mexico's modern art move- 
ment. After returning from further study 
abroad, his art became increasingly simpli- 
fied, finally becoming abstract; he now is 

the recognized leader of Mexican Abstrac- 
tionism. Among his recent easel paintings is 
The Bird (Plate 102). Augustin Lazo, Orozco 
Romero, and others are using abstract deco- 
rative treatments in their recent easel works, 
while Merida and Rufino Tamayo are now 
tending toward Surrealistic studies in their 
paintings. Georg Gonzales Camera has been 
praised for his highly original art panels 
designed for commercial use by the Bank 
of Mexico. 

PLATE 103. The Bone. Oil. Miguel Covarrubias. 
1940. Owned by the artist, Mexico City. Cour- 
tesy Ines Amor, Mexico City. Galeria De Artes 
Mexicano, Mexico City 

PLATE 104. The Aunts. Oil. Julio Castellanos. 
Museum of Modem Art. N.Y. Courtesy Museum 
of Modem Art, N.Y. 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 105. Children at Play. Oil. Jesus Guerrero 
Galvan. I.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. Courtesy 
Mundelein College, Chicago 

Leopoldo Mendez, an associate of Siqueiros 
who painted on many of the latter s murals, 
has become Mexico's leading lithographer. 
His works have a vigorous, strong style and 
are creative and especially original. He 
painted, with Pablo O'Higgins, Rivera's as- 
sistant, on large murals for a government 
hospital, later rendering several murals in 
South America. Another assistant of Rivera, 
Maximo Pacheco, a full-blooded Otomi In- 
dian and an artist-naturalist, made murals 
for schools, including the open-air art school 
at Sarmiento, where his painting has been 
highly praised. Miguel Covarrubias has be- 

come famous for his creative interpretations 
of well-known contemporary people, and his 
singular portrait studies have often been 
featured on the covers of Time Magazine. 
His later works include realistic and sympa- 
thetic studies of New York's Harlem Blacks, 
which have evoked much interest and praise. 
The artist has been teaching at the School of 
Anthropology of the University of Mexico 
since 1947. The Bone (Plate 103) signifies 
by its title— a derisive name given patronage 
ofiice-holders— a characteristic Mexican type. 
Covarrubias 's fine easel paintings and por- 
trait studies show modem stylistic simplicity, 

Modern Mexican Art 

though he relates his work to both conserva- 
tive and modern art emphases. His exquisite 
book illustrations for Isles of Bali, and his 
mural panels for the Museum of Natural His- 
tory, New York, and the Museum of Modem 
Art, Mexico City, proclaim his highly skilled 
decorative artistry of treatment of the theme 
"All Races of Men." 

A new and harmonious plan has been 
worked out by murahsts working on the 
same school building for the Department of 
Education, by which they agree on ways to 
integrate and relate their panels in style 
and color for an eflFect of unity. This arrange- 


ment was developed by Juan O'Gorman, the 
great Mexican architect-artist. 

Julio Castellanos (d. 1947) was a gifted 
young artist whose fine frescoes in the Mel- 
chor Ocampo School have been highly 
praised as significant creative achievements. 
He was also a skilled lithographer, as is 
shown in his memorable work Surgery, which 
has great human interest. The Aunts (Plate 
104), one of his oil paintings, is a notable 
portrayal of native women, showing the 
typical strong torso and short legs charac- 
teristic of most of the Mexican Indian type. 
This work shows the influence of primitive 

PLATE 106. The Group. Watercolor. Jesus Gue- 
rrero Galvan. I.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. Cour- 
tesy Mundelein College, Chicago 

PLATE 107. The Little One. Oil. Jesus Guerrero 
Galvan. I.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. Courtesy 
Mundelein College, Chicago 

PLATE 108. Music. Fresco. Rufino Tamayo. Na- 
tional Conservatory of Music, Mexico City, D.F. 
1933. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 109. Water Girls. Watercolor. Rufino Ta- 
mayo. I.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. Courtesy 
Mundelein College, Chicago 

Modern Mexican Art 


native art, which Castellanos studied ex- 
tensively. Throughout his short life he was 
much appreciated and became one of the 
best known of the younger Mexican painters. 

Jesus Guerrero Galvan, a native of Jalisco, 
painted numerous murals for schools and 
taught art for the Department of Education 
at Guadalajara and in various colleges. He 
now lives in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico 
City, in a comfortable old home surrounded 
by beautiful large trees, shrubbery, and flow- 
ers. He has been very successful in his mural 
paintings, and his special interest is in 
painting children (Plate 105. Children at 
Play. Oil). He uses tonal combinations of 
gray-blues, violets, and modulated light yel- 
lows in his many renderings of family life 
for which specialty he has become famous. 
Galvan organizes his compositions in ways 
that often take liberties with true proportions 
of the body or of nature; his willful distor- 
tions are always used as organizing design 
elements in his compositions. The Group 
(Plate 106) presents strong contrasts in an in- 
terpretation of a bare Mexican scene, one 
of severe pathos which is enforced by the 
landscape background that creates a deeply 
felt, bleak realism focused on an overall tone 
of emotional sadness. The Little One (Plate 
107) shows Galvan's use of striking contrast 
in the rendering of form in this realistic in- 
terpretation in oils, of peasant children. 

Rufino Tamayo, a recognized leader of 
modem Mexican artists, received his first 
instruction at the Academy, which included 
a series of courses at the government spon- 
sored open-air art schools; he then studied 
abroad in the Paris studio of Georges Braque. 
Today, although he first won recognition as 
a fine colorist, Tamayo is in the forefront of 
the Abstractionists and Surrealists. Bom at 
Oaxaca, of native Zapotec heredity, at the 
age of two when both his parents died, 
he was taken to live in Mexico City, where 
his aunt reared him. She sold fruits and 
flowers at the municipal market and Rufino 

learned to arrange her booth's colorful dis- 
plays day by day. He tells that this oppor- 
tunity gave him the pleasure of selecting 
color arrangements and helped him in later 
years to plan color syntheses for his art. 
Tamayo's still-life studies, portraits, and 
easel works are distinguished for their care- 
fully organized color harmonies and their 
rich plastic values emphasizing structural 

PLATE 110. Self Portrait. Oil. Rufino Tamayo. 
Private Collection (Solomon Hale, Mexico City). 
Courtesy Ines Amor, Galeria De Artes Mexi- 
cano, Mexico City 

In 1933 he painted a mural (Plate 108. 
Music. Fresco detail.) for the National Con- 
servatory of Music, Mexico City. It combines 
in rhythmic treatment figures personifying 
themes of musical cadences. Water-Girls 
(Plate 109), a watercolor by Tamayo, has 
carefully studied tonal gradations and skill- 

PLATE 111. The Fire Eater. Tempera. Jose 
Chavez Morado. I.B.M. Collection, N.Y. Cour- 
tesy Mundelein College, Chicago 

ful textural rendition of hair, cape, and 
skirts, where careful color blendings enforce 
interesting linear emphasis. The flaring skirts 
such as the women of Oaxaca still wear 
provides Tamayo with his favorite female 
outline of spreading garments, which he de- 
lights to paint. Tamayo's color has become 
more somber in recent works but he always 
achieves beauty of color, especially in his 
reds and blues. Tamayo's art ever has a 
stylistic emphasis on values in deeply mean- 
ingful color. His abstract forms, often in the 

background, are inspired by the dilapidated 
walls of semi-deserted villages of the Mex- 
ican scene. Tamayo's Self-Portrait (Plate 110. 
Oil.) is a work of thoughtful simplicity ren- 
dered in a flexible style, with emphasis on 
the absorbed expression of his eyes. In 1938 
Tamayo moved his studio to New York, 
though he frequently visits his Mexican 
home. Since 1940, Tamayo's art has become 
increasingly psychological and introspective, 
as may be seen in murals for the art library 
at Smith College, Northampton, Massachu- 

Modern Mexican Art 

setts, and for the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico 
City. Abstractionist panels appear in several 
mural projects made for various cities in the 
United States. Tamayo's major influence 
stems from the art of Picasso and the Sur- 
realism of Paul Klee, the Swiss artist. In 
recent works, Tamayo's individual style of 
Surrealism combines his concept of symbolic 
things seen or imagined, painted with an in- 
creasingly grayed color harmony which is 
so blended that the purity of color balance 
is enchantingly lovely. 

Jose Chavez Morado, a highly regarded 
modern, creative artist is a native of Guate- 
mala. He creates delightful folk art scenes 


with graphic force and verve reminiscent 
of Posada's fantastic and original art. Mo- 
rado's various accomplishments include fresco 
painting, wood carving, designing ballet sets, 
magazine illustration, lithography, and mo- 
saic-mural design. He taught for a time at 
the Academy for the Department of Educa- 
tion, then collaborated with Juan O'Gorman 
on large mosaic-murals on University City 
stnictures. Morado's The Fire Eater (Plate 
111. Tempera.) is a typically vigorous work 
of satiric force indicative of Mexican life, 
portraying an old Indian legend he adapted 
to modem use and succeeded in conveying 
truth with a segment of myth such as is still 

PLATE 112. The Dance of Death. Lithograph. 
Jose Chavez Morado. l.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. 
Courtesy Mundelein College, Chicago 


PLATE 113. The Man from Vera Cruz. Oil. Ro- 
berto Montenegro. I.B.M. Art Collection, N.Y. 
Courtesy Mundelein College, Chicago 

Modern Mexican Art 

strong among natives. Though a realist, 
Morado delights in his imaginary characters 
which exemplify in exaggerated ways the 
fantastic foibles of humanity; for this he is 
often regarded as was also his Mexican ante- 
cedent, Posada, as a modern follower of Dau- 
mier, the nineteenth-century French satirist. 
Morado's lithograph Dance of Death (Plate 
112) is a satiric example of his macabre sym- 
bolism; its style resembles the art of Albrecht 
Diirer's famous woodcuts, though Morado's 
work shows in pathetic terms how a form of 
mesmerism is still typical of many Mexican 
people. His work is, like Diirer's, character- 
ized by meticulous exactitude of line and 
shading, by which he creates his people. His 
characters express the undefinable quality 
in the Indian personality as it is revealed 
in thought and action. The foremost Mexican 
lithographer, Morado is supreme in his field 
of art, though there are now many highly 
regarded Mexican lithographers. 

Roberto Montenegro, a successful artist in 
both easel and mural painting, expresses his 
insistence on structural form in Man from 
Vera Cruz (Plate 113. Oil.). This quiet por- 
trait combines with an interesting use of 
geometric simplifications in a carefully ar- 
ranged background. Similarly, his frescoes 
have thoughtfully planned elements through- 
out their composition. Montenegro is now 
working mainly on book illustration. He was 
an able assistant of Dr. Alt, helping assemble 
several popular arts and crafts shows. His 
murals for the Department of Education 
Building and the Benito Juarez School em- 
phasize his special interest in Mexican folk 

Maria Izquierdo was born in the State of 
Jahsco and later moved to Mexico City, 
where she became a pupil of Rufino Tamayo, 
whose guidance led her to become a highly 
successful portraitist and landscapist, ex- 
hibiting in Mexico, and the United States. 
Her Self Portrait (Plate 114) is a realistic, 
modem portrait study combining interesting 


and strong linear rhythms in the fabric de- 
sign of her gown. The painting contains dark 
and light contrasts which assert primitive 

Frida Kahlo, the artist-wife of Diego Ri- 
vera, was a gifted and original painter, and 
an excellent art teacher and lecturer. Though 

PLATE 114. Self Portrait. Oil. Maria Izquierdo. 
Private collection. Courtesy of the artist 

a hfelong sufferer from a back injury in- 
curred in an automobile accident when she 
was sixteen, she overcame her health diffi- 
culty and became a noted Mexican artist. 
She was honored with a prize for her paint- 
ing in the 1946 exhibit held bi-annually for 
Mexican artists in the Palace of Fine Arts, 
Mexico City. Frida Kahlo, who died in 1954, 
was bom in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico 
City, her mother being of Spanish-Indian 
descent and her father a Genn an- Jewish 
photographer whose art was highly regarded. 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 115. Self Portrait. Oil. Frida Kahlo (Ri- 
vera), artist wife of Diego Rivera. I.B.M. Collec- 
tion, N.Y. Courtesy Mundelein College, Chicago 

Modern Mexican Art 

Her Self Portrait (Plate 115) is an interest- 
ing composition in oil that includes her pet 
monkey in a background of tropical foliage 
in a well-planned, skillfully interpreted, and 
characteristic portrait study. 

Juan O'Gorman, the gifted contemporary 
Mexican architect-artist, has won fame as a 
creative leader of modem art. He has had 
success in original architectural use of native 
stones for mural-mosaics applied to large 
areas of exterior walls. These distinctive wall 
designs have helped make the structures he 
designed the most exciting architectural 
achievements of modem world art. O'Gor- 
man has planned highly functional studio- 
homes for several Mexican artists and his 
fine plans for schools, libraries, hotels, hos- 
pitals, and civic stmctures have received 
high praise. O'Gorman's architecture is sig- 


niiicantly turned to effective use of indig- 
enous motifs and he incorporates into his 
exterior designs native symbols dear to the 
Mexican heart, making good use of strong, 
bold color. The Communication Center in 
Mexico City, designed by Juan O'Gorman 
(Plate 116), is a great stmcture, a Mexican 
Government commission that has native stone 
murals on the exterior of the building. It 
combines many Indian motifs conveying a 
message from the pre-Hispanic art of Toltec, 
Mixtec, and Aztec tribes united in an array 
of beautiful colors to perpetuate their mean- 
ing and value for posterity. 

Mexico's architecture indicates a multi- 
tude of influences, from pre-Hispanic civil- 
izations through the Colonial-Spanish and 
French domination down to the present 
space age of steel and glass. Mexico's archi- 

PLATE 116. Communicatiom Building. Stone mo- 
saic exterior. Juan O'Gorman, architect-artist de- 
signer. Courtesy Mexican Government Depart- 
ment of Tourism 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 117. National Museum of Anthropology, 
Chapultepec, Mexico City. Architect Pedro Ra- 
mirez Vazquez. Courtesy Mexican Government 
Department of Tourism 

tecture is characteristically daring and dra- 
matic, an example of this being the marvelous 
ideas and construction offered in the spec- 
tacle of the National Museum of Anthro- 
pology in Mexico City (Plate 117). This 
outstanding stnicture was designed by the 
architect, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez. It con- 
tains twenty-five halls of display in the 
strikingly modem building housing the heri- 
tage of Mexico's long pre-Hispanic past, be- 
ginning with the primitive hunters of 15,000 

This great government project was erected 
at a cost of over eleven million dollars 
( estimated in United States money ) . In front 
of the stnicture stands a huge statue of 
Tlaloc, Aztec God of Rain, who provided 
water for the Indians' corn and beans. The 
statue is one of the world's largest, carved 
from a single rock and weighing one-him- 
dred-and-sixty-seven tons. The museum is 
constructed entirely of native materials. Im- 
pressive marble-covered halls open onto a 
large patio, from the roof of which drips a 

Modern Mexican Art 

constant fall of water from an umbrella 
fountain, which also commemorates Tlaloc. 
Use of glass throughout the stnicture permits 
extended views and increases the effect of 
spaciousness. This great achievement of mod- 
em architecture helps promote Mexico's fine 
hopes for the future while offering apprecia- 


tion of its legacy from the prehistoric past. 
In successfully reaching maturity, today's 
Mexican art proclaims the nation's freedom 
while also featuring indigenous values which 
preserve its ideals in a present flowering of 
beauty and utility. 


The popular arts of Mexico are among the 
most forceful of the nation's cultural expres- 
sions. Since the dawn of primitive men, sur- 
vival, security, and comfort depended on 
man's resourcefulness in creating the neces- 
sities not offered him by nature. To make 
these useful objects required mental effort; 
to decorate them arose from instinctive de- 
light in beauty and the need for dexterity 
in the use of hands. Gradually traditions 
about the making of things grew, and were 
handed down from generation to generation; 
present-day Mexican popular art is the cul- 
mination of this heritage in articles which 
are both practical and beautiful. Traditions 
have been modified to meet desirable im- 
provements, which process has produced in 
Mexico a rich and varied cultural develop- 
ment for all its people. 

Mexico is a land of contrasts emanating 
from three great legacies— the ancient, the 
Colonial, and the modern. It is, moreover, 
believed by many to be the most exotic of 
all places, for it breathes the air of a varied, 
vibrant, and colorful life freely expressed by 
its people in popular art. 

A government commission for the huge 
sculptural mural at Malpaso Dam has com- 
memorative interest for every Mexican. 
Carved on three sides of a high bluff, it 

overlooks a national project in Chiapas, near 
the Guatemala border. The subject, Mexican 
Progress, symbolizes electricity furnished by 
the dam, interpreted by a man holding a 
bolt of electricity in one hand; the other 
hand, outstretched, releases controlled water 
for irrigation of vast areas of barren land. 
Benefits from the dam are serving Mexico's 
people by providing a much-needed food 
supply. This art project, the world's largest 
stone mural (covering 65,000 square feet), 
was designed and executed under direc- 
tion of Federico Ganessi (Plate 118. Mexi- 
can Progress. Sculptured mural on granite). 
Offering a definite fink between primitive 
and contemporary art, it resembles ancient 
carvings by Olmec artists, whose huge sculp- 
tures were made 3,000 years ago. A modem 
art achievement, it serves as a reminder that 
the talents and skills of ancient art-conscious 
Indians furnished a legacy to modern artisans 
working in Mexican popular arts and handi- 
crafts. Modern Mexicans maintain a stable 
source of livelihood by promoting various 
art enterprises and activities in the ancient 
Valley of Anahuac. 

Early folk artists were inspired by re- 
ligious emotion and love of nature to create 
vital expressions of daring and dramatic in- 
ventiveness. Examples of their art are some- 


Popular Arts of Mexico 


PLATE 118. Mexican Progress. Sculptured mural 
on granite bluff. Malpaso Dam, Mexico. Fed- 
erico Ganessi. Courtesy The Chicago Tribune 

times found in mountain village churches 
and on walls of humble homes where wood- 
carved cruifixes, commemorative "miracle 
paintings," and retables were made as thank 
oflFerings in appreciation of unusual cures 
and of their new-found religion. Many were 
products of the Colonial period, when re- 
ligious zeal flourished and folk artists enjoyed 
release from hard days of labor on haciendas 
through their spare-time artistry. Folk paint- 
ers delighted in lavish use of bright colors, 
and their paintings, which were free of 
formal rules of perspective, featured keenly 
sensitive interpretations rendered with sym- 
pathetic feeling. The work of these humble 
artists sparked continued art interest and 

served to prepare for the great twentieth- 
century Mexican Renaissance. Folk artists 
often preferred to use symbolic meanings 
when interpreting their creatively organized 
impressions. This tradition pervades present- 
day Mexican art, which has become increas- 
ingly symbolic and psychological, even when 
it is inspired by exotic scenes of nature. The 
origin of the folk artist's vital art is found 
in an indefinable blend of influences steming 
from pre-Hispanic, Spanish, Colonial, and 
religious sources. But Mexican popular art 
emerged mainly because native artists cre- 
ated it in response to sheer love and joy in 
the doing. 
Appreciation of the important role which 


popular art furnished national life came in 
the post-Revolution period, when Mexico was 
in the midst of social reform and its leaders 

PLATE 119. The Burrito. Wax sculpture. Luis 
Hidalgo. Mexico City. Courtesy School Arts 

sought to utilize indigenous art found in 
the work of humble artisans throughout 
Mexico. Artists "of the fields" refused to use 
their art for personal gain or preferment; 
instead, they painted for the delight and 
satisfaction it gave. Recognition by govern- 
ment agencies of the potential national asset 
to be found in popular native arts and handi- 
crafts led to sponsoring the program for 
Mexican Mural Art in public buildings. An 
exhibition of arts and crafts was initiated 
by Dr. Alt with the enthusiastic support of 
Montenegro, Rivera, Orozco, Tamayo, Si- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

queiros, Covamibias, and other artists. Spon- 
sored by the Carnegie Foundation, the ex- 
hibit toured larger cities of the United States 
and resulted in greatly widened interest in 
Mexican art. 

Folk art finds magnificent expression in 
the ancient art of weaving and various woven 
fabrics for difi^erent uses are displayed at 
tiaquiz (markets). A famous Friday market 
is at Patzcuaro, in a distinctive Colonial town 
the style of which has remained typical of 
the sixteenth century. It is located in the 
beautiful lakeside region where Tarascan 
Indians weave quantities of wool blankets. 

PLATE 120. Lacquer Artist. Isthmus of Tehuan- 
tepec. Courtesy Frederick Davis and Anita 
Brennen, Mexico City 

bedspreads, rugs, cloaks, and scrapes, using 
weaving techniques of entirely Spanish ori- 
gin. Puebla's fine weaving is its leading 

Popular Arts of Mexico 


PLATE 121. Ceramic Exhibit. Seragalio Palace. 
From all sections of Mexico. Courtesy School 
Arts Magazine 

craft product; the popular colors for woven 
designs remain red-brown and deep blue- 
black, although various patterns are defi- 
nitely Indian in origin. These are geometric, 
stylized forms derived from fish, men, cou- 
gars, plants, and flowers. Beautiful blankets 
and rugs woven at Puebla adhere to boldly 
geometric patterns in abstract style; the 
various designs used may be easily classified 
by pattern, according to the region or states 
throughout Mexico. 

The State of Tlaxcala became famous for 
wool weaving during the Colonial period. 

when raising sheep and goats ranked next 
to mining in economic importance and large 
herds occupied almost all the land. Na- 
tives there still weave practically all their 
woolen clothing, and quantities of cotton 
cloth are handwoven. At the close of the 
nineteenth century large cotton mills were 
built in Orizaba; the Indians there worked 
the machine-made cotton materials into fine 
hand-sewn garments for export. Handmade 
silk garments are sewn at Ajijic, where silk- 
worms supply the material for a variety of 
articles which have an established world 


market. In some villages the entire popula- 
tion is occupied in producing a popular 
handicraft, such as rehozos. This scarf for 
women is used as a shawl and head cov- 
ering, and is made of hand-loomed textiles 
of either cotton or silk, a yard wide and 
two-and-a-half yards long. The finest rebozos 
are made in the town of Santa Ana, which 
is a weaving center featuring this specialty. 

The famous Saturday tiaquiz at Oaxaca, 
the leading center of southern Mexico, is 
located amid beautiful verdant hills in the 
most popular of the Republic's states. Lo- 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

and Michoacan, this influence being seen in 
hand-embroidered articles. 

Toluca is a famed center of basket handi- 
craft, where palm fibers are woven into hats, 
sombreros, rugs, petates (mats), and large 
hampers and baskets featuring bold designs 
in the strong, bright colors so dear to Mexi- 
can hearts. Fine willow reed baskets are 
woven by plaiting roots of young trees 
which, after being dried, are prepared for 
weaving by stripping to a light-cream base. 
Toluca's Friday tiacjuez displays the finest 
and most varied basketry in Mexico. The 

PLATE 122. Clay Animal Banks. Native craft. 
Courtesy School Arts Magazine 

cated in an ancient Zapotecan and Mixtec 
area, Oaxaca boasts of architectural relics of 
pre-Hispanic and Colonial days, and of fami- 
hes having Castilian forebears. Extensive 
displays of art and handicrafts are featured 
at this large market, including beautiful 
hand-loomed cottons and a large variety of 
fine woven articles. Designs are nearly al- 
ways of Spanish origin in Oaxaca, Chiapas, 

Burrito (Plate 119), a wax sculpture by Luis 
Hidalgo deals realistically with a familiar 
Indian scene showing a typical Mexican sub- 
ject with humor, pathos, kindliness, and 

Leather work is a practical craft intro- 
duced by the Spanish over 400 years ago. 
It has become a commercially important 
handicraft with large outlets in Mexico City 

Popular Arts of Mexico 

where leather products of high quality- 
purses, briefcases, billfolds, handbags, sad- 
dles, and belts— are marketed. Indian workers 
excel in this craft, the products of which 
are made in large cjuantities. 

Mexican artists nib colors on wooden 
bowls, trays, and furniture, later finishing 
with water-repellent shellac (Plate 120. Lac- 
quer Artist. Isthmus of Tehuantepec ) . This 
craft is done exclusively at Janitzio, State of 
Michoacan, and is popular because of the 
bright coloring, typical Mexican designs, and 
the practical use of the products. Every 
state and many villages make their individual 


style of ceramics, though much of the finest 
pottery is made in Oaxaca, where traditional 
skills have been passed down in families 
since the art started there. However, some 
village potters in many other locations are 
capable of creating notable ceramics. Plenti- 
ful clay in certain areas throughout Mexico 
makes the glazing of beautiful and rare 
ceramics successful and potters vie with each 
other to create strikingly fine patterns tuid 
color harmonies (Plate 121). Puebla is the 
location long famed as the great tile-produc- 
ing center where hand-wrought colorful Ta- 
lavera tiles are made. The city's buildings 

PLATE 123-PLATE 124. Native artists creating de- 
signs on maguey paper. Courtesy School Arts 



The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 124. 

feature multicolored tiles, especially in the 
arcades, art studios, and terra-cotta tile roofs, 
all of which enhances the mellow tonal effect 
in Puebla. Blue majolica tiles are especially 
popular there, and native onyx, which is 
plentiful in the area, is used for carving fine 

In the sixteenth century the Spanish intro- 
duced fine glazing processes in Oaxaca, 
where they made the first majolica and Ta- 
lavera-Puebla ware. Clay animal banks (Plate 
122) are a popular craft project which Mexi- 

can artists create with humor and lively 
charm. This typically native craft is possible 
because of the accessible supply of native 

Mexican hand-blown glass is a craft intro- 
duced into Guadalajara and Mexico City 
over 400 years ago by Spanish experts. To- 
day the same workshops are owned and 
operated by famihes directly descended from 
the original glass-making experts who ar- 
rived from Spain in the 1540s. Glass of rarely 
beautiful quality and color is made by using 

Popular Arts of Mexico 


PLATE 125. All-over design. Typical pattern of 
plant, flower, and bird. Courtesy School Arts 

various mineral dyes for coloring, popular 
shades being blue, green, deep amber, and 

Taxco, the oldest mining town in Mexico, 
has become famous for its fine craftsmanship 
of very fine silver. A world market has been 
established, and many of the most beautiful 

pieces are designed with pre-Hispanic Aztec 
motifs. These lovely hand-crafted objects 
produced by native artists meet the ever- 
increasing market. The fine artistry of tech- 
nical workers in other metals predominates 
in the ancient Mixtec region, where, since 
pre-Conquest time, the descendants of able 


The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

PLATE 126. Dolls of woven palmetto fiber, dyed. 
Typical indigenous craft. Courtesy School Arts 

craftsmen are busy in fine metal-worldng 
art shops. 

Many untrained young Mexican art-and- 
craft workers enjoy creating designs to be 
applied to maguey paper, and some of these 
are used as well on pottery, in all-over pat- 
terns which are then brightly colored (Plates 
123, 124, 125). 

A popular and ingenious craft to be found 
in Mexican markets and shops throughout 
the Republic is doll making, using native 
materials. Creating dolls of dyed palmetto 
fibers (Plate 126) is a typically native craft 
in which Mexicans of all ages and locations 
delight, as did their forebears in ages past. 


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(Italic numbers refer to Plate Illustrations) 

Abstractionism, 135, 137 

All-over Design, 125, 151 

Alt, Dr. (pseudonym for Gerardo Murillo), 111, 139, 146 

Anahuac, Valley of the Waters, 14, 19, 41, 82, 102 

Aqueducts (Aztec), 49 

Archaic Period, 23, 27 

Armada (Spanish defeat), 55 

Artists "of the fields," 64 

Asian, 13, 16 

Augustine, 1, 77 

Augustinians, 57 

The Aunts ( Castellanos ) , 104, 129 

Aztec, 23, 27, 32, 33, 42, 43; caste system, 48; codex 

(Barbonicus), 38; control, 40; council, 45; eagle, 79; 

lapidarists, 53; Mexican tongue, 14; sculpture, 46, 48, 

49, 54; trading, 51 
Axtec Calendar Stone, 35, 50 

Balcony and Bell Tower, Queretaro, 51, 68 

Ballet Folklorico, Teatre de Belle Artes, 82 

Baroque, 54, 64, 68, 70, 71, 88 

Basilica, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico City, 52, 68, 69 

Battle Scene, Pre-Columbian mural. Temple of Bonampak, 

74, 94 
The Bird (Merida), 102, 127 

Bodleian Library, Oxford University, Mendoza Codex, 46 
Bonampak Frescoes, 91 
Bonaparte, Joseph, 74 
The Bone (Covarrubias), 103, 128 
Borda, Jose la, 71 
Braque, Georges, 135 
British Museum, 48 
Buenos Aires, 120 

Burial of a Worker (Siqueiros), 93, 120 
The Burrito. Wax sculpture. (Hidalgo), 119, 146 

Cabrera, Miguel, 63, 64 

Cactus fibers (agave, maguey, metl), 17 

Camera, Georg Gonzales, 127 

Cano, Alonzo, 72 

Cardenas, President, 85 

Carlotta, 88 

Carmelites, 57 

Carnegie Foundation, 146 

Carved Boulder (Aztec), 34, 49 

Caryatides (Aztec), 48 

Casa del Alfenique, Provincial Museum, Puebla, 71 

Casas, Fray Bartelome de les, 74 

Castellanos, Julio, 86, 131, 135 

Castellian (forebears), 148 

Castillo, Bernal Diaz del, 32-^3 

Cathedral of Durango, 44, 61 

Cathedral of Guadalajara, 88, 109 

Cathedral of Mexico City, 46, 63, 62, 71 

Cefuentes, Rodrigo de, 66 

Ceiling, Church of Santa Domingo, Oaxaca, 54, 70 

Ceramics, 19; polished black ware, 37 

Ceramic Exhibit, 121, 147 

Cezanne, 103 

Chapultepec Castle, National Museum of Anthropology, 

History, Mexico City, 49, 70, 88, 124 
Chapultepec, forest, 43 

Charles V, 43, 51, 52; equestrian statue, 71, 72 
Chariot, Jean, 91, 95 
Cheops (Pyramid, Egypt), 28 
Chiapas, 14, 91 
Chichimecs, 17, 41 
Chihuahua, 118 

Children at Play (Galvan), 105, 130 
Cholula, 57, 58; Mixtec Art Center, 40; pottery, 18; 

"Rome of Mexico," 32 
Chouinard School of Art, Los Angeles, 121 
Christ Destroying His Own Cross (Orozco), 92, 114 
Christian altars, 55 

Christianity: refuge of "Peons", 55; spread of, 46, 55, 57 
Church, built on site of Indian "teocalH," destroyed by 

Cortes, 32 
Church the (Mother of Mexican architecture): Orders, 

56, 57; (monastic), 64; disbanded, 78; schools, 64 
Church of Del Carmen, Mexico City, 43, 60 
Church of Dolores, Hidalgo, 24, 58 
Church of Jesus Maria, 70 
Church of San Cristobal, Puebla, 41, 58 
Church of San Francisco, Cuernavaca, 49, 66 
Church of San Lorenzo, 70 
Church of Santa Prisca and Sebastian, Taxco, Guerrero, 

55, 71 



Church of Santa Rosa, Queretaro, 50, 66, 67 

Churriguera, Jose, 70; Churrigueresque, 70, 71 

Cipac, Marcos, 69 

"City Artists," 62, 63, 64 

Clan ("calpulli"), 16 

Classical Period: pyramid, 25, 33; sculpture, 21 

Clay Animal Banks (native crap), 122, 148 

Clay Figurines of Totonac Period, 10, 24 

Coatlicue, Mother of Aztec Gods, 33, 47, 64 

Codex, Florentine, "The Ofrenda," 31, 46 

Codex "Porfxrio Diaz," 30, 45 

Codices, 38 

Colonial Period (300 years), 54, 58; architecture, 58 

Communication Building, Stone Mosaic Exterior, Mexico 

City (O'Gomian), 116, 141 
Conquest, 33, 36, 43, 48, 53, 54, 55; religious, 53, 54 
Conquistadores, 13, 32, 43, 54, 55 
Conversion, 55 

The Com God, stone sculpture, 32, 46 
Com (maize or "tessinte"), 16 
Cort6s, 14, 32, 43, 48, 68; massacre at Cholula, 32; pays 

Spanish artists to come to Mexico, 57, 64; sees Tenoch- 

titlAn, 43 
Covarrubias, Miguel, 86, 130, 131, 146 
Creole ("crillos" class, often called "Mestizo"), 54, 55 
Crown, the: lenient to peons, 55; grants, titles, 54; liberal 

gifts to churches, 64 
Cuautemoc, 48, 107 
Cueva, Amado de la, 95 
Cupolas (Spanish architectiure), 57 

The Dance of Death (Morado), 112, 137 

Dancer Stones (mystery of Monte Albdn), 36 

Dartmouth College, 113 

Daumier, 80 

Designs (symbohc), 23 

Diaz, General Porflrio, President, 80, 82, 90 

Diego, Juan, 69 

DoUs, Made of Woven Palmetto Fiber, Dyed, 126, 152 

Dominican Fortress Monastery, Mexico City, 57 

Duccio, 106 

Durer, Albrecht, 53, 139 

The Eagle and Serpent (Rivera), 27, 42 

El Greco, 95, 102 

Enslavement of the Indians (Rivera), 39, 56 

El Hay (an Idol), 16 

European concept of government, 54 

Expressionism, 87 

Fabr^s, Antonio, 75 

Fagade: Church at Tepotzotldn, Morelos, 47, 65 

Farmers, 17, 23 

Father Jesus Christ (Tata Jesucristo) (Goita), 67, 86 

"Father of Independence"— Hidalgo, 75 

Faure, Alie, 103 

The Fecund Earth, Chapingo Chapel (Rivera), 86, 107 

Ferdinand, 74 

Fiesta Tehuana (Rivera), 84, 105 

Figure of a Man Leaning on a Staff, 8, 21 

Figurines of clay for cult worship, 23 

The Fire Eater (Morado), 111, 136 

Flemish Renaissance painting, 64 

The Flower Market ( Rivera ), 29, 44 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

The Flower Vendor (Rivera), 87, 108 

Folk artists "of the fields," 62, 146 

Folkloric Festival, 126 

Franciscan Father and the Indian (Orozco), 89, 112 

Franciscan Friars: center, Mexico City, 55; encouraged 

the peons, 59 
French intervention in Mexico, 88 
Funerary Urn, 22, 38 

"Gachupines" (nickname given wealthy landowners), 55, 

Galvan, Jesus Guerrero, 86, 135 
Gauguin, 104 

Gershwin, George (portrait by Siqueiros), 121 
Giant, Atlantes, 25 
Glass (architectural use), 143 
Glass-making, 150 
Gold Breastplate, 38, 52 
Gold-leaf, 71 
Goita, Francisco, 55, 85 
Gothic, 55, 88 
Goya, 102 

"Grito de Dolores," 74 
The Group (Galvan), 106, 131 
Guadalajara, 83, 110, 115; site of Orozco's masterpieces, 

117, 125 
Guadalupe, Seiiora de (Our Lady of, known as the 

"Brown Madonna"), 55, 69 
Guanajuato Cathedral, 64 
Guatemala, 91, 126 
Guerra, Gabriel, 48 
Guerrero, 17, 23, 32; Xavier, 86, 91 

"Hacha," Carved Limestone, Vera Cruz, 9, 22 

Hacienda, 54, 74 

Handicrafts, 17 

Head of a Chief, Pre-Columbian Wall Painting, Temple 

of Bonampak, 73-93 
Head of a Woman, 3, 16 
Head of a Smiling Woman, 10, 23 
Healy, Giles Greville, 93 

Hidalgo and the Liberation of Mexico (Orozco), 59, 75 
Hidalgo, Luis, 146 
Hidalgo, Miguel, 74, 75, 114 
Hieroglyphics, 25 
Hospital of Jesus of Nazareth, Mexico City (oldest in the 

Americas), 68 
House of Don Miguel Hidalgo, 75 
House of Tiles, Mexico City, 45, 62 

Ibia, Baltazar de Echave, 64 

Idols (magic aid), 21 

Impressionistic painting, 112 

Independence Bell, 75 

Interior, Church of Santo Domingo, Oaxaca, Ceiling De- 
tail, 54, 70 

Interior Decoration, Church of Santa Maria, Tonantzentla, 
Puebla, 77, 97, 93 

Isles of Bali, 131 

Iturbide, Colonel Augustine de, 77 

Ixtaccihuatl (volcano), 27 

Izquierdo, Maria, 139 

Jaguars and coyotes (design elements), 32 


Jesuits, 57, 64 

Jewels (Aztec), 52 

Juarez, Benito, President: instituted "The Reform," 78 

Juarez and The Reform (Orozco), 62, 78 

Juarez, Jose and Nicholas Rodreguez (brother artists), 

Judases, made of papier-mache, 62 

Kahlo, Frida (wife of Rivera), 139 

King's Chapel, Church of San Francisco, Cholula, 40, 57 

Klee, Paul, 137 

Lacquer Artist, Isthmus of Tehuantepec, 120, 146 
"Land and Liberty" (revolutionary slogan), 80 
"Laughing Heads," 21 

Lava stone (red); used to build Cathedral of Guadala- 
jara and Palace of Cort6s, 110 
Lazo, Augustin, 127 

Lenin (Rivera's R.C.A. mural includes portrait of), 108 
The Little One (Galvan), 107, 132 
Loomb (saddleback type), 17 
Louvre, The 52 

Machete, El {The Scythe, edited by Siqueiros), 120 

Madero, Francisco, 80 

Malpaso Dam, 144 

The Man from Vera Cruz (Montenegro), 113, 138, 139 

Man of the Sea (Orozco), 94, 116 

Map Showing Distribution of Mexican Tribes, 4, 17 

March of Humanity (Siqueiros), 100, 123 

Martinez, Alfredo Ramos, 82, 83, 85, 126 

Matisse, Pierre, 125 

Marty dom of Saint Stephen (Orozco), 93, 115, 114 

Maugard, Adolpho-Best, 126 

Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, 79, 82, 88 

Mendes, Leopolda, 86, 130 

Mendoza, Antonio de, viceroy: ordered Mendoza Codex 

made, 48 
M6rida, Carlos, 86, 95, 126, 127 

Mesoamerican, 13, 17, 19, 21, 24, 25, 27, 36, 40, 41, 42 
Mestizo, 13, 54; painters, 64, 78 
Mexican "Barbizons," 85 
Mexican Home: Interior Court, Patio, 28, 43 
Mexican Progress, Sculptured Mural, Exterior Site at 

Malpaso Dam, 118, 145 
Mexican physical type, 51 
Mexican Renaissance (art), 145 
Mexican Woman Enroute to Shrine Worship, 18, 34 
Mexic6atl, Chief; subdued Valley of Anahuac, 25 
Mexico City, built on razed Aztec capital, 43 
Michelangelo, 95, 115 
Minarets, Spanish architectural feature, 58 
Mitla: 36; River, 40; ruins, "City of the Dead," mosaic 

work, 40 
Mixteca, 33-40 
Mixtec: artisans, 36; art sources. 111; Codex "Borgia" in 

Vatican Library; polychrome work, 32 
Mixtec-Puebla People: sculptors, 33-40 
Moctezuma II, 27, 32, 48, 52, 58, 68; cloak, 51; maps, 

46; palace site, 57 
Molds, glazes, 20 

Mongolian Migration (Orozco), 113 
Monte AMn: 19, 32, 33-40, 91; complex, 36 


Monte Albdn Excavations, 19, 35 

Monte Albdn Passageway, 20, 36 

Monte Albdn Tomb, 21, 37 

Montenegro, Roberto, 86, 95 

Moorish styles, 58 

Morado, Jose Chavez, 136, 137, 139 

Morelia Cathedral and Charro Parade, 60, 76 

Morelos, Jose: led uprising 1810, 75, 76, 107 

Morrow, Honorable Dwight W., U.S. Ambassador to 

Mexico, 107 
The Mother's Farewell (Orozco), 91, 113, 111 
Municipal Palace, Mexico City, 43 
Mural: Interior, University Library, Mexico City ( O'Gor- 

man), 81, 101 
Murals, mosaic (Rivera and O'Gorman), 101 
Murillo (Spanish artist), 64, 83 
Museum of Architecture, Art, History, 43, 49 
Music (Tamayo), 108, 133 

Nahuatl-Spanish dictionary, 46, 55 

Nahuatl-speaking people, 42; Codex Florentine, Nahu4tl- 

tongue translation, 46 
Napoleon: invasion of Spain, 74, 79 
National Allegory, Exterior Mural, National Normal 

School, Mexico City (Orozco), 95, 114, 117 
National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City, 117, 142 
National Museum of Colonial Period, Tepotzotlan, 64 
National Palace, Mexico City, 66, 68 
National Pawn Shop, Mexico City, 49, 68 
Native Artists Creating Designs on Maguey Paper, 123, 

124, 149, 150 
Native Stone Mural, Mosaic Facade and Sides, University 

City Library, (Juan O'Gorman), 80, 100 
Necklace, Gold Filigree, Mitla, 24, 39 
Neo-Classic, 54, 59, 71 
The New Democracy (Siqueiros), 101, 124 
Neo-Gothic, 88 

The New School (Rivera), 79, 99, 95 
Norena, Miguel (Indian sculptor), 48 

Oaxaca, 19, 23, 32, 33, 58, 63 

Obregon, President of Mexico, 81, 85 

Oceania, 16 

O'Gorman, Juan, 98, 100, 108, 131, 141 

O'Higgins, Pablo, 130 

Ohnec, 16, 17, 19, 25, 29, 33, 40 

Olmec Stone Face, 2, 15 

Olympic Stadium, Mexico City (frescoes by Rivera, 

Siqueiros), 108 
Oriental-Occidental amalgam: founded Mexico, 14 
Orizaba (Mount), 32 
Orozco, Jose Clemente, 29, 55, 86, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 

110-17; Revolutionary murals, 112, 146 

Painted Vessels, 23, 39 

Palace of Cortes, Cuernavaca, 23, 107 

Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City, 65, 83, 82 

Palace of Repose, Columns, Mitla, 26, 41 

Palace of Repose, Wall Carvings, Mitla, 25, 40 

Pan-American Unity (Rivera), 78, 96, 93 

Parochial Church, San Miguel de Allende, 69, 87 

Parochial Church of Santa Prisca and San Sebastian, 

Taxco, Guerrero, 55, 71 
Parochial Church, Taxco, Guerrero (side view), 56, 72 


Paradise of Tlaloc (landscape mural), 25 

Part Production and Assembly of a Motor (Rivera), 82, 

103, 100 
Paseo de la Reforma, 72 
Patterns, 19 
Patzcuaro Market, 146 

Pegasus of the Conquest (Siqueiros), 96, 119 
Peons (landless serfs), 48 
"Petate" ( Aztec for "mat" ) , 17 

Peter of Ghent (Flemish monk who taught the In- 
dians), 55 
Piotographic records (made by priest-artists), 45 
Plaza and Church of Santo Domingo, Mexico City, 42, 59 
Plateresque (silver-like), 70 
Plaza and Temple of Tlaloc, 25 
Plumed Serpent (carved on Pyramid of TeotihuacAn), 

15, 29 
Pomona College, 94 
Polynesia, 16 
Popular Arts, 141 

Popocateptl, Viewed from Ameca, 1, 14, 27 

Porfirian Period (Diaz Presidency), 80 

Portrait of a Child {Anonymous Colonial Artist), 66, 84, 

Portrait of a Girl (Siqueiros), 98, 121 

Portuguese, 118 

Posada, Jos6 Guadalupe, 80, 102 

Post-Impressionism, 104 

Post-Reconstruction Period, 97, 118 

Post-Revolutionary art, 87 

Post-Revolutionary Government, 85 

Pottery ("corriente"), 16,20, 91 

Pre-Columbian art, 64, 85 

Pre-Conquest, 17, 87, 91 

Pre-Hispanic art, 114; murals, 32, 88, 91 

Priests: Classic Period, determined calendar, 24, 27; con- 
soled peons, 55 

Prometheus (Orozco), 78, 98, 94 

Puebla, 17, 20, 32, 57, 58; colored glass, 59 

Pyramid of Cuilcuilco, 25 

Pyramid of the Moon, 27 

Pyramid of the Niches (Totonac at El Tajin), 25 

Pyramid of the Sun (Teotihuacan), 27 

Quetzalc6atl, God of Peace, Air, Earth, Life, Sky, 29 
QuetzalcSatl, God of Peace (Orozco), representing the 

Toltec Legend, 17, 31 
Quetzalc6atl, Temple of (decorated with carved ser- 
pents), 16, 30 

The Rear Guard (Orozco)', 61, 77 

Rebozo (popular handcrafted scarf), 148 

Religious Mural, Tepepulco, (artist Colonial Period, un- 
known), 72, 92 

Renaissance of Mexican Art, 54, 76 

Republic, desired by Mexicans, 179 

Retable artists, 62 

Revolution, 1910, 54, 55 

Rivera, Diego (frescoes), 66, 85, 86, 90, 95, 99, 104, 106, 
108, 125 

Rockefeller Center, R.C.A. Lobby ( Rivera's controversial 
mural), 125 

Rubens tapestries sent to Mexico's Churches, 64 

Rousseau, Henri, 103 

The Origin and Legacy of Mexican Art 

Russia: Rivera portrait paintings while there, 107 

Sahagiin, Bernardino de (Franciscan historian), 55 

San Carlos Art Academy, 63, 69, 82, 110, 118 

San Juan TeotihuacAn, 25, 27 

Santa Anna, General Antonio Lopez de (Mexican dicta- 
tor), 78 

Seated Man, Pre-Columbian Sculpture, 3, 18 

Self Portrait (Izquierdo), 114, 139 

Self Portrait (Kahlo), 115, 140, 139 

Self Portrait (Rivera), 83, 104 

Self Portrait (Tamayo), 110, 135 

Sevillian: architects, 57; -Moorish style, 57, 58, 59, 66 

Siqueiros, David Alfaro, 55, 86, 90, 93, 103, 111, 118-25 

Smithsonian Institute, 16 

The Sob (Siqueiros), 97, 120 

Sorolla (Spanish artist), 83 

Standing Warrior, 37, 49, 51, 52 

Stepped pyramids, 23 

Stirling, Dr. Mattew, 16 

The Stone of Tizoc, 51, 49 

Street Art Fair, Mexico City, 71, 89 

"Strife" ( condemnation of war ). Mural. (Orozco), 114 

Suarez, Manuel (Mexico City industrialist who sponsors 
Siqueiros's art projects), 118 

The Sun God, 49 

The Sun Kingdom, ruled by Aztecs, 42, 43, 45, 48, 54 

Sunrise of Mexico (Siqueiros), 99, 122, 123 

Surrealism, 135 

Symbolism, 104 

Syndicate Manifesto of Mexican Art, 87, 101-18 

Tabasco, 14 

Talvera tiles, 149; made in Puebla, 150 

Tamascal steam baths (Aztec), 28 

Tamayo, Rufino, 86, 125, 127, 133, 134, 135, 136, 139, 

Tarascan nation, 16 

Taxco, Guerrero, 71, 120, 151; silver craft-workers, 151 
Teatro, Movie House, Taxco, Guerrero, 57, 73, 71 
Temple of Agriculture, 27 
Temple of Bonampak, 91 
Temple of Quetzalcdatl, 16, 30, 27, 28, 29 
Temple cities, 23 

Temple de Los Remedios, Cholula, 53, 69, 68, 70 
Temple of the Sun, 127 

Temples, first made in rock-lava mounds, 24 
Tenariuh (Sun God), 49 
Tenayuca (village), 48 

Tenayzin: temple honoring mother of Aztec Gods, 69 
Tenocha-Aztec tribe, 42, 43 
"Teocalli" (Indian temple), 32, 59 
Tepotzotlan Villa (restored as museum), 64 
Texas: lost in war with United States, 78 
Tenoned Head, Man with a Dolphin Helmet, 7, 20 
Tenochtitlan, 43, 48, 58; capital city of Aztecs, last 

building phase, 49 
Teotihuacdn, Pyramid of the Sun, 13, 28, 25, 27, 28; now 

an archaeological zone, 91 
Terraces, 27 

Terra Cotta Head, 6, 19 
Texoco public market, 46-54 
Thanksgiving Day, 95 
"Tiaquiz" (weekly market), 28, 147 



Tile, dome-making of ceramic, 58 

Tiles, blue majolica, for "House of Tiles" made at 

Puebla, 58, 59, 
Tintoretto, 95, 115 
Titian's "Entombment," 64 
Tizoc, king famed for conquests, 49 
Tlachtli (a ball game), 33 
Tlaloc, Rain God, 29, 91, 142 
Tlaxcala (wool-weaving center), 147 
Tlaxcalan: chiefs, 54, 57; tribes, 54 
Tollan (also called Tula), 17, 25; burned a.d. 927 
Toluca (basket- weaving center), 148 
Tomb, 7; Monte Albdn, 36 
Tolsd, Manuel, 62, 64, 71 
Toltec, 16, 17, 19; architecture, 25, 32, 42, 63; ceramics, 

28; codex, 28, 33; craftsmen, 28; faith, 27 
Toltec Warrior: The Giant Atlantes, 12, 26 
Tortillas (food), 48 
Totonac: jungles, 23; sculptors, 21 
"Trachite" and "Tezontl" (porous red rock used for 

building), 77 
Trajin art style, 21 
"Trachti" (ball game), 23 
Typical Market Day Scene, 14, 28 
Tzintzuntzen ruins (once capital of Tarascan nation), 24 

University of Arizona, Department of Archaeology, 25 
University of Mexico, 33; founded, 72, 130 

Valladolid: changed name to Morelia, 76 

Vallejo, Francisco Antonio, 63 

Vasconcellos, Jos6, 85 

Vasquez, Pedro Ramirez, 142 

Vera Cruz, 23, 48 

Viceroy's Forces, 75; Colonial art patrons, 64 

Viga Canal, 95 

Vienna Museum, 51 

Virgin Mary, 69 

Virgin Soil. Mural, Chapingo Chapel (Rivera), 85, 106 

Water Girls (Tamayo), 109, 134 
Weaving, 17, 20 

Weighing of the Grain (Rivera), 104 
Workers United (Rivera), 75, 95, 93 

Xavier, Saint Francis, 64 

Xochimilico, Mexico City (reminiscent of Aztec days), 43 

Zapata, Emiliano, 80, 95, 107 

Zapata Leading the Agrarian Revolt. Detail (Rivera), 64, 

Zapata Leading the Agrarian Revolt (Rivera), 68, 87 
Zapatistas (Orozco), 63, 79, 80 
Zapotec, 16; craftsmen, 19, 23, 33, 40, 63 
ZapotlAn, Jalisco (birthplace of Orozco), 110 
Zocalo, 43, 58, 59, 117 
Zolce, Alfredo, 86 
Zualoga, 83