MosaicBlues: Precolumbian Mosaics - Masks and Skulls .entry-content { font-size:25px !important; }

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Precolumbian Mosaics - Masks and Skulls

The art of mosaic in pre-Columbian Central America was marked by a combination of great technical skill and widespread use. Mexican lapidaries worked with obsidian, garnet, quartz, beryl, malachite, jadeite, marcasite, gold, mother-of-pearl, and bone.

The Skull of the Smoking Mirror, British Museum. Aztec/Mixtec, 15th-16th century AD

This mask is believed to represent the god Tezcatlipoca, one of the Aztec creator gods. He was also the god of rulers, warriors and sorcerers. His name can be translated as 'Smoking Mirror'. In fact, in many depictions during the Postclassic period (A.D. 900/1000-1521) his foot is replaced by a mirror.
The base for this mask is a human skull. Alternate bands of turquoise and lignite mosaic work cover the front of the skull. The eyes are made of two discs of iron pyrites set in rings made of shell. The back of the skull has been cut away and lined with leather. The jaw is movable and hinged on the leather.

Mosaic mask of Quetzalcoatl - The Feathered Serpent
Aztec/Mixtec, 15th-16th century AD - From Mexico
This mask is believed to represent Quetzalcoatl or the Rain God Tlaloc, both associated with serpents. It is made of cedar wood and covered with turquoise mosaic work. The teeth are made of shell. Two serpents, one in green turquoise and one in blue, twist across the face and around the eyes, blending over the nose. Turquoise mosaic feathers hang on both sides of the eye sockets.
The Spanish friar Bernardino de Sahagún, writing in the sixteenth century, describes a mask like this one. It was a gift of the Aztec emperor Motecuhzoma II to the Spanish captain Hernán Cortés (1485-1547). The Aztec ruler thought that Cortés was the god Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent) returning from the East. This mask was part of the adornments associated with this god. According to Sahagún's description it was worn with a crown of beautiful long greenish-blue iridescent feathers, probably those of the quetzal (a bird that lives in the tropical rain forest).
Though the Rain God Tlaloc was also sometimes represented with serpents twisting around his eyes, the feathers are more consistent with the image of Quetzalcoatl.

Jade encrusted skull from Oaxaca, Mexico. 
This skull was formerly at the convent of the Iglesias Santo Domingo.

Mosaic Skull and Jaw, Aztec Civilization, Bone, stone mosaic, and teeth.
This human skull is covered with small pieces of cut stone and shell arranged in a deliberate manner over the surface of the skull. Notice how they are arranged in concentric circles around the eyes - even pieces of white shell or stone are used for the eyes and have been drilled to indicate the pupils. This skull was possibly used for ritual purposes.

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