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Tezcatlipoca


Aztec, Late Postclassic
1502-1520
18.42 cm x 16.19 cm x 8.89 cm (7 1/4 in. x 6 3/8 in. x 3 1/2 in.)
mottled grey stone
PC.B.072

On view


Permalink: http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/23091

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Description
The face of this young man wearing two emblems in his headdress is striking for its beauty, simplicity, and naturalism. The delicate carving is slightly smaller than life-sized. The face shows the unusual feature of having the eyes and upper teeth carved in the stone instead of being set with inlays. This mask represents Tezcatlipoca, the omnipotent deity of the Aztec pantheon, a God of war, destiny, sorcery, divination, and nocturnal aspects. Tezcatlipoca means “smoking mirror” in Nahuatl, and his name is frequently pictorialized with a round mirror and smoking volutes on the deity’s left foot, headdress, or, as on this mask, on his temples. The two mirrors carved here are accompanied by four balls of eagle down that symbolize sacrifice. This mask might once have been part of an offering. Perforated holes in its backside and earlobes might have been used to suspend it as an ornament or to attach it to an effigy of the deity or to a funerary bundle.

In Post-Classic Mexican imagery, mirrors appear alongside burning hearths or censers, representing places where fire is ignited and produces smoke. Also, mirrors appear in relation to water signs, probably related to water-filled bowls used for divinatory practices. The two smoking mirrors on Tezcatlipoca’s temples might refer to his divinatory powers. During Aztec times, rulers used obsidian mirrors to foretell the future and observe their subjects. The use of mirrors is part of a long-standing Mesoamerican tradition, and Maya elites probably used pyrite mirrors in a similar manner, as depicted on a vessel in the Dumbarton Oaks Collections (see PC.B.569).

On the back of the mask, the glyph ‘2 Reed’ is carved in low relief. The lack of a cartouche framing the glyph indicates that it refers to a day sign rather than a year date. The day ‘2 Reed’ was directly associated with Tezcatlipoca, as this name date marked his birth in the 260-day divinatory almanac. However, a double reading of the date could also be considered, relating the mask to the year 2 Reed, 1507, the year of a New Fire Ceremony (see PC.B.069).


Bibliography
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Alcina Franch, José 1979 Die Kunst Des Alten Amerika. Grosse Epochen Der Weltkunst. Ars Antiqua. Herder, Freiburg. fig. 315.

BBC 2009 Montezuma, Documentary Associated with British Museum Exhibition, edited by John Trefor. British Broadcasting Corporation, London.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 23, cat. 108.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 242-243, cat. 57, pl. XLIII, fig. 14.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd edition ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 250-251, cat. 57, pl. XLIII, fig. 14.\

Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Published by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 192-3.

Christensen, Erwin Ottomar 1955 Primitive Art. Bonanza Books, New York. p. 209, 244, fig. 201.

Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration 1951 Alter Ego: Masks, Their Art and Use. New York. cat. 20.

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Levenson, Jay A. 1991 Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. National Gallery of Art; Yale University Press, Washington, New Haven. p. 548, cat. 364.

Magaloni Kerpel, Diana 2011 History under the Rainbow: The Conquest of Mexico in the Florentine Codex. In Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, Ilona Katzew and Luisa Elena Alcala, eds., pp. 78-95. Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Yale University Press, Los Angeles; New Haven. p. 85, fig. 64.

Marini, Pamela 1992 Pre-Columbian Art in the Bliss Collection. Historian 55 (1):31-36. p. 36.

McEwan, Colin and Leonardo López Luján 2009 Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler. British Museum Press, London. p. 166-167, cat. 71.

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Olivier, Guilhem 1997 Moqueries Et Métamorphoses D'un Dieu Aztèque: Tezcatlipoca, Le "Seigneur Au Miroir Fumant". Mémoires De L'institut D'ethnologie, 33. Institut d'ethnologie Musée de l'homme, Paris. frontispiece.

Olivier, Guilhem 2003 Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, "Lord of the Smoking Mirror". Mesoamerican Worlds. University Press of Colorado, Boulder. frontispiece.

Pasztory, Esther 1982 Three Aztec Masks of the God Xipe. In Falsifications and Misreconstructions of Pre-Columbian Art: A Conference at Dumbarton Oaks, October 14th and 15th, 1978, Elizabeth Hill Boone, ed., pp. 77-105. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 87.

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Vaillant, George Clapp 1962 Aztecs of Mexico: Origin, Rise, and Fall of the Aztec Nation. Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y., pl. 59.







Exhibition History
"Alter Ego - Masks, their Art and Use", Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, New York, NY, 1951 (catalogue # 20).

"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, March 1952 to July 1962.

"Art of Aztec Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 9/28/1983 - 4/1/1984.

"Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 10/12/1991 - 1/12/1992.

"Moctezuma, Aztec Ruler", The British Museum, London, 9/24/2009 - 1/24/2010.

"Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World", Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, 11/06/2011 - 01/29/2012


Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1948.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1948-1962.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.


Anthropomorphs | Aztecs | Glyphs