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).
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