Saturday, January 18, 2020

Visions of Anáhuac

On Friday I went to the Anthropology Museum to see a special exhibition that has been running there since last November.  It is called "Visión de Anáhuac".  Anáhuac is the name in Nahuatl (the Aztec language) for the Valley of Mexico... the valley where Mexico City stands today, and where earlier stood Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital.

The name of the exhibit comes from an essay which was written in 1915 and is the most famous work by Mexican scholar Alfonso Reyes.  The essay has been called "a prose poem, a patriotic invocation, a study in history and an archaeological reconstruction."  Reyes created with words a painting depicting the beauty of the Valley of Mexico and the splendor of the Aztec civilization in the moment when the Spaniards arrived, and the Old World confronted the New.  The exhibit was organized to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first meeting of Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma (in English we call them Cortez and Montezuma) in November of 1519.

A portrait of Reyes by Mexican master David Alfaro Siqueiros

Reyes' slender tome has gone through many printings since its first publication
and has been translated into several languages.

The show begins with this stunning landscape painting of the Valley of Mexico by artist Jorge Obregón.  The valley is dominated by the snow covered peaks of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl.  One can imagine how the Spanish were awestruck upon seeing Anáhuac for the first time.

The exhibition gathers together paintings, archaeological artifacts and historic documents.

This is a copy of a map which Hernán Cortés included with one of the letters that he wrote to Emperor Carlos V.  It is the oldest known representation of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.

According to legend the Aztecs migrated from the north and settled in the Valley of Mexico.  Their gods had told them that they build their city where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a serpent.  They supposedly saw that omen on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco which then covered much of the valley.  The legendary founding of Tenochtitlán was the theme of paintings by Mexican artists centuries later.

And the eagle and the serpent became the national emblem of Mexico.

As the Aztecs forged an empire covering most of central Mexico, Tenochtitlán grew into a large and impressive city.

A panorama of Tenochtitlán and the Valley of Mexico by 20th century painter Luis Covarrubias.

A model of the Sacred Precinct in the heart of Tenochtitlán

There are several cases of Aztec artifacts from its twilight years preceding 1519.

A serpent's head from the "Templo Mayor", the main temple

A clay figurine of a woman and child

A clay pitcher, remarkably intact, which was found beneath a street in Mexico City

This nineteenth century painting imagines the moment when Emperor Moctezuma received word from a messenger of the arrival of white-skinned strangers on the coast of Mexico.

Notice on the messenger's parchment the drawing of the strange vessel in which the Spaniards traveled across the water.

An decorative screen from the early 18th century depicts the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spaniards.

Details from that screen...

The reverse side of the screen portrays colonial Mexico City which was built by the Spanish using the rubble of the conquered Tenochtitlán.

The exhibit ended with a gallery filled with landscape paintings by various artists depicting the Valley of Mexico and its surrounding volcanoes.

"The Valley of Mexico" by Luis Covarrubias

"View of Popocatépetl" by Armando García Nuñez

"Valley of Mexico" by Raymundo Martínez

There were several canvasses by Geraldo Murillo the eccentric painter who went by the name of "Dr. Atl" and who was obsessed with painting volcanoes.

And my favorite 19th century landscape painter, José María Velasco, was also represented with his luminous views of Anáhuac.

The exhibit is well worth seeing, and, since it is in the hall off the museum lobby, before passing the ticket desks, it is free of charge.

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