Iconography

Cihuateotl

Pictorial representation of Cihuateotl in the Codex Borgia (Nowotny 1967: PL. 47)

Cihuateotl

Cihuateotl was also represented with a skeleton face, circular eyes, and clawed hands. 

 

As Eloise Nicholson states in “ The Art of Aztec Mexico”, in the Aztec tradition women who died in childbirth were believed to transform into demons called Cihuateteo, “Goddesses” or “Celestial Princesses”. (1) These women who died in childbirth were like female warriors who, like men in battle, died sacrificing themselves. These entities lived in the Cihuatlampa, “the Region of Women” and were responsible for accompanying the sun from sunrise to sunset. (2) In addition to moving with the sun, these entities came to earth to try to fulfill what they lost dying. As Nicholson states: “On the five days that commenced the 13-day periods of the 260-day divinatory cycle assigned to the West (I Mazatl [Deer}, I Quiahuitl [Rain], I Ozo-matli [Monkey], I Calli [House], I Cauhtli [Eagle]), these female spirits were believed to descend to haunt the crossroads, hoping to kidnap young children since they had been deprived of their opportunity to be mothers.” (3) In this case this sculpture has the date 1-Eagle carved on her hair.(4)

These entities were considered dangerous and in the time of their descent, as Sahagún stated, if people saw them, their bodies would twist, they would foam at the mouth and they would have an epileptic attack. (5) Moreover, the commentator of Codex Telleriano-Remensis depicts Cihuateotl on folio 18v as “demons who come down from the sky in the form of women that we call witches”. (6) Like Nicholson, Sahagún records that the Aztecs believed that these women descended on earth on this day to steal children and have a chance to be mothers, but he adds that they positioned statues representing the deity on shrines to scare the goddesses away. (7)

 As noted by Heidi King in her essay “Aztec Stone Sculpture” for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Aztecs followed a basic format while carving the deity sculptures: they were mostly in frontal view and carved with perfect symmetry. The female figures were mostly depicted kneeling with their hands located on their knees, differently from male figures that were sitting with their legs crossed and their arms crossed as well.  King also states that the faces of the characteristics of their faces were “lacking individuality”. (8) Following this standardization, many scholars identify prehispanic stone figures of the goddess Cihuateotl as commonly having lightly pronounced breasts, skull heads and knotted skirts.  Differently, this statue is represented seated with her hands resting on her knees, with an open mouth and with human facial features. The only sign of costume that can be noticed is a knotted skirt around the waist that, as primary sources noted, meant to represent the personal identity of a woman as well as her social status. (9) 

 

 

 

 

1) Nicholson, H. B., and Eloise Quiñones Keber. Art of Aztec Mexico: treasures of Tenochtitlan. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1983. p 68

2)Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. Handbook to life in the Aztec world. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. p. 199

3)Nicholson, H. B., and Eloise Quiñones Keber. Art of Aztec Mexico: treasures of Tenochtitlan. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1983. p 68

4)Jansen, Maarten, and Pérez Jiménez Gabina Aurora. Time and the ancestors: Aztec and Mixtec ritual art. Leiden: Brill, 2017. p. 373-375 

5)Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1950-1982) 1: 19,71-72

6) Keber, Eloise Quiñones. Codex Telleriano-Remensis: ritual, divination, and history in a pictorial Aztec manuscript. Austin (Tex.): University of Texas Press, 1995. p. 265

7)Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1950-1982)  41;p 161-165

8)King, Heidi. “Aztec Stone Sculpture.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000

9)Sahagún, Fray Bernardino de. Florentine Codex: General History of the Things of New Spain. trans. Charles E. Dibble and Arthur J. O Anderson (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1950-1982) p. 54