About this artwork
The ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan was once the largest city in all of the Americas. The pomp and color of this great city were expressed most distinctively through its monumental architecture. Facades of pyramids and interiors of palaces, temples, and homes were frequently decorated with splendid frescoes. The fragment shown here was part of a cycle painted on the interior walls of an aristocratic palace. It shows a rain priest walking or dancing in profile and wearing an elaborate headdress and costume. His speech-scroll, adorned with seashells and plants, indicates that he is praying for water and agricultural prosperity, which were highly valued in his society.
Meaning “place of the gods,” Teotihuacan was the largest religious, military, and trading city in the Americas between A.D. 200 and 650, and it was inhabited by over one hundred thousand people at its peak. Designed with colossal pyramids and ritual plazas, the metropolis was built on a cosmologically oriented grid plan that embraced residential and manufacturing districts. This richly symbolic fragment from a Teotihuacan wall fresco depicts a ceremony that took place once every fifty-two years, a “century” in the ancient Mexican calendar system. A priest stands before a tied bundle of reeds representing the completion of a cycle of time. The bundle is impaled by the spiny points of maguey cactus leaves, with which the priestly protagonist of the scene has pricked himself to provide a blood offering. Water symbols in the form of shells and flowers are depicted within the speech-scroll curling from the priest’s mouth. Additional flowers and water are sprinkled from one of the priest’s hands, while in the other he holds an incense bag. Corresponding to the chants of a religious litany, this complex image was repeated with others on the walls of a chamber as a prayer of thanksgiving and for the renewal of agricultural fertility.
- On View, Gallery 136
- Arts of the Americas
- Mural Fragment Depicting a Maguey Bloodletting Ritual
- Valley of Mexico (Object made in)
- 500 CE–600 CE
- Lime plaster with mineral pigment
- 63.8 × 95 cm (25 × 37 1/2 in.)
- African and Amerindian Art Purchase Fund