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Head of a feathered serpent

Aztec stone sculpture of the head of a feathered serpent

Mexica (Aztec) head of a feathered serpent, basalt, 61 cms. high, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

This striking serpent’s head once formed part of the decoration in Moctezuma II’s palace in Tenochtitlan. Steps in the Templo Mayor suggest that it may have formed part of a balustrade [handrail] at the top of the building’s staircases. The cube shape is the carving’s most obvious feature, distinguishing the reptile’s head from the naturalism more commonly found in statues from this period. The geometric design was undoubtedly intended to give the figure a feeling of ancient authority. At the front, the row of teeth is framed by four scrolls, the bottom two suggesting a forked tongue. The formidable curved fang, large eye and wavy bands on either side suggest the movement of this mythical creature’s feathers and identify the carving as the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl.
(Adapted from Moctezuma, Aztec Ruler, [Eds. Colin McEwan & Leonardo López Luján], British Museum Press 2009, p. 74.)

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.