General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Nov 2017/5 Eagle
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Professor Cecilia Rossell

Question for November 2005

Did the Aztecs use make-up? Asked by Turnfurlong Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Cecilia Rossell.

Colourful textiles in the market, San Cristóbal de las Casas - photo by Maricela González
Colourful textiles in the market, San Cristóbal de las Casas - photo by Maricela González (Click on image to enlarge)

English:The Aztecs loved colours (‘tlapalli’) and made use of them wherever they could, as a way of giving things beauty: so they painted their houses and temples, capes and dresses, even their faces and bodies. But they chose their colours carefully as each colour held several meanings or associations. So women painted their body and face yellow because it represented maturity – the colour of fruits and grains that are fully ripened. Some of the women who worked in temples dyed their long black hair with a red hue, and their teeth black! They would also etch complex designs onto their arms, legs and even faces. Priests painted their bodies black, or covered them with ash – black and grey were associated with darkness and with the wisdom of sorcerers and the magic arts. In religious festivals and for war, nobles painted themselves to imitate the gods that appeared in the codices, since it was every person’s duty to worship their patron god or goddess. Paints applied to the face and body were made with natural colours from rocks, soil, plants and flowers, mixed with the oil of some tiny seeds called ‘chia’ or ‘chian’ – still used today to flavour a cool, refreshing and nutritional water-based drink similar to our ‘Squash’.

An Aztec woman on her way to market, Codex Borbonicus, p.33
An Aztec woman on her way to market, Codex Borbonicus, p.33 (Click on image to enlarge)

Español:A los Aztecas les gustaban mucho los colores “tlapalli” y los usaban en todo lo que podían, ya que consideraban que era una forma de embellecer algo, así que pintaban sus casas y templos, sus mantos y vestidos, e incluso aplicaban colores sobre el rostro y el cuerpo. Pero siempre los escogían con cuidado, ya que cada uno tenía varios significados, así las mujeres se pintaban el cuerpo y la cara de amarillo porque era el tono que representaba la madurez, imitando los frutos y los granos cuando ya están maduros. Algunas de ellas que servían en los templos, teñían su largo pelo negro con un tinte rojo, y sus dientes de negro! así como hacían complicados diseños a línea sobre los brazos o las piernas o en la cara. Los sacerdotes pintaban su cuerpo de negro o lo cubrían con ceniza, ya que el negro y el gris se asociaban con la oscuridad y el conocimiento que debían tener los magos o nigrománticos. Para las fiestas religiosas y para la guerra, los nobles se pintaban como los dioses que aparecen en sus códices, ya que cada persona estaba dedicada a un dios o diosa a quien le rendían culto. La pintura que aplicaban sobre el rostro y el cuerpo se hacía con colores naturales, que obtenían de las piedras, tierras, plantas y flores, que mezclaban con un aceite hecho con unas semillas muy pequeñas llamadas “chia o chian”, con la que también todavía se prepara un agua de beber muy nutritiva y refrescante para el calor.

Professor Cecilia Rossell has answered 7 questions altogether:

Which was the most precious colour for the Aztecs and why?

Why were cocoa beans so valuable?

Did the Aztecs use make-up?

How did the hearts actually get to the gods?

Did they take feathers equally from male and female quetzal birds?

Have traces of real blood been found on the sacrifice knife blades?

How old was the oldest codex?

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