General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 21 Apr 2018/1 Deer
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Is this tattoo an Aztec eagle design?

ORIGINAL QUESTION received from - and thanks to - David Lasher: A colleague of mine has what I believe is an Aztec eagle tattoo (on her shoulder). I noticed it as I am interested in Aztec art and asked her about the piece. As a Hispanic woman, all she knew was that she chose this art as it was Aztec or Mayan or Latin American (in general). She doesn’t know anything else about it. She didn’t even know it was an eagle (as I think it is). It is my hope you can identify whether it is in fact an Aztec eagle. Anything else you know about the specific drawing would be most appreciated. As I found an identical drawing online in less than three minutes (by searching “Aztec Eagle”), I want to assume that this design is either very common, widely distributed or simply known as a common Aztec eagle representation. (Answered by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Pic 1: The tattoo and a matching online ‘Aztec eagle’ graphic
Pic 1: The tattoo and a matching online ‘Aztec eagle’ graphic (Click on image to enlarge)

The original drawing was made some eighty years ago by a well-known Mexican historian and artist - one of the pioneers of the Mexican post-Revolution ‘Mural Renaissance’ - Jorge Enciso (1880-1969). It was first published in his major book Designs and Devices of Ancient Mexico (original in Spanish, Sellos del Antiguo México, Mexico City, 1947), and the illustration your colleague has on her shoulder is found on p. 103 (see pic 2).

Pic 2: Page 103 of Jorge Enciso’s original work ‘Sellos del Antiguo México’
Pic 2: Page 103 of Jorge Enciso’s original work ‘Sellos del Antiguo México’ (Click on image to enlarge)

As you may be able to read by enlarging Picture 2, Enciso describes the graphic as a ‘fantastic bird design’ based on a pre-Hispanic flat clay stamp from Culhuacán, (present day Mexico City). So it’s not an eagle or any other specific bird. As he wrote himself in his book Pre-Hispanic Mexican Stamp Designs (Dover Publications, NY, 1974, p.49) ‘The great majority of birds in ceramic stamps defy identification; they are mostly fanciful feathered creatures, usually birdlike but seldom like any particular bird.’

See more about Jorge Enciso in our ‘Clay Stamps’ feature...

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