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Frida Kahlo’s ‘The Wounded Table’

Frida Kahlo’s The Wounded Table

This introduction to ‘The Wounded Table’ was written specially for us by Dr. Mariella C. Remund, Founder/Director of the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund, Baden-Baden, Germany, where a licensed replica of the original is on exhibition. Probably the most mysterious of Frida’s works - she painted it over a short period of time and under pressure during the first few weeks of her divorce from Diego Rivera - the painting was exhibited for the first time in January 1940; it then disappeared in 1955 on its way to an exhibition in Moscow. Only three photos, taken between 1940 and 1944, are known to document this painting.

Traditionally The wounded Table (1940, oil on canvas, 244 x 122 cm, location unknown) has been compared to The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci; the founders of the Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund researched the painting for three years before having it replicated, and have given the work a totally new interpretation.
The wounded Table is a representation of death (as separation), of the disintegration of Frida Kahlo’s mexicanidad and of her search for her own identity.
NOTE: Diego Rivera felt committed to mexicanidad, by which he meant the return to Mexican origins in order for Mexican people to achieve their own social and cultural self-confidence and identity. By marrying Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo followed him in this commitment.

In The Wounded Table Frida Kahlo presents to the viewer the idea that Mexican Frida also finds herself in the process of disintegration. All the figures and objects in the painting are a symbol of mexicanidad and a symbol of different aspects of Frida Kahlo’s personality.

Pic 2: Nayarit couple on the shelves of the Casa Azul in Mexico.
Pic 2: Nayarit couple on the shelves of the Casa Azul in Mexico. (Click on image to enlarge)

The theatre stage in the painting is dominated by a long Wooden Table around which there are seven figures: Frida is in the centre of the table. On her right side we see a tall Judas figure, then we see Isolda and Antonio, the children of her sister Cristina. On Frida’s left side we see a Nayarit figure and a Skeleton. At the end of the table there is a Deer.

Pic 3: Nayarit woman and child, Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund collection
Pic 3: Nayarit woman and child, Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund collection (Click on image to enlarge)

Frida’s right arm is painted in the form and colour of the arm of a terracotta Nayarit figure which sits next to her. Frida’s hand holds a cup to the mouth of the Nayarit. The template for this Nayarit couple can be found in the pre-Columbian collection of Diego Rivera (see picture 2).
All in all the Nayarit are grave figures and refer to Mexico’s heritage. The Nayarit figure is Frida Kahlo. Frida feeds this figure with her own blood: the blood that Frida has taken from the open wound at her neck. This wound is now dry - Frida has sacrificed herself to mexicanidad.

Pic 4: Nayarit figure in ‘The Wounded Table’
Pic 4: Nayarit figure in ‘The Wounded Table’ (Click on image to enlarge)

The Skeleton is represented as a feminine skeleton with its light rose coloured vagina. It has a round hole in the middle of the stomach, exactly in the place where Frida Kahlo was badly hurt in the bus accident.
It has thick feet, and the right foot is amputated in the middle, exactly like Frida’s right foot whose toes were amputated in 1934. The round head, the big eyes, the open laugh, the ribs structure of the skeleton are not typical of any skeleton Frida Kahlo ever painted. All these features belong to a figure in Aztec mythology: Mictlancíhuatl or the Goddess of the Dead who died herself in child birth.

Pic 5: Images of Mictlancíhuatl surround Frida’s Skeleton figure
Pic 5: Images of Mictlancíhuatl surround Frida’s Skeleton figure (Click on image to enlarge)

In the Aztec pantheon, she was the wife of Mictlantecuhtli, the lord of the underworld, Mictlan. Mictlancíhuatl died giving birth to her child. She looked after the bones of the dead and wore a skirt of rattlesnakes.
The Skeleton, the feminine representation of the Aztec Queen of the Dead, is also Frida Kahlo. The Skeleton (Death) has a close relationship with Frida Kahlo. Death sleeps over her bed (see her painting The Dream), death sits at her table, plays with her hair. In the aftermath of her almost fatal bus accident in 1925, Frida Kahlo wrote to Alejandro: ‘Here Death dances around my hospital bed’.

The tall Judas Figure sits on the right side of Frida. Frida Kahlo painted her face and her famous unibrow on the small head of the Judas. The Judas has the usual fireworks attached to its body, one of the fireworks is also stuck onto Frida’s forehead of the Judas which is unusual for a Judas figure.
The Judas Figure is Frida Kahlo – it has her face and her famous unibrow.
Judas is the symbol of mortality. The Judas embraces the shoulders of Frida, giving the impression that his left arm could be hers. In this way she represented herself totally without arms (i.e. unable to handle the situation), just as in her painting Memories.

Pic 7: One of the table/human legs, alongside Xipe Totec/flayed skin sculpture, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 7: One of the table/human legs, alongside Xipe Totec/flayed skin sculpture, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

The Table looks like as if it would bleed from the interior through the knots, the blood spills on its surface and from the table drops on the floor.
The table has four legs, depicted as human left and right legs. These legs have no skin, so that their fine muscle and tendon structure is visible. The finely flayed legs remind us of the Aztec god Xipe Totec, the mysterious god of agriculture, spring and the seasons, the symbol of death and rebirth of nature. In order to stimulate growth in both nature and humankind, he flays himself to offer food to humans. In his honor people were sacrificed to him. These victims were flayed alive and the priests wore these skins in various rituals.
The Table symbolizes Frida Kahlo with its bleeding wounds and the flayed human legs.

Pic 8: Xipe Totec figure, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 8: Xipe Totec figure, National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

The Children, Antonio and Isolda, are positioned on the left side of the painting. They are Frida Kahlo’s projection of her desire to have children.
The Deer: Granizo (Hail) is painted on the right side of the table. He was one of the favourite pets of Frida. In Aztec culture the deer represented the right foot, the foot which was always a problem for Frida. The Deer represents Frida Kahlo’s surrogate children, like all the pets she kept in her house and that can be seen in her paintings: monkeys, parrots, dogs, cat, the deer.

Pic 9: Deer/human figure, Codex Laud folio 22
Pic 9: Deer/human figure, Codex Laud folio 22 (Click on image to enlarge)

Our Story
The Art Museum Gehrke-Remund in Baden-Baden is worldwide the only holder of the license to replicate the paintings by Frida Kahlo. This license was granted by the sole owner of the rights: the country of Mexico represented by © Banco de México Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2008.
Last year, many visitors asked us why we opened a private museum with the complete works of Frida Kahlo.
Both of us, Dr. Mariella C. Remund and Hans-Jürgen Gehrke, are passionate art lovers and collectors. Hans-Jürgen Gehrke has been studying Frida Kahlo for over 30 years. We have both lived in Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and love this culture.

We have been researching Frida Kahlo’s life and work for many years. The hobby became a passion, and over time, the passion was so great that we wanted to share it with everyone with an open heart and open mind, and are who willing to come to our museum.
To replicate the paintings for our exhibition, we have studied the life and work of Frida Kahlo for many years. This research is ongoing, we work and live in the museum among her entire works. By observing and studying her paintings daily, we have discovered new insights about Frida Kahlo, and found unknown correlations among her works.

In order to exhibit The Wounded Table, we have carried out research in seven languages; above all, we had to put behind us our own European background.
We had to immerse ourselves in Frida Kahlo’s Mexican, pre-Columbian culture and take into account Frida’s emotional state, which influenced her as she painted The Wounded Table during 1939-1940.

We are grateful to all those who have provided us with the basis for the research on Frida Kahlo’s life and work. Above all, we are grateful that Frida Kahlo was such an extraordinary person whose traces we still follow.

The Wounded Table was exhibited for the first time to mark the celebration of the first anniversary of the Museum opening on February 26th 2010.

Picture sources:-
• All images courtesy Kunstmuseum Gehrke-Remund, except:-
• Pic 7r and Pic 8: photos by Ana Laura Landa/Mexicolore
• Pic 9: scanned from our own copy of the ADEVA facsimile of the Codex Laud, Graz, Austria, 1966.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Mar 20th 2010

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