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Moctezuma II London symposium logo

Moctezuma II: Symposium and Exhibition

With an international symposium in March followed in September by a blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum, 2009 is proving to be Moctezuma’s year! (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Elizabeth Baquedano chairs the Moctezuma symposium
Elizabeth Baquedano chairs the Moctezuma symposium (Click on image to enlarge)

On Friday March 13th at the Institute of Historical Research and on Saturday March 14th at the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, an inspiring international symposium on Moctezuma II took place, organised by Dr. Elizabeth Baquedano of University College London.

One of the more obscure portraits of Moctezuma II - from ‘Indian Races of North and South America’ by Charles de Wolf Brownell, published in 1864, p. 65
One of the more obscure portraits of Moctezuma II - from ‘Indian Races of North and South America’ by Charles de Wolf Brownell, published in 1864, p. 65 (Click on image to enlarge)

The speakers, invited from Britain, USA, Mexico, Spain, Poland and France, gave the following papers (Friday in Spanish):-
José Contel (Université du Littoral, Cote d’Oppale): Ahuitzotl o la Predestinación de un Tlatoani: Ensayo sobre el nombre de los Reyes Aztecas
Juan José Batalla (Universidad Complutense de Madrid): La representación de Motecuhzoma II en los códices: contextos en los que aparece figurado y análisis historiográfico
Patrick Lesbre (Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail): Entrevista entre Moctezuma y Nezahualpilli: Augurio de la Conquista
Katarzyna Mikulska (Universidad de Varsovia): Escapando a Cincalco: las facultades (no) divinas de Moctezuma Xocoytzin

The remains of the stone portrait of Moctezuma II, facing East towards the city of Tenochtitlan from Chapultepec hill
The remains of the stone portrait of Moctezuma II, facing East towards the city of Tenochtitlan from Chapultepec hill (Click on image to enlarge)

(Saturday in English):-
Nicholas James (Independent Scholar): Urban crisis: Manners in Tenochtitlan
Elizabeth Graham (Institute of Archaeology, UCL): Warfare and the Faces of Tribute
Patrick Hajovsky (University of Texas at San Antonio): Moctezuma’s Portrait at Chapultepec
Elizabeth Baquedano (Institute of Archaeology, UCL): Fit for a King: Gold among the Aztec élite
Emily Umberger (Arizona State University): Aztec Historical Thought: Moctezuma II and the Conquest of Mexico
Stacie Widdifield (University of Arizona): Moctezuma in the 19th Century: from Archaeology to diplomacy
Patrick Johansson (Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, Universidad Autónoma de México): Moctezuma’s Death: history and mythology

‘Cortes and Montezuma’ - title page of ‘Indian Races of North and South America’
‘Cortes and Montezuma’ - title page of ‘Indian Races of North and South America’ (Click on image to enlarge)

Many insights were offered in the presentations:
- Juan José Batalla drew our attention to several of the anomalies and pitfalls in interpreting images and references to Moctezuma in the codex record that have been added/later retouched/falsified or even simply missing where we would expect to find them
- Patrick Lesbre explored the relationship between Moctezuma and the great Texcocan king Netzahualpilli (who gave M lessons in star reading and in dignity and strong leadership...); did you know that M and N played the ballgame together? (N one 2-0!)
- Katarzyna Mikulska explored the supernatural abilities that ‘men-gods’ such as M and N were believed to possess
- Patrick Hajovsky interpreted the steadily fading clues on the badly eroded sculpted portrait of Moctezuma II on Chapultepec hill: he stressed the value of older photographs of the monument, such as those on this page, taken in 1968 by Werner Forman

Detail of the richly decorated headdress that many believe was a gift from Moctezuma to Cortés
Detail of the richly decorated headdress that many believe was a gift from Moctezuma to Cortés (Click on image to enlarge)

Two highlights for Mexicolore, however, were undoubtedly
• Nicholas James’s brilliant analysis - illustrated entirely and to great effect by one simple line drawing by the hugely influential Mexican illustrator Alberto Beltrán - of Aztec ‘sumptuary rules’ (essentially, ‘dressing to impress...’) alongside the traditional emphasis on modesty and reserve, in a fast-growing and ever more complex and anonymous metropolis - and
• Patrick Johansson’s penetrating study - and a fine ending to the symposium - of how to interpret the few ‘facts’ and the abundant mythology surrounding Moctezuma’s death: more important than what actually happened is grasping - from the Aztec/Mexica perspective - the way it should have happened...

The symposium - the timing for which Dr. Baquedano stressed was coincidental to the exhibition - provided a welcome backdrop to the major British Museum exhibition scheduled for the autumn of 2009. The last in the BM series on great rulers, the exhibition has already been promoted in the media as posing a challenge to established views of Moctezuma’s last days: according to The Guardian,
New exhibition challenges view of Aztec emperor Moctezuma as traitor - contrary to popular belief, the Aztec emperor Moctezuma was murdered by his Spanish captors and not by his own people, the British Museum will argue in a new exhibition that will try to rehabilitate the emperor’s image as a traitor.
It promises to be a blockbuster...

Mexicolore will be running workshop sessions for schools in support of the exhibition, in November/December 2009 and January 2010. See us there...!

Picture sources:-
• Symposium photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore
• Line drawings of Moctezuma and ‘Cortés and Montezuma’ scanned from Indian Races..., op.cit. (private collection)
• Photos of Moctezuma’s sculpted portrait and of his headdress (original in Vienna) courtesy of the Werner-Forman Archive

Read more about Moctezuma’s death

Learn more about Moctezuma’s headdress

British Museum website for ‘Moctezuma - Aztec Ruler’ exhibition
British Museum Press Release on Moctezuma
Read The Guardian’s article
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