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Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec lord of death

Aztec fired clay, stucco and paint figure of Mictlantecuhtli, c. 1480, height 176 cms., Templo Mayor Museum, Mexico City (this piece came to London as part of the major ‘Aztecs’ exhibition at the Royal Academy, 2002-3).

In August 1994 two monumental ceramic figures of Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec god of the dead, were found by leading Mexican archaeologist Leonardo López Luján and his team on benches in the remains of the House of Eagles, north of the Templo Mayor, in tunnels excavated under the street Calle Justo Sierra in central Mexico City. This is one of those figures.

Made from five pieces of clay fired at a low temperature, the sculpture shows Mictlantecuhtli stripped of half his flesh and wearing a loincloth. His hands are enormous claws and his large head has holes where the Aztecs placed curly hair characteristic of all deities of the earth and death. From the god’s stomach hangs a huge liver, the organ that was home of the ihíyotl (spirit). Since ancient times the liver had been associated with death and Mictlan, the lowest part of the universe, damp and cold, where Mictlantecuhtli lived.

Adapted from the RA exhibition catalogue ‘Aztecs’, p. 458

Photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore

Learn more about the Aztecs’ belief in the afterlife