General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Apr 2021/4 Wind
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Mexicolore contributor Stephen Bayley


We’re chuffed that the well-known author, broadcaster, debater and curator, Stephen Bayley, whose books have ‘changed the way the world thinks about design’, has kindly written the following few lines for us on the universal symbolism and role of chairs around the world. As far as the Mexica (Aztecs) and Maya are concerned - for whom a throne was called (see pictures) a ‘jaguar seat’ - his words resonate loud and clear. Cheers, Stephen!

Aztec (L) and Maya (R) thrones - veritable ‘seats of power’...
Aztec (L) and Maya (R) thrones - veritable ‘seats of power’... (Click on image to enlarge)

There is, really, only one way to sit down. The methodology is simple: you lower your fundament into the chair. But in the matter of where you sit, there is an infinity of choice in matters of symbolism and style. Thus, the chair is the paradigm of the designed object: a simple object given layers of meaning, or of ambiguity, by the designer.
The primary association of a chair is with power. Our language gives it away. Bishops have seats. Monarchs have thrones. The senior academic in a university is given a chair and the guiding, authority figure in any organisation is a chairman.
Then there is the subsidiary matter of semantics. They all do the same thing, but a Gothic sedilla, a black leather and chrome executive number, a battered and stained leather club chair or a diagram made of recycled cardboard speak different languages.
The astute sitter will always be aware of these things. When people say “Sit down”, remember it’s not always quite so simple...

The images:-
• Image (L) from the (post-Conquest) Codex Azcatitlan, p. 26 (detail); this depicts the Tenochca lord Acamapichtli on his throne or oceloicpalli. We have digitally manipulated the (public domain) image to remove the name glyph, in order to leave the picture of the throne as clear as possible
• Image (R): Plate 42 from ‘Ancient Monuments of Mexico’, engraved by Gilbert, 1866 (litho), after Johann Friedrich Maximilian von Waldeck (1766-1875). Image courtesy of Philip de Bay, Stapleton Collection, London.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on May 26th 2015

Aztec furniture...

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