An Aztec Mystery Lady and the Power of Twitter

This is an example of the power of Twitter as a way to connect with a community of experts.  Capture

On the 25th of June, my Year 8s and I attended the fabulous Aztec exhibition at Melbourne Museum. In class we had studied a mural by Diego Rivera. It was created in 1945 and adorns the walls in the Palacio Nacional de Mexico. (See information here and backup link here).

This massive mural was also prominently displayed in the exhibition and it was there that my students and I started wondering about the lady with the white lilies who is handed a severed arm by some shady and lascivious characters. While in the museum, I sent a tweet to the knowledgeable, helpful and friendly people at Melbourne Museum, asking them if they knew who she was.

Below is our Twitter conversation, which involves Liz Suda (Program Co-ordinator, Humanities Education at Melbourne Museum) and Cam Hocking (Digital Education Programs Coordinator at Museum Victoria), as well as a Luis M. Castañeda, an Assistant Professor of Art History in New York. Cam and Liz also asked Professor Barry Carr’s opinion, who is the Senior Fellow at the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University. This is what Prof. Carr wrote:

“The tall woman with the provocative pose in the photographic blow up from the (1945) Diego Rivera mural (the Grand Tenochtitlan) at the Melbourne Museum Aztec exhibition has not been definitively identified. It COULD be La Malinche (and somewhere Rivera did hint at this) but it might not be because of the way her appearance is handled in this (fairly late – 1945) mural. The problem is that Rivera’s murals dealing with the pre-conquest years were painted over a very long time period (from the mid and late 1920s through the mid and late 1940s) and his politics and vision underwent significant changes during these two decades. Most analysts see her in the 1945 mural as a courtesan and most guidebooks and official descriptions see her as Xochiquetzal, the Aztec goddess of flowers and love. Malinche does appear in another part of Rivera’s many murals painted at the National Palace (painted over a very long period), a mural completed in 1951 which shows the arrival of Rivera. It is famous because it show Cortes as a hunchback syphilitic, the branding of Indians etc. Partially concealed is a representation of Malinche. Malinche does definitely appear in some other murals painted by another of the ‘three greats’ as Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco are called. Jose Clemente Orozco has Malinche appear in one of the (1926) murals he did at the (then) National Preparatory Dchool (now the San Ildefonso building just north of the Templo Mayor). “


So, there you have it…

As is often the case in (Art) History, there is no clear answer. La Malinche is a likely candidate, but we can’t discount that she is a courtesan or the Goddess Xochiquetzal.

Thank you Liz, Cam, Barry and Luis, it was fun!