While many other Aztec art works were destroyed, either by the Spanish or by the degradations of time, Aztec stone carvings remain to give us a glimpse into the worldview of this supreme Mesoamerican culture. These masterpieces were discovered in Mexico City in the buried ruins of the former Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan and its grand pyramid, Templo Mayor.
Statue of Coatlicue
Coatlicue was the Aztec’s earth mother goddess, although a fearsome one. Goddess of the earth, childbirth, fertility and agriculture, she represented the feminine power of both creation and destruction. A massive stone statue of Coatlicue was discovered in Mexico City in 1790. Almost 12 feet tall and 5 feet broad, the statue shows the goddess as much a goddess of death as of birth. With two facing serpents as her head, claws on her hands and feet, a skirt of serpents and a necklace of skulls, hands and hearts, she reveals the Aztec’s terrifying view of their gods.
The myth of Coatlicue tells of the birth of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun. The myth of Coatlicue tells of a priestess sweeping the sacred temple on Mount Coatepec when she was impregnated by a ball of feathers. Her son Huitzilopochtli is born full grown when Coatlicue is attacked by her daughter, the moon goddess. The newborn warrior kills his sister and cuts her into pieces, symbolizing the victory of the sun over the moon. The statue was so horrifying that each time it was dug up, it was reburied. The statue now resides at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Stone of Tizoc
The Stone of Tizoc is a carved disk showing the victory of the emperor Tizoc over the Matlatzinca tribe. The emperor had it carved to celebrate his victory and reveal the martial power of the Aztecs. The large, circular disk has an eight-pointed sun carved on the top, which was used for sacrificial battles. A warrior captured in battle was tied to the stone, and armed with a feather lined club. Aztec warriors, armed with obsidian lined clubs, fought the tied warrior and naturally defeated him. The side of the eight-foot diameter disk depicts Tizoc’s victory. The Matlatzincas are shown as despised barbarians, while Tizoc and his warriors are represented as noble Toltec warriors. The Stone of Tizoc artfully mixes sun worship, mythology and Aztec power. Today this masterful carved stone is at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
Another massive stone disk, the carvings on the Sun Stone, also known as the Calendar Stone, show the four consecutive worlds of the Aztecs, each one created by the gods only to end in destruction. This basalt stone, 12 feet in diameter and three feet thick, was discovered near the cathedral in Mexico City in the 18th century. At the center is the sun god Tonatiuh. Around Tonatiuh are the four other suns which met destruction as the gods Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca fought for control. After the destruction of a sun and the epoch it represents, the gods had to recreate the world and humans until finally the fifth sun held. At either side of the center, jaguar heads and paws hold hearts, representing earth. Fire serpents are at the bottom of the stone, as their bodies snake around the edge. The Sun Stone carving is probably the most recognized artwork of the Aztec world.
This article is part of our larger resource on Aztec civilization. For a comprehensive overview of the Aztec Empire, including its military, religion, and agriculture, click here.