British Museum Presents First Exhibition to Examine the Semi-Mythical Statues of Moctezuma





Completing its series of exhibitions exploring power and empire, the British Museum focuses on the last elected Aztec Emperor, Moctezuma II. Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler is the first exhibition to examine the semi-mythical status of Moctezuma and his legacy today. Loans of iconic material from Mexico and Europe will be displayed, most for the first time in this country. The exhibition anticipates the anniversaries in 2010 of the Independence of Mexico (1810) and of the Mexican Revolution (1910).

Moctezuma (reigned 1502-1520) inherited and then consolidated Aztec control over a politically complex empire that by the early 16th century stretched from the shores of Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Moctezuma was regarded as a semi- divine figure by his subjects charged with the task of interceding with the gods. As a battle-hardened general he was appointed supreme military commander and headed the two most prestigious warriors orders: the eagle and jaguar warriors. He was elected as Ruling Lord (huey tlatoani) in 1502, built a new palace in the heart of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) and restructured the court. The arrival of the Spanish, during Moctezuma’s reign, witnessed the collapse of the native world order and the imposition of a new civilization that gave birth to modern Mexico.

Uniquely, the exhibition will present a biographical narrative of Moctezuma II and reveal the dual nature of his reputation. On the one hand, he is recognised as a successful and cunning warrior but he is also widely perceived as a tragic figure who ceded his empire to foreigners. Divergent interpretations of his mysterious death will be re-examined in the exhibition.

The exhibition will present masterpieces of Aztec culture including the impressive stone monument known as the Teocalli of Sacred Warfare, amongst other works commissioned by Moctezuma himself which bear his image and his name glyph. An exquisite turquoise mask and goldwork will showcase the consummate craftsmanship of artisans employed in the Aztec court and masterly paintings known as “Enconchados” (oil paintings on wooden panels with inlaid Mother of Pearl detail) portray the events of the conquest in vivid detail. Idealized European portraits of Moctezuma and stunning colonial Codices have helped shape our interpretations of Moctezuma and his world...


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