Mexica/Aztec vs. Teotihuacan Art Styles

In my online course on Teotihuacan’s history, art and archaeology, I mention that part of Teotihuacan’s legacy lived on in the Aztec/Mexica culture. The Mexica were latecomers to Mesoamerica, and came to the Basin of Mexico from the north. They quickly adopted many Mesoamerican customs and legends, and claimed descendance from the great civilizations of Central Mexico in an effort to promote their authority. 

One of the ties that they touted most frequently was their tie with Teotihuacan. By the time of their arrival in the Basin of Mexico, Teotihuacan had been lying in ruins for hundreds of years. It became a place of myth for the Mexica, the legendary birthplace of the Fifth Sun of existence. Colonial sources tell us that Moctezuma, the Mexica tlatoani (or ruler) would make a pilgrimage to Teotihuacan every 20 days with his priests. It was actually the Mexica that gave us the names by which we know the great pyramids of Teotihuacan: the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon (although evidence suggests that these names might be inaccurate). 

The Mexica didn’t limit their adoration of Teotihuacan to pilgrimages. They also performed “excavations” at Teotihuacan and displayed the items they found in their city. They mimicked Teotihuacan’s architecture and art, even constructing temples in the Sacred Precinct of Tenochtitlan in the same talud-tablero style found at Teotihuacan. 

Because of the Mexica’s great love for Teotihuacan, there is a great similarity between Teotihuacan and Mexica art. In fact, the two are often mistaken one for another! Here are just some of the aspects of art shared by both Teotihuacan and the Mexica:

Huehueteotl from Teotihuacan (left) and Tenochtitlan (right). Image property of Mesoamerican Studies Online.

Huehueteotl: Known as the Old God of Fire at Teotihuacan, Huehueteotl is shown as an old man, hunched over and carrying a brazier on his head. 

Tlaloc vase from Teotihuacan (left) and Tenochtitlan (right). Image property of Mesoamerican Studies Online.

Tlaloc: Tlaloc is the Mexica god of lightning, rain and storms, inspired by imagery seen at Teotihuacan. At Teotihuacan, he is seen frequently, although many times scholars use the term “Storm God” to refer to him. 

Images property of Matos Moctezuma and Lopez Lujan.

Mural Imagery: Teotihuacan murals frequently employed hands with liquids dripping from them. In this example from a book chapter by archaeologists Matos Moctezuma and Lopez Lujan, you can see a comparison of Teotihuacan murals and the imitation made by the later Mexica. 

What other examples can you name?

Art Style Aztec Mexica Teotihuacan Tlaloc Vase Storm God

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