Description: The statue represents Macuilxochitl (5 Flower) who belonged to a cluster of young solar deities called the Macuiltonaleque. They presided over flowers, feasting, singing, dancing, gaming and painting. They...
The statue represents Macuilxochitl (5 Flower) who belonged to a cluster of young solar deities called the Macuiltonaleque. They presided over flowers, feasting, singing, dancing, gaming and painting. They bore the names of the five calendric days associated with the south direction — Lizard, Rabbit, Grass, Vulture and Flower — with numerical coefficients of five, the numeral signifying excess. The statue in the collection is covered with red iron oxide pigment; the deity wears a short crest of feathers, with side tassel elements hanging from rosettes, and a simple loincloth. Other statues of Macuilxochitl 5 Flower have the same attributes (British Museum, London; Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Völkerkundliches Museum, Mannheim).
This statue once held a perishable flag banner in the left hand known as the yollotopilli, or heart staff. Alternatively, it was a flag staff with the sun tonallo symbol — four circles in a quadrangular arrangement — associated with all the Macuiltonaleque. The missing right hand would have had a bunch of flowers or a shield with the tonallo motif. Carved deity statues with their regalia were placed on the exterior platforms of temples and along the stairways up to them, which broke the sloping angles at intervals with small flat levels. These sloping elements flanking temple stairs have no equivalent in English; the Spanish called them alfardas. Positioned thus, at the top of the stairs and along the small alfarda platforms, deity statues were given their distinctive flags, shields, flowers and painted paper ornaments so that people could recognize who they were.
Next in popularity to the nature gods in Aztec sculpture is the image of the god of music and feasting, one of whose names is Macuilxochitl, meaning 5 Flower. Identifying him are the tall crest on the top of his head and two or three tassels hanging from rosettes on the sides and back; one statue wears a bird helmet as well. A statue of this deity was found in the Escalerillas Street excavation as part of an offering of musical instruments. The Seated God with the Crested Headdress is not, however, one of the major patrons of the thirteen-day divisions of the divinatory calendar. Since the deity is also found among Aztec clay figurines, his cult appears to have been largely a popular rather than a priestly or aristocratic one. A unique version is a sculpture in the British Museum in which the deity's face is a skull and the glyphs 2 Death, 4 House, and 5 Eagle are carved on the back, one of their few skull-headed male deities. This demonstrates dramatically that even the most hedonistic and benevolent Aztec deities may have a close relationship to death. Pasztory, Esther, Aztec Art, Harry N. Abrams, New York, 1983, pg. 225 and plates 176, 196 - 198, 284.
Much of what is known about Macuilxochitl 5 Flower comes from the copious writing of Bernardino de Sahagún, a Franciscan friar, missionary priest and pioneering ethnographer who participated in the conversion of the Aztecs to the Catholic faith. Sahagún was fluent in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and he strongly believed that only by mastering native speech and worldviews could missionaries be effective. He was commissioned in 1558 to write about Aztec customs he considered useful, which allowed his intellectual curiosity complete freedom to question native informants. Primeros Memoriales was his first book, based on two years of fieldwork in villages on the outskirts of Mexico City. This became the basis for a much larger opus, Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España, of which the best know extant parts are the twelve books collectively called The Florentine Codex. The Historia was composed in Mexico City at the College of Tlatelolco, which Sahagún helped found to instruct the Aztecs in Christianity and European culture. It is written in both Nahuatl and Spanish, with drawings by native artists.
Sahagún describes the god Macuilxochitl 5 Flower as painted red, and the deity is shown in red in the Codex Magliabechiano, Codex Borgia and on a figurine painted red from Teotitlan del Camino in Oaxaca. The color association explains why this statue of Macuilxochitl is covered with red iron oxide pigment. Sahagún also notes that the deity had a crest of feathers on his head, a red loincloth, the tonallo sun symbol on his back, shield and sandals, and that he carried the yollotopilli heart staff. In his Primeros Memoriales, Sahagún says: His face is painted bright red. His is a feathered headdress. His crest of feathers. On his back he bears his flaring feather adornment. On it stands his flag with the sun symbol; it has a quetzal feather crest. His red- bordered cloth is bound around his loins. His small bells; his sandals with the sun symbol. His shield with the sun symbol is painted with red ochre. In his other [hand] he carries his heart staff with the quetzal feather crest. The Florentine Codex describes Macuilxochitl as: His face was a fine red; his face glowed red, reddened. He had a crown of feathers, a crest. A fan was the burden on his back, on which stood the sun-flag, with quetzal feathers at the top. His loins were girt by a cloth edged in red. He wore sun sandals.
Macuilxochitl represented pleasure in music, dance, feasting, gambling and sexuality. He was particularly associated with over-indulgence, and was responsible for illness caused by excess, such as venereal disease and hangovers. None of the calendric festivals was dedicated to him; rather he seems to have been a popular god of everyday life. His name was invoked in the house of song and dance, where young people assembled every evening, to practice for festivals and to dance for pleasure. Fray Diego Durán, a stern missionary, wrote of the erotic, evil dances of the young. He also described the gambling practices of people as an addiction that few could escape. Macuilxochitl was the patron of gaming in general, especially patolli, played with beans on a mat painted with squares, and the ballgame tlachtli. Gamblers dedicated to patolli would go about with the mats under their arms and the beans in a little sack; when playing, they would call out to Macuilxochitl and beg the beans to be lucky for them. The Codex Magliabecchiano shows Macuilxochitl 5 Flower presiding over a patolli game. Betting was common with patolli and ballgames, with high losers being forced to relinquish jewelry, slaves and property.
Anderson, Arthur J.O. and Charles E. Dibble, trans. and eds., Florentine Codex, General History of the Things of New Spain by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún, Book I — The Gods, School of American Research and The University of Utah, Santa Fe, no. 14, part II, 1970.
Horcasitas, Fernando and Doris Heyden, trans. and eds., Book of the Gods and Rites and the Ancient Calendar by Fray Diego Durán, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1971.
Pasztory, Esther, Aztec Art, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1983.
Smith, Michael E., The Aztecs, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, 2012.
Spence, Lewis, The Gods of Mexico, Frederick A. Stokes Company, New York, 1923.
Sullivan, Thelma and Henry B. Nicholson, trans. and eds., Primeros Memoriales: Paleography of Nahuatl Text and English Translation, University of Oklahoma Press, 1997.
Townsend, Richard F., The Aztecs, Thames and Hudson, London, 1992.
Umberger, Emily, “Aztec Presence and Material Remains in the Outer Provinces,” Berdan, Frances, Elizabeth Boone, et. al., eds., in Aztec Imperial Strategies, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C., 1996, pgs. 151–179.
Acquired by Jay C. Leff (Uniontown, PA) prior to 1966;
Sotheby's Park Bernet New York, October 10 - October 11, 1975;
Sotheby's Park Bernet New York, February 11, 1977 (lot 108);
Sotheby's New York, November 23 - November 24, 1982 (lot 232) ;
Merrin Gallery, New York ;
Balene McCormick, Houston and Santa Fe;
Economos Gallery, Santa Fe ;
Acquired by present owner (Private Collection, USA) in 2008.
Ancient Art of Middle America from the Jay C. Leff Collection: Huntington Galleries, Huntington,
WV, February 17 - June 9, 1974.
Ancient Art of Latin America from the Collection of Jay C. Leff: The Brooklyn Museum,
Brooklyn, November 22, 1966 - March 5, 1967.
Linduff, Katheryn M., Ancient Art of Middle America - Selections from the Jay C. Leff
Collection, Huntington Galleries, Huntington, West Virginia, 1974, no. 146 (illustrated).
Easby, Elizabeth K., Ancient Art of Latin America from the Collection of Jay C. Leff, The
Brooklyn Museum, 1966, no. 206 (not illustrated).