Aztec society was militaristic and regimented, and their art and culture show a pervasive interest in ritual and the symbolism of death. Guided by a sense of divine destiny, and a complex religion that included the practice of blood-sacrifice to ensure the daily reappearance of the sun and the survival of their people, the Aztec established themselves as masters over much of Mesoamerica north of the Maya area until the conquest of their capital at Tenochtitlan (modern-day Mexico City) by the Spanish in 1521.
The Aztec pantheon included a vast number of gods who encapsulated almost every function of time and life. The Kimbell’s Seated Man was probably a local cult image and may have served as a guardian figure for the stairway of an Aztec temple platform. On ceremonial occasions he may have held a banner staff in his right hand and perhaps wore a special costume. His sturdy body and coarse features indicate that he is an old macehualli, or man of the people. The bold facial scarification and more subtle, abstract patterns on the kneecaps, shoulder blades, and vertebrae suggest that he also represents the “Old God,” Huehueteotl, the Aztec patron of fire, and lord of the center of the Universe. At its most successful, Aztec sculptures, such as this, have a striking and monumental directness that sets them apart from their Maya and other Mesoamerican predecessors.
Adult: Seated Man, Possibly Huehueteot
Jacques Ullmann, Paris;
(Judith Small Galleries, New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1969.