Sunday, October 7, 2018

Thinking about the art of Teotihuacan

This post consists of an outline of themes and topics that relate to the art of Teotihuacan. It is focused on the objects in the exhibit, Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire, currently at the Phoenix Art Museum. This is not a guide to the exhibit. Instead, I describe some of the main themes, gods, contexts, media, and rituals, all found in the objects at the exhibit. For more information about Teotihuacan, see an earlier post on this blog, "Resources on Teotihuacan."  I am an archaeologist, not an art historian, and I am a relative newcomer to Teotihuacan research. If you find errors or problems in the list, or if you have suggestions or reactions, please feel free to email me.

Themes and categories in the exhibit, “Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire”

Dr. Michael E. Smith, Arizona State University,  October 6, 2018

Major Themes in the exhibit

1.       Religion and ritual (most items relate to these)
2.       Wealth and prosperity (the overall impression of all the objects, and the city)
3.       Foreign connections (see especially the Zapotec stela and urn from Oaxaca)
4.       Urbanization (city size, economic activities, housing, domestic ritual)
5.       Aztec heritage (gods and other elements from Teotihuacan were later used by the Aztecs)

The Main Gods:

1.       Storm god (goggle eyes, fangs and curled upper lip, holding lightning bolts), Rain, storms, fertility; also, military might and battle.
2.       Old fire god (sculptures, an old man sitting cross-legged with a receptacle for a hat).
3.       Feathered serpent (pretty obvious).


·       The tunnel under the Feathered Serpent Pyramid (objects near the entrance)
·       Pyramids:
o   Pyramid of the Sun
o   Pyramid of the Moon
o   Feathered Serpent Pyramid
·       Civic complexes:
o   Xalla
o   Plaza of the Columns
·       Residences


·       Mural paintings (fresco technique)
·       Large stone sculptures (of basalt, andesite)
·       Masks, statues, and other objects of fine-grained stone
·       Jewelry and small objects
·       Almenas (roof ornaments: geometric, animal-form, and storm-god images)
·       Stucco-painted ceramic vessels (fresco technique; vessels from domestic offerings)
·       Other ceramic vessels
·       Ceramic figurines
·       Shell and animal bones
·       Obsidian cores


·       Offerings
·       Incense
·       Scattering
·       Sacrifice

For more information, see my prior post.  Or check out the Twitter feed of the ASU lab at Teotihuacan:, or mine:

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