A Brush with Mexican History

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH ITS OCHER-tinged colonial center easily ranks as one of Mexico's prettiest, cleanest, and best preserved, the highland state capital of Tlaxcala, population 75,000, receives scant attention from the country's national and international tourists. Still, the fortunate few who do make a visit are sure to be rewarded not only by a wealth of architectural beauty and archaeological treasures, but also by a series of dazzlingly beautiful murals entitled The History of Tlaxcala and Its Contributions to Mexico Throughout the Ages.

The multi-paneled frescos are the life's work of Tlaxcalan native Desiderio Hernandez Xochitiotzin, who died last year at age 85. The murals are located downtown in the Palacio de Gobierno, a sixteenth-century building elegantly garbed in rust-colored, herringbone-patterned brick, carved gray cantera stone, and intricately sculpted white plaster. Originally undertaken in 1957, when the artist was 35, the paintings provide the important closing chapters to Mexico's exalted mural movement, begun by Diego Rivera in the 1920s and carried forth by the likes of David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco, and Juan O'Gorman.

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Once past the Palacio de Gobierno's yawning central entryway, visitors catch their first glimpses of Hernandez Xochitiotzin's lavish Technicolor masterpiece in its majestic sweep across a 538-square-yard expanse of first-floor walls, columns, and adjacent stairwell. Twenty-four individual episodes recount the tumultuous history of this state, one of Mexico's smallest and most densely populated, and its age-old capital, situated in the country's mountainous eastern central region some 70 miles from Mexico City.

True to its title, the work's begriming sequences, executed over a ten-year period, focus on pre-Hispanic themes--including the arrival of the first human settlers to the fertile Valley of Mexico and the foundation, in the 1300s, of an autonomous Tlaxcalan state that for 200 years fought for survival against the relentless attacks of its neighbors, the warlike Mexica, commonly known as the Aztecs. But the artist's passion for history extends fat" beyond mere battles. …