Mythology, in Art

By Carroll, Colleen | Arts & Activities, February 2013 | Go to article overview
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Mythology, in Art

Carroll, Colleen, Arts & Activities

Hero. Deity. Bird. Serpent. In the pantheon of Mesoamerican history, those four words could only refer to the plumed serpent, Quetzalcoatl. This month's Clip & Save Art Print continues our look at mythical creatures in art with a stone bust of Quetzalcoatl, one of the Aztec creator-gods.

Pronounced "KETS-ull-KOH-ahtl," the hybrid creature composed of a bird and a snake was worshipped throughout the ancient kingdoms of southern Mexico--including the Nahua, the Mixtec, the Zapotec and Toltec--between the late pre-Columbian through the early Colonial periods, approximately 1000-1521.

"According to the Aztec creation myth there were four suns or worlds before the present one, each of them created and destroyed in a different way. When the fourth sun was destroyed by floods the gods decided to create a new one.

"To create a new race of humans, Quetzalcoatl descended to the lower levels of the Underworld. He managed to trick Mictlantecuhtli and retrieved the bones of the people of the fourth sun. With those bones and some of his blood he gave life to the humans that inhabited the present world." (

In another Quetzalcoatl legend, he is tricked by a rival god, commits incest with his sister, and is banished--forcing him to wander throughout the land. Like many hybrid figures in world mythology, Quetzalcoatl's dual nature represents a bridge between the earth and sky.

This beneficent god was also known as a god of wind, fertility, agriculture, books, the Aztec calendar, and the arts. In early 2012, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented Children of the Plumed Serpent: The Legacy of Quetzalcoatl in Ancient Mexico, an exhibition that "follows the historical trajectory of the life and epic stories of the culture-hero and deity.

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