Jacques Soustelle, Arts of Ancient Mexico, 1966, pg. 122
As Aztec culture was, in essence, agrarian, cults and deities arose which were associated with important plants, and the most important representations in Aztec art are those which relate to agriculture. Maize was the most important food to the Aztecs, and as such was personified in several deities, with an overall God named Centeotl. The maize seed was thought to be female however, and was personified by the Goddess Chicomecoatl, who was the goddess of ripe maize, and venerated at harvest time. Her name means 'seven serpent' in the Nahuatl language, and was both the name of a day in the Tonalpohualli, the ritual 260 day calendar, and an allusion to fertility, of which the serpent was a symbol.
In one hand the Goddess holds maize ears, while her raised hand would have held a rattle staff, or chicahuaztli, a ritual instrument used in fertility ceremonies. She is beautifully dressed in a tasseled quechquemitl and a majestic façade headdress known as an amacalli. This headdress, which is the hallmark of Chicomecoatl, was constructed of paper in emulation of the front of a temple, and would have been festooned with coloured paper streamers, knots, and rosettes. The Goddess' beatific face appears at the centre of this great edifice as if peering out from the entrance to a temple. The Codex Borbonicus illustrates Chicomecoatl in all her splendor during the Ochpaniztli harvest ritual (Pasztory, Aztec Art, 1983, p. 218 & pl. 34).
The massive and stiff headdress façade is in marked contrast to the rounded maize ears and elements of fertility. As Pasztory notes, 'the metaphor for fruitfulness is not that of a woman’s ripe or pregnant body [...]' (ibid., p. 219). The Aztec idea of divine power held that power rested not in the body, but in costume and regalia, and 'the body was merely the support for those objects in which the power was thought to reside.' (Pasztory in Boone, Falsifications and Misreconstructions in Pre-Columbian Art, 1982, p. 85). The Goddess is both constrained by the headdress representing the demands of house and harvest, but also honored by the majesty of the architectural adornment.
See Moctezuma and Solís Olguín, Aztecs, 2002, p. 107, cat. no. 109, for the figure of Chicomecoatl, Ethnologisches Museum, Berlin (acc. no. IV Ca 46167). This sculpture was originally part of the 19th century collection of Carl Uhde. Considered the most important collection of Pre-Columbian art outside of Mexico, it was acquired by the Berlin museum in 1862.
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