900 – 1300 A.D.

  • Height : 138 cm
  • Width : 62 cm

Brown hollow terracotta. 

Anthropomorphic sculpture representing Cihuateotl, the protective goddess of the souls of the women who had died in childbirth.

The almost human-sized goddess is standing with her hands placed on her belly, which presents three postpartum folds. Her chest is naked. She is dressed with a skirt covering her legs to below the knee and held by a belt made up of shells hanging from several parallel strips. She wears a pair of sandals tied with a wide ribbon. She is attired with circular earrings with large pendants resting above her breasts. An elaborate headdress tops her head; it consists of a turban adorned with feathers and two pieces of fabric that fall down at the back of the ears, just above the shoulders. Her eyes are closed and her mouth is open, which symbolizes Death that deified her and destined her as companion of the sun.

The Aztecs believed that the souls of women who had died in childbirth were transformed into demons called Cihuateteo, or “Celestial Princesses”. They resided in the west known as Cihuatlampa, or “region of the women”. While the spirits of warriors dead in battle were to accompany the sun in its journey from sundown to zenith, the Cihateteo were to continue and deliver the sun to the Underworld.

This life-sized feminine sculpture is typical of Central Veracruz. It is dated from the period that probably corresponds to the beginning of the Aztecs. It is hollow and was built in two parts, which was necessary for such large-sized works. It was probably put against a pyramid, which explains her not totally straight position. It may have been placed inside a temple, in a shrine dedicated to Cihuateotl. This piece is absolutely exceptional due to its size, condition and iconography, and is reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition Mexique. Terre des Dieux that took place at the Rath Museum in Geneva, from October 8th 1998 to January 24th 1999.

Provenance: Ancient European collection since 1964.

Publication: Mexique. Terre des Dieux, exh. cat., from October 8th 1998 to January 24th 1999, Musée Rath, Geneva, p. 251, n°287.