AZTEC - Mexico

1300 - 1521 A.D.

Height: 75.7 cm - Width: 33.8 cm - Depth: 21.7 cm

Brown red andesite       


This sculpture is a masterpiece of Aztec art, by its impressive size, the quality of its carving, its exceptional state of preservation and the importance of the subject represented.

It represents the god Xipe Totec, one of the main deities of the Aztec pantheon. His name means in Nahuatl "our Lord the flayed". He is the deity of life-death-rebirth, god of fertility, but also god of war and patron of goldsmiths. According to mythological tales, he flayed himself to give food to humanity.

His cult seems to have originated among the western Yopi, an ethnic group of Guerrero, during the classic period, then spread during the post-classic period, along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the Veracruz region, and it is probably from there that the Aztecs incorporated Xipe Totec into their own pantheon.

The Aztecs paid tribute to him in the spring, at the annual festival called Tlacaxipehualiztli. For several days, ceremonies were held during which the priests put on the skins of sacrificed war captives. Scholars believe that these events were both hunting and agrarian fertility rites in which the blood was used to feed the land and human remains symbolized the new skin that covered the land, when the rainy season returned.

These traditions explain that statues erected in his honor portray him as a young man, wearing a flayed skin covering all or part of his body. Our work, like most iconic, museum-quality works, presents all the characteristic attributes of the deity Xipe Totec.His face is concealed by a second smooth skin that he wears as a mask, tied with three ropes into a single knot at the back of his head, over his rounded hairdo.

The left arm is placed along the body, the hand is in line with his hip. His right arm is bent at the elbow, the forearm raised and the hand partially clenched, positioned at the level of the chest. The observation of effigies comparable to our work shows that the god is very often represented in this way. He holds in his clenched hand one of the god’s main attributes, the rattle-stick (Chicauaztli in Nahuatl), which were probably made in wood and are no longer there.

We noticed two more hands on this work, one under the right hand and the other behind the left hand. These are those of the sacrificial victim, hanging from his flayed skin. We find them on many representations of Xipe Totec, which, it should be noted, are mostly in terracotta, which makes our work in stone, an extremely rare piece.

A hole has been carved in the sternum. It could have contained a precious stone, among those that pre-Columbians used to endow their statues with magical powers (green stones, pyrite, obsidian, shells, etc.). Below, there is a slight horizontal stitched scar. This would be the opening from which was performed the extraction of the heart.

The legs are bare. The artist has precisely sculpted the thighs, knees and calves. The same care has, moreover, been brought to the whole body perfectly rendered, in its volumes as in its proportions. The feet are missing, they were without a doubt broken off ritually.

On the front, we notice the wearer's lips, inside the gaping mouth of this organic mask. It should be noted that most representations of Xipe Totec have a wide-open mouth.

In profile, we observe the outline of the skin mask affixed on the face of the character, behind the big ears with pierced lobes. The openings of the half-moon eyes have also been sculpted to create the impression of depth.

The skin is intentionally placed inside out over his body. It covers the shoulders, arms, bust and upper legs. The patterns carved on the flayed skin reproduces the marks of the sharp obsidian knives used during the sacrifice. The skinis tied by three knots in the back of the figure.