Mask, possibly of Tlaloc

Mixtec-Aztec (Mexica)
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General Description

The Aztec Empire, founded in 1325 CE by nomads who settled in the Valley of Mexico, was the last great indigenous state of Mesoamerica. From the capital of Tenochtitlan (present day Mexico City), Aztec authority spread by conquest to encompass much of Mexico before the Spanish arrived in 1519 CE. Human sacrifice was a critical element in Aztec ritual and is often depicted in Aztec art. Art included both vigorously realistic stone sculpture and finely crafted small‑scale works in ceramic, stone, and precious materials, such as turquoise. The art form of turquoise mosaic, which originated among the Mixtec of Oaxaca, enhanced the surfaces of masks, headdresses, shields, sacrificial knives, helmets, pectorals, staffs, and other objects. The concentric circles around the eyes of the Dallas mask are an identifying feature of the rain and storm god Tlaloc. For the Aztecs, turquoise symbolized the preciousness of life, the blue of the sky, and the blue of water, which was associated with Tlaloc. Mosaic masks may have adorned images of deities or been worn by god impersonators. In Oaxaca they were placed on the bundled bodies of the deceased, who were enshrined as venerated ancestors.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Mask, possibly of Tlaloc (1979.2)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 50.

  • Carol Robbins, "Mask, possibly of Tlaloc (1979.2)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 193.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

Fun Facts

  • There are two categories of pre-Columbian mosaic masks—those which were in use at the time of the Conquest, which after falling into Spanish hands were sent to Europe during the early to mid-16th century—and those masks which had been buried (as grave goods or dedicatory caches) prior to the Conquest, which have since been found in various archaeological contexts. This mask is of the former class, and it is one of less than thirty objects of various types (other mosaic-covered objects, featherwork, wood and gold objects) which have survived above ground from the early 16th century to the present. As such, its condition is far better than is the case for almost all of the objects which have been archaeologically recovered. Less than two dozen whole or fragmentary masks are known, and of these, a number are either heavily restored or in a very poor state of preservation.