Xipe impersonator

CULTURE:
Aztec (Mexica)
DATE:
1350–1521
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General Description

Perhaps the most gruesome image created by the Aztecs is Xipe Totec, a living man (probably a cult priest) who wears on his head and torso the flayed skin of a sacrificed human. Often, as here, the skin shows the great chest wound that resulted from the victim’s heart having been ripped from him in an act of ritual sacrifice. Xipe’s mouth speaks through the other’s mouth, and his eyes look out through the eye sockets of the dead man.

Yet, the Aztecs associated Xipe with spring, the renewal of the world, and sprouting green plants. As the new plant fed upon the decaying seed mass, so the living Aztec performer wore the skin of a nurturing sacrifice until it rotted. If Xipe’s impersonation of life through death was successful, rain would come and the annual renewal of the agricultural cycle would occur.

Excerpt from

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