In this paper, I will discuss an Aztec stone sculpture held at the University of Iowa Museum of Art (UIMA), a figure referred to by the museum as teomama, or god bearer. The statue portrays a plainly dressed male figure in a loin cloth, his back hunched over as he carries a deity figure on his back. This small sculpture is one of few that have been found with similar iconography, however, little is known about them. The identity of the male figure is of particular importance in this piece because the entire sculpture has been titled by who the male figure is believed to be. However, because the identity of the male figure is unknown the titles museums have applied to this sculpture vary greatly, from slave, to merchant, to man carrying deity figure, and sometimes, to Teomama. My senior thesis and this presentation discuss what spurred the creation of this piece, what influenced its depiction, and what the cultural significance of this piece was, in order to advance knowledge about this class of Aztec sculpture.
I will discuss my piece through the lenses of socio-economic power, trade, and religion; all three primary functions of artistic expression in the Aztec empire. The piece has usually been referred to as a god-bearer, an important figure in the Aztec’s ancient migration from their homeland. However, this argument has always failed to take into account the specificity of the deity carried by the figure. I argue that rather than a mythical or real-god bearer, this sculpture represented an Aztec long-distance merchant. The merchant class had a considerable amount of socio-economic power in society, one that may have rivaled the nobility class, and therefore were able to have sculptures like this made. We can distinctly see references to trade spread through the composition of the piece, for example, the portrayal of the tumpline that was utilized in carrying objects while in trading processions. Lastly, it is through religion that the merchant class had linked themselves to greatness, for the founders of the Aztec empire were four god-bearers that traveled around the Valley of Mexico as lowly people who carried their patron lord and all of his ritual paraphernalia on their back in search of their promised land. However, in the case of the UIMA figure, the deity being carried is Chicomecoatl, a corn goddess that was vital to the livelihoods of the Aztec and an essential deity for their survival, just as the merchant class as well was essential for Aztec society.
Brenda Mejia, ’15
Art & Art History
Sponsor: Ellen Hoobler