Sunday, 1 November 2009

You say Moctezuma, I say Montezuma


Himself and I went to The British Museum because they have an exhibition on at the moment called 'Moctezuma - Aztec Ruler'. It was very easy ordering the tickets online, again* but I thought the booking fee on top of the ticket price was rather cheeky, given that I had to print off two pages of waffle to take with me and then they didn't even give us a ticket, just waved us both in with no more than a cursory glance at the paperwork.

I was somewhat perplexed that the museum called Moctezuma an 'Aztec Ruler' and then told us right at the beginning of the exhibition that in fact Moctezuma was the ruler of the Mexica (pronounced Meh-shee-ka) empire and lived in Tenochtitlan (now Mexico city) and the Aztec empire was no where near where Moctezuma ruled, so we weren't to use the term as it was wrong. Erm, huh? Also, the museum called him Moctezuma, rather than the way we know his name saying that the 'Mon' was the English way of spelling and 'Moc' was the Spanish version, but the Mexica people used glyphs of his name anyway, so the spelling was neither here nor there!
As is usual at these things, no photos were allowed inside the exhibition, so I bought a couple of postcards of interesting pieces.This is the front of a skull from a human sacrifice which has turquoise, lignite and iron pyrite mosaics attached.It's 19.5cm (8") high. A group of people called the Mixtec were very skilled at making these tiny mosaics. The skull was very recognisable as human, those teeth are the original victim's teeth, you can also see that the mosiac has fallen off here and there and so you can see the skull underneath. The back head was cut away and the edges are 'neatened' with leather binding and leather straps which would have tied around the waist of a priest like a belt - Mmm, nice eh? This rather lovely double headed serpent is another mosaic, about 35cm long. No postcards were available of the best mask, so I'll show you this instead. This mask was tiny, only about 17/18cm tall, but really beautiful and not made with a human head. The Mexica were a gruesome lot, offering human sacrifices on a colossal scale. Many of the exhibition pieces were of carved stone, either to sit on, store personal objects in or hold human skulls. There were also many different Spanish books called Codex, which depicted day to day life as they saw it both in writings and drawings. It took us two hours to get round the exhibit, as there was much to look at and read.

The detailed explanation of the sophisticated Mexica calendar was very interesting, each cycle was 52 years long and the new cycle was 'celebrated' with fires and of course the obligatory human sacrifices. Clearly the Mexicas would not have made good neighbours!

Overall though, I felt rather slightly underwhelmed by the exhibition. The few pieces of gold and turquoise jewellery on show were beautiful, but I would like to have seen what many of the objects looked like when actually worn. Lip ornaments for instance? Moctezumas glyph showed a lip ornament, but I have no idea how it looked.

They had a few nose ornaments that had curvy things at the top which I presume hooked in to the nostrils, although some seemed way too big, or maybe they hooked outside somehow – it was never explained. The ear barrel thingys, some were gold (tiny), some were jade/turquoise (medium size) and some were stone (huge, and I mean 8-10cm) but again, no explanation of how they got them in, exactly who wore what and if they were worn daily or only high days and holidays – well er, sacrifice days?!

I wasn’t prepared to buy the exhibition book (£25) this year. I was disappointed at the lack of smaller/cheaper pictures/postcards. They had plenty of knick knacks/rubbish and some nicer items for sale, but very few postcards – which is a shame.

I didn't find any 'wow' pieces in the exhibition, but that's probably just me. Oh, it's all a bit negative isn't it? Hey, what can I say, Himself thought it was still a pretty good exhibition.

* We went to the 'First Chinese Emperor' exhibition last year, those terracotta figures were fantastic.

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