We are grateful to Prof. Irene Herner for her assistance cataloguing this work.
The present work is relevant in understanding the development of Siquieros’s iconography. There are several significant elements which occur repeatedly throughout the artist’s trajectory, one of which is his use of monumental anthropomorphic landscapes such as Aurora de México (1945) and Azufre de México (1967), in which he fashioned the mountain through the use of a monumental head from the ancient Mesoamerican Olmec culture. As well, the image appropriated several interpretations of the skeleton motif referring to pre-Columbian concepts of death as exploited by the graphic artist José Guadalupe Posada.
While Siqueiros employed the pre-Columbian masks which he endowed with a sense of the modern, symbolic, and even theatrical, other influences can be discerned including the work of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrá whom the young artist had met in 1921; Siqueiros was also fascinated with metaphysical objects, particularly the representation of mannequins and mechanical figures evocative of that era’s fascination with fantasy and robots. Furthermore, there are additional representations of heads, torsos and faces without features that appear in his work and hint at some of René Magritte’s paintings of faces covered by veils. Siqueiros also exploits the mask’s theatrical essence as instrument of representation in this work. The face is not depicted with photographic realism but rather in conceptual terms, which alludes to anonymity and what is intrinsically implied in the use of other masks, allowing for the concealing or masking of the individual on behalf of the collective.
Siquieros delighted in the dual characteristics that the mask embodies—that is, the power to conceal and reveal the human face. He was equally intrigued by both ancient masks and the iron masks Cortés and his men wore. The artist emphasized this potent duality in his 1951 mural in the Palacio de Bellas Artes, in the figure of Cuauhtémoc redivivo who appears as the biblical David who has triumphed against Goliath, a colossal and mighty horse that now lies beneath his feet. This “David/Cuahtémoc” is dressed in European armor which refers to his dual cultural identity, or mestizaje, as a result of the conquest.
Ídolo Caído is a re-interpretation of the figure in the painting Nuestra imagen actual (1947) and several other works. Siqueiros had spent more than a decade developing the image of Cuahtémoc and his relation to Cortés, in relevance to the construction of identity. It depicts a dynamic foreshortened figure with a covered knotty head which envelops the entire composition. Either feminine or masculine, the idol is a monumental head which, as in all creation myths, springs from the realms of infinity. Inspired by ancient iron armor, the artist illustrates the open space in the mask that allows for sight and breathing rather than the warrior’s full body. The weight or fullness of the head, and indeed its very geometric form, is intended to represent the earth’s dark depths—intense and immeasurable.
Dr. Irene Herner, Professor, School of Political and Social Sciences, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico City