Post Lot Text
RARE AND IMPORTANT AZTEC FIGURE OF A GOD
CA. A.D. 1450-1521
Carved in the round in pale green tecali onyx , seated with knees raised, entirely robed in a feather birdskin, similar to that of a turkey, possibly a representation of the Creator God, Tezcatlipoca, the face with serene expression and with thinly slit eyes under heavy lids, the well-modeled hands issuing from the bird's legs with claws projecting, and placed to the chest, wearing a beaded necklace, knotted at the nape of the neck, with a rectangular pendant with a skull crowned by seven beads, the head emerging from a crested bird's head with a central ridge pierced with four holes, for insertion of perishable material or feathers, with prominent convex eyes, the reverse with the day sign 7 flower , represented by a vase surrounded by seven circles(fig. 1), flanked by rimmed disks, probably representations of mirrors from which paired streamers extend downward, on his back he sports a circular disk indistinctly carved with a crouching figure, perhaps of the deity himself, with beaded and fringed border, further elements in the field include two birds, possibly turkeys, a crooked staff and coiled rope encirled by four dots, possibly a calendrical symbol or the sign for 'water'.
The size coupled with the use of highly prized green stone (known to the Aztec as chalchihuitl), symbol for the Mesoamerican peoples of plants, sprouting maize, and the fecundity of nature, indicates that the sculpture was an important work certainly serving as a temple idol.
Attributed by H.B. Nicholson as a version of Xochipilli, Flower Prince, in a paper dated November 10, 1976. In a closer study of the iconography there is an argument to identify the idol as a repersentation of Tezcatlipoca in his avatar, nahual , as the Turkey God, Chalchiuhtotolin,-the distinct curved wing tips, the crest on the head, small beak and holes for insertion of feathers are reminiscent of a contemporary drawing in the Codex Borgia (fig. 2). Tezcatlipoca in his full regalia is portrayed with his personal insignia of the 'smoking mirror' as in the Codex Borbonicus (fig.3), a disk with a pair of streamers, indicating smoke, as in the case of the present statue (fig.1). Although humans and nahualis; shared a single soul but lived separate lives, individuals with magical powers could merge with their nahualis, assuming purely animal form, usually for magical purposes. The god who took most advantage of this capability was Tezcatlipoca, the sorcerer god. In the guise of Chalchiutotolin, the jeweled bird, the sinister Tezcatlipoca showed a benevolent side as he could absolve mortals of guilt and mitigate their otherwise inevitable calendar-based fate in sacrificial rites-no other god could perform this last function. See Guilhem Olivier, Moqueries et métamorphoses d'un dieu aztèque, Paris, 1997, for an analysis of Tezcatlipoca and his prominent role in Aztec mythology.
Tezcatlipoca, whose name means 'smoking mirror', was the real Aztec supreme deity. He was the both the giver and taker of life and fortune. Through him the kings derived their legitimacy. The Aztec belief system embraced the principle of duality, the unity of opposites. The constant struggle between Tezcatlipoca, the god of war and witchcraft, and his antithesis and brother, Quetzalcoatl, 'feathered serpent', lord of priests, produced the ages of the world and time itself. The omnipotent Tezcatlipoca, who could look ino the hearts and minds of men with his magic mirror, also held a more positive role as patron of the royal house. "The emperor only reigned by the capricious will of the great god, and on taking office he directed humble prayers to the 'smoking mirror':
Master, O our lord, O lord of the near, O night, O wind, thou hast inclined thy heart. Perhaps thou hast mistaken me for another, I who am a commoner" (Circa 1492, p. 504)