March 26, 2010

Confrontational Aztec and Roman art

Art review:  'The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire' @ Getty Villa"The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire" is a show of modest size but outsize impact. Not only is the subject unexpected and intriguing, but the loans that have been secured are phenomenal. It's the most impressive show the Getty Villa has organized since reopening four years ago.

The first gallery introduces Spain's conquest of Mexico. A second gallery charts an array of Aztec deities. The third room considers imperial power. In each section, a few European objects are also included.

Here's the premise: Spain's adventure abroad coincided with the Renaissance, which elevated Europe's Greco-Roman history to a position of prominence. In the European mind, circa 1520, the Aztec empire resonated with the ancient Roman empire. What better place to ponder the connection than the Getty Villa, with its European antiquities housed in a Roman-style building?
The confrontational aspects:Monumentality is essential to an art of empire, given the need to be imposing in the face of diverse crowds. Unsurprisingly it is a trait shared by Aztec and Roman sculpture.

The frontality of much of this sculpture is downright confrontational. The Aztec empire was an alliance of three city-states that held its coalition together for about a century, until Cortés. Confrontational art works for a civilization that, like Rome's, ruled its vast territory through a mix of warring aggression and compulsory tributes.
Comment:  I may have to go see this exhibit.

For more on the subject, see Aztec Treasure in Human Target and Human Sacrifice "Prevalent" Among Indians?

Below:  "Goblet with Mictlantecuhtli, 1450-1521."

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