Journey to the Country of Gods. Mexico. Monuments
of the Past
23 July, 2002 - 13 October, 2002
The exhibition opened in Nicholas Hall and Anteroom of the Winter Palace
(No. 191, 192) is dedicated to the art of Mesoamerica, an area covering
most of Mexico and Central America.
The show includes over 261 exhibits from 16 museums of Mexico and 9 exhibits
from the Hermitage collection. These are ceramic, stone and gold artifacts
created by the civilizations of Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs, Totonacs, Mixtecs,
Zapotecs and West Mexican peoples from the 2nd millenium BC to 1521 AD
(date of the conquest of Mexico by Hernan Cortes).
The materials are organized according to the thematic principle. Sergei
Eisensteie's film Mexican Fantasy is showed in Anteroom.
The theme Society comprises sections Rulers, Warriors, Priests and Shamans
and Everyday Life. Visitor's eye is caught by the giant head of a ruler
which was carved by Olmecs from hard stone in the period from 1500 to
200 BC. Reliefs glorifying rulers' deeds in the lands of Mayas and Zapotecs
date from the epoch before 900 AD. The military caste which appeared around
the 2nd century took control of the state. Statues, vases, vessels, urns
and drums showed in the exhibit carry images of warriors. Since times
immemorial shamans cured people and were in charge of the calendar of
agricultural works. Later they grew into the caste of priests. The exhibition
shows sculptures of priests and cripples. Hunchbacks and dwarves were
believed to be marked by gods and to act as intermediaries between gods
and humans. The Everyday Life section comprises things depicting people
and their various pursuits.
The theme Mask tells about man's second face which was of ritual importance.
The most ancient masks are made from clay with images of fantastic animals
or creatures. Olmecs and Mayas carved them from jade, giving them idealized
features. All ancient Mexican masks are funereal. Among the many masks
showed in the exhibit is one of the three masks from Teotihuacan, found
in rooms and passages of administrative buildings and temples along the
Road of the Dead.
The Gods section introduces the most important divinities of the pantheon,
gods and goddesses of sun, fertility, fire, death, war, rain and maize.
They are depicted in sculptures, urns, vases and incense-burners. Worship
of gods and observance of rituals and ceremonies was people's principal
obligation. The Ritual theme includes the sections Ball Game and Sacrifices.
Religious ceremonies of the country's ancient peoples were very complicated.
Of utmost importance was the veneration of ancestors. The exhibition shows
incense-burners, pyramidal temple models, musical instruments and statuettes
of praying people. Ancient Mexicans sacrificed to gods objects made from
clay, wood, metal and precious stones. Some of rituals included ball game,
blood letting and human sacrifices. Ball game had a religious sense, being
part of the ritual relating to the eternal cycle of life and death. Competition
result had great political and religious significance. Blood spurting
from the beheaded body of the losing team's captain was perceived as a
symbolic libation in honor of fertility gods. The show includes basalt
and terracotta sculptures with images of players and objects used in the
game. The theme of sacrifices is further illustrated by donative objects,
knives, vessels and boxes with symbols of the sun, sculls and dead heads.
The Animals and Plants section shows vessels, plates, masks, reliefs,
urns, necklaces, incense-burners and statuettes depicting various animals.
Ancient Mexicans' idea of the world included three levels. Underneath
was the nether world, the kingdom of the dead. The upper world was inhabited
by gods, warriors who fell in battle and women who died in accouchement.
The middle level was the world of humans, animals and plants. Special
importance of the world of animals is showed by the belief that every
man had a double, who was often an animal.
The section Mexican Antiquities in the Hermitage Collection shows anthropomorphic
and zoomorphic statuettes and masks and the masterpiece of the jeweler's
art, the Aztec golden breast decoration in the form of an eagle warrior
known as the Aztec Bell.
This exhibition is a virtual encyclopedia of the country's pre-Columbian
history which gives everybody a chance to make his or her own discovery
of the New World. Slaviya Publishers issued a catalogue of the exhibition
Bell in the Form of an Eagle Warrior
Head of a Statue
Oaxaka Valley (?)
Dog with a Corn-cob in its Teeth
Tripod Vase with the God of Death