José Clemente Orozco, The Departure of Quetzalcoatl (a section from The Epic of American Civilization), 1932-34

Along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Orozco was one of the three famous Mexican muralists in the 1920’s working to reunify Mexico after the Revolution. From 1927-34 Orozco lived in the USA and completed a 300m² mural at Dartmouth College called The Epic of American Civilization. This is one of 24 panels.

Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec god of wind and wisdom, often shown as a feathered serpent, although one myth may have described him as a man of white hair and skin. After the conquistador Hernán Cortés landed in Mayan territory in 1519 and conquered the Aztec Empire of king Moctezuma, Spanish clerics started conflating the story of the Aztec god into their narrative of colonization. They wrote that Moctezuma saw Cortés as Quetzalcoatl incarnate, arriving from the sea, as prophesied in Aztec mythology, and so Moctezuma invited Cortés to take his throne and rule over the empire.

In the painting Orozco shows us a mean Quetzalcoatl (read Cortés) ousting the Mayans from their temple and land. The Mayans recoil to protect themselves.

Leave a Reply