Aztec antiquities — Getty Villa

Aztec antiquities — Getty Villa

Getty Aztec stone

***SYMPOSIUM — Tonight and tomorrow night only***

The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire is currently on view at the Getty Villa through July 5, 2010. This exhibition represents the J. Paul Getty Museum”™s first display of antiquities from outside the ancient Mediterranean as well as the first exhibition on the Aztec empire to be organized in Los Angeles. Masterworks of Aztec sculpture have, for the most part, from the collections of the Museo Nacional de Antropología and the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

Among the most spectacular objects in the exhibition is a green porphyry sculpture from the Museo Nacional de Antropología depicting the decapitated head of the warrior goddess Coyolxauhqui, whose death at the hands of her brother, Huitzilopochtli, represents the origin myth of the Aztec people.

You can see a monstrous 1,200-pound stone head of an Aztec moon goddess, as well as life-size statues of a warrior adorned with eagle feathers, a duck-billed wind god and a demon known as the Lord of Death. Created between 1440 and 1521 the massive artworks are among 64 sculptures, paintings and works on paper in this groundbreaking exhibition.

The Aztec Empire dominated central Mexico from 1460 to 1519, and tribute wealth poured into the capital city of Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City), enabling artists and architects to create works of remarkable sophistication on a monumental scale. Under the ninth emperor, Motecuhzoma II (familiarly known as Montezuma), the empire reached the peak of its size and power. When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés entered the Valley of Mexico in 1519, he witnessed one of the largest metropolises in the world at that time, a cityscape of towering pyramid-temples, floating gardens, and thriving markets. Motecuhzoma”™s splendid island-capital appeared to the Spaniards like a dream, compared only to the fabled cities of Jerusalem, Carthage, and Rome.

Confronting an astonishing civilization that found few precedents, Spanish conquistadors and missionaries frequently viewed Aztec culture through the prism of Greco-Roman history, philosophy, and law. The conquistadors”™ encounters with the civilizations of the Americas coincided with Renaissance Europe”™s rediscovery of classical antiquity. To many Spaniards, the Aztecs were the Romans of the New World.  The Aztec Pantheon examines the unexpected contexts in which classicism prompted a dialogue between Mesoamerica and Europe in the 1500s-1700s, when parallels were routinely drawn between two great empires, the Aztec and the Roman.

“Although Greco-Roman and Aztec cultures are distinct historical phenomena, and developed in isolation from one another, Europeans applied familiar frames of reference to a New World that was largely unfathomable,” explains J. Paul Getty Museum Antiquities Curator Claire Lyons. “Bringing these monumental cult statues, reliefs, and votive artifacts to Los Angeles and showing them in the Roman ambiance of the Getty Villa offers an incredible chance to explore a little-known episode of cultural analogy: the dialogue between the Old and the New Worlds that was sparked in the age of exploration, carried forward during the Enlightenment, and which continues to be informative in the present.”

John Pohl, exhibition co-curator and UCLA professor, adds, “I”™m thrilled to have helped bring this exhibition to Los Angeles, a city with such a significant historical connection to the nation of Mexico and its people.  It”™s long overdue and provides a unique occasion for a major institution like the Getty not only to recognize the sophistication of Aztec art, but to present it alongside the great artistic traditions of Greece and Rome.”

The Aztec Pantheon and the Art of Empire is co-curated by Claire L. Lyons, curator of antiquities, J. Paul Getty Museum, and John M. D. Pohl, adjunct professor of art history, UCLA.

The exhibition is part of Los Angeles”™s celebration of the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico”™s independence and the centennial of the Mexican revolution.

Getty Villa winged statue

SYMPOSIUM — Tonight and tomorrow night only

In conjunction with the exhibition, a major international symposium, “Altera Roma: Art and Empire from the Aztecs to New Spain,” co-organized by the Getty Villa and the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, will be held at the Getty Villa on April 30 and at UCLA on May 1, 2010. International scholars will address historical analogies drawn between the Aztecs and ancient Rome, the production of Sahagún’s Florentine Codex, and comparative approaches to the archaeology of empires.

In addition to the conference, a rich program of events including concerts, theater, lectures, family programs, adult education courses, and curatorial tours is planned. Enhancing the exhibition, an audio tour narrates the stories behind fifteen of the most significant objects in the exhibition. An interactive feature, available in-gallery and online, will allow visitors to explore the imagery and religious significance of two Aztec sculptures from the exhibition in depth. A permanent exhibition website in both Spanish and English, as well as extensive programming in both Spanish and English, is designed to extend access to international audiences

Visiting the Getty Villa

The Getty Villa is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

It is closed Tuesday and major holidays.

Admission to the Getty Villa is always free, though a ticket is required for admission. Tickets can be ordered in advance, or on the day of your visit, here or by calling (310) 440-7300.   Parking is $15 per car, but free after 5pm for evening events. Groups of 15 or more must make reservations by phone.  For more information, call 310-440-7300 (English or Spanish); 310-440-7305 (TTY line for the deaf or hearing impaired).

The Getty Villa is at 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades, California.

Additional information is available here

Sign up for e-Getty at to receive free monthly highlights of events at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa via e-mail, or visit for a complete calendar of public program.

Report by Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek

Pauline Adamek is a Los Angeles-based arts enthusiast with twenty-five years' experience covering International Film Festivals and reviewing new Theatre, Film and Restaurants.


  • Thank you so much, this was a good read. I was actually born in Spain ( not telling you what year though!) but was moved around europe and finally settled in Britain when I was 5. I dont remember an awful lot of the few years I was in spain, but the smell of spanish food always seems to ring a bell in me or something. Funny, how I dont remember anything except the smells,isn’t it! I even found a website dedicated to spanish recipes, which gave me great delight and thought I ought to share. Anyway, thank you again. I’ll get my husband to add your feed to my rss thing…


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