Title: Aztec wall painting from Tlacopan temple complex (B) (TGF Catalogue No. 425.######)

Gallery Location: Brunswick 

Artist: Unknown

Ca. Mid-fifteenth century

Natural pigments on stone

Created to decorate the extensive temple complex at Tlacopan, this wall mural was most likely completed in the fifteenth century, though some art historians have argued that it was finished as late as 1515. It shows an Aztec tlatoani, or ruler (possibly Montezuma I or Axayacatl) receiving an offering from a high priest, denoted by the headdress.

Classical archeologists believe the offering to be cocoa, a traditional Aztec drink served during sacred ceremonies. However, noted art historian Philip Brown has refuted this assertion. “The clear swirling pattern at the top of the offering is something we don’t see in other representations of cocoa,” he claimed in a 1999 essay. “It is indicative of something more solid… more gelatinous.”

“It is, doubtless, an odd and unique image,” he wrote. “And I won’t even get into the unidentifiable appendage, sticking out from the top-right of the object.”

Traditionalists have claimed that the “unidentifiable appendage” is a representation of a hieroglyph, commonly used in wall murals and other art of the time. However, none have been able to explain the meaning or origin of this hieroglyph.

The central image is bordered by reliefs of smiling faces (a rarity in Mesoamerican art) and decorated with more of the same unidentified hieroglyphic symbol.