The Early Modern World, C. 1300–1600

Art in the New World

What are Mixtec mosaics?

The indigenous Mixtec people of Mexico and Central America were well known for their skills in pottery, metalworking, and mosaics. They used the mosaic technique to make brightly colored masks and used materials such as turquoise and pearl oyster shells to create colorful, luminescent pieces. The Skull of the Smoking Mirror is a sixteenth-century Mixtec mosaic mask that depicts the powerful god Tezcatlipoca. The mask itself is supported by a real human skull with the back removed and deerskin straps attached, enabling the mask to be worn. The eyes of the mask are made with reflective iron pyrite and white shells, while the face is decorated in white, black, and turquoise stripes. As the materials needed to create this mask, such as turquoise, and black lignite, were difficult to source, it is clear that this was a highly valued object requiring time and effort to create. It also important to note that this mask was meant to be worn and had an important ritual function. The mask is now part of the collection at the British Museum.


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