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Chalchiuhtlicue Thanks You!

Posted on by Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Chalchiuhtlicue, 1200-1521 [pronunciaton: chal-chee-oo-TLEE-kweh]
Gray basalt, red ochre
Gift of Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis, MN 2009.33

A while ago, you were invited to ask questions and share observations about Chalchiuhlticue (pictured above) to help our curator rewrite the sculpture’s label. The effort was part of an online and in-gallery project called “This Label Needs YOU.”

The goal was to learn what you were seeing, thinking, and wondering about the object and its descriptive text (in museum-speak, the “extended label”). Our curator suspected there might be a disconnect between the existing label’s content and your particular interests. Thanks to more than 100 contributors, the “before and after” labels for Chalchiuhlticue are now below.

After (New) Label

Chalchiuhtlicue (Chal-chee-oot-LEE-kway), literally “She of the Jade Skirt,” is the Mexica* (meh-SHEE-kah) goddess of water and the wife of rain god Tlaloc (TLAH-loak). She is identifiable by her wide headband with large tassels. Stone or shell was once inlaid into her eyes, the incisions in her cheeks, and the cavity in her chest. However, the identity of this sculpture is also a bit ambiguous and may actually be a hybrid image of two Mexica goddesses. Her pose, standing with outstretched hands, is typical of the corn goddess Chicomecoatl (Chee-koh-may-KOH-atl). As Chicomecoatl, she would have held small ears of an ancient variety of corn. To complicate matters further, this may be neither Chalchiuhtlicue nor Chicomecoatl, but instead a masked man in the guise of the goddesses. A sculpture like this one would have been the focal point of a home altar. *The people known to many as ‘Aztec’ called themselves Mexica.

Before (Old) Label

Depicted here in their classic monumental style, Chalchiuhtlicue, “She of the jade skirt”, played an important role in the Aztec belief system. Wife of the rain god Tlaloc, she was the goddess of lakes and streams, embodying water’s gentle and restorative aspects. Women experiencing pregnancy and childbirth prayed to Chalchiuhtlicue for her protection. She was also connected to agricultural fertility and maize, a staple crop of the Aztec. The hands of this altar figure would have held corn stalks or other elements related to this role. The vertical incisions on the goddess’s face, marking her high status and association with water, would have contained shell or precious stone, as would have the cavity in her chest, symbolic of her heart.

Keep an eye out for new “This Label Needs YOU” projects, with artworks from other areas of the museum’s collection.

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