Chapter Notes 32: Native Arts of the Americas After 1300

Chapter 32 Notes: Native Arts of the Americas After 1300

-Despite the small riches the governor of Cuba had found, he was not satisfied and decided to make yet another expedition. This time it was a man name Herman Cortes (1485-1547)who was assigned to lead it. In only a range of 2 years with the help of many
supplies and people he managed to overthrow the Aztec Empire in the year of 1521. This victory opened the doors to many opportunities such as allowing other Spanish conquistadors to seek their fortunes and missionaries to receive the chance for other converts to Christianity.


-After the destruction and abandonment of some old empires, new cities arose and began to establish and take their places.

-Scholars say that not much information is found from the Postclassic period (900-1250) than for classical Mesoamerica, but yet it is said that much more evidence exists for the cultures of the late Postclassic period.


-One of the most fascinating and impressive art producing peoples in the Postclassic period are said to the Mixtecs, who overtook the Zapotecs and took complete control and possession of their belongings at Monte Alban in southern Mexico after 700.

-The treasures found by explores clearly show us the great wealth of these people and the quality of everything reveal to us the high achieving skills they had in art.


-The Mesoamericans made these illustrated books; it’s pretty amazing to know that even after the Spanish invasion, still some manuscripts survived.


-The Mayans were in constant action in their art and also with their writing. Their books were used to record data, history, rituals, calendrical calculations, maps, trade and tribute accounts, and etc. The reading process was pretty simple in where the text consisted of hieroglyphic columns which red from left to right and top to bottom. However, despite their many productions of books, only 3 of them all exist this present day. This is because, as said by Bishop Diego de Landa (1524-1579) an author of an individual treatise on the Maya of Yucatan, “We found a great number of books in these (Indian) letters and, since they contained nothing but superstitions and falsehoods of the devil, we burned them all, which they took most grievously, and which caused them the most pain”.

-However the great lost of the Mayan books, 10 non-Maya books did survive, 5 from Mixtec Oaxaca and 5 from the Puebla region. The art historians have named the style in which these books represent which is Mixteca-Puebla. One of these rare surviving books is the one in which the gods Mictlantecuhtli and Quetzalcoatl are portrayed, the  BorgiaCodex. It is a quite rare book that escaped the disruptive hands of the Spanish. This book is also said to be the largest and most elaborate of the several manuscripts known.

  • In this artwork we see both the gods of death
    and life being portrayed. The god of life, which is seen in the right, is the
    black Quetzalcoatl (depicted here as a masked human rather than a feathered
    serpent), sits back-to-back with the god of death, which is found in the left,
    is the white Mictlantecuhtli. This whole image conveys the close relationship
    between life and death, being a very important theme in Mesoamerican art.
  • Right below these gods we can see this converted
    skull with a double key board of teeth which are said to be a symbol
    representing the “underworld.”


-The greatest Mesoamerican culture at that time in where the European conquest, a culture with Nahuatl-speaking people who left behind their history as they rose to power.

-With astonishing pace they grew and no longer were they a migrating community but local rulers and then finally proud rulers of their own ways of the Valley of Mexico’s small kingdoms.

-They fallowed this legendary prophecy that they would build their city wherever they saw an eagle in top of a cactus with a cactus with a snake in its mouth, they then settled on an island in Lake Texcoco (Lake of the Moon). After generation their residence grew into this large and magnificent city known as Tenochtitlan, which in the year 1519 had been discovered by Cortes and his group of explorers.

-Known for being fierce in war and cruel in peace, known for their the practice of bloodletting and human sacrifice to honor and please their gods and be able to keep the great cycles of the universe.


-An amazing and interesting fact to know is that now this present day the ruins of the Aztec capital now lie directly underneath the center of the city of what is known as Mexico City.

-Around the late 1970s, Mexican archeologists identified many of the most important Aztec structures. The principal building is the Great Temple (1400-1500); this temple-pyramid was designed and created by the Aztecs to honor their god, Huitzilopochtli and the local rain god, Tlaloc.

  • Great example of superimposition, a common trait in Mesoamerican architecture.

*Superimposition= A nesting of a series of buildings inside each other, usually a newer structure on top of an earlier/older structure.

  • In this particular structure only 2 of the inner structures remain, because the Spaniards destroyed the upper, later structures in the 16th century.

-Many frequent times the Aztec laid out Tenochtitlan on a simple grid plan that divided the city into quarters and different areas.

-The city alone had around a population of more than 10,000, however including the areas in Mexico in which the Aztecs dominated at the time of the conquering was around a total population of 11 million.

Aztec Religion:

-The Aztec people saw their world in a different way, for
they saw their world as a flat disk residing on the back of a monstrous earthly
deity. As we know it the Great Temple lied in the center representing a
holy/sacred mountain forming this sort of axis making path to both heaven and
the underworld.


-Also the Aztecs as we know had adopted their own, but over
the time they often made the gods of conquered people into their gods. For
example their own patron, Huitzilopchtli, the god of war and sun latter joined
other well-established Mesoamerican gods like Quetzalcoalt (god of life, wind,
and of learning and culture, and also patron of the priests) and Tlaloc (god of
rain). All these gods are now seen depicted in historical reliefs often times
with political overtones, these reliefs adorned the temple complexes.


-Their ritual cycle was quite full, given that they
celebrated their events in 2 calendars. These 2 calendars are the sacred
calendar and the solar calendar.


  • First of all this sacred calendar is about 260
    days long, like the solar calendar required 52 years to pass in order for a
    specific date to occur once again.
  • On the second calendar, the solar calendar is
    360 days long plus with the addition of 5 unlucky and unnamed days. Also
    requires 52 years to pass in order for a specific date to reoccur. Also it is
    said by the Spaniards in the 16th century that this solar calendar
    dealt greatly with agriculture/farming.


-Almost every festival included human sacrifice. One example
of a reason of a sacrifice to be made would be for Tlaloc, the god of rain, the
priests offered small children because according to their beliefs, their tears brought
the rains. Many rituals were done and also for many various and distinct
reasons, for example rituals were at times done to celebrate the completion of
important religious structures such as the Great Temple.




-The temple of Huitzilopochtli at Tenochtitlan commemorated
and represents that time in where this god won victory over his sister and 400
brothers, who all plotted to kill their mother, Coatlicue ( The woman with the
serpent skirt fig.32-5). This whole myth simply shows the battle of the sun
against the forces of darkness, such as the stars and moon. In this myth shows
the victory of Huitzilopochtli, who is the god of the sun, over his brothers
who were chased away and his sister (Coyolxauhqui, moon goddess), in which Huitzilopochtli
had dismembered at a hill near Tula.


-This whole myth got to be depicted on this huge stone, and
on this disk is a carved image of the murdered and dismembered goddess. Another
thing that is said is that when the Aztecs would sacrifice their fallen
conquered enemies at the top of the Great Temple they would then hurl the dead
the dead bodies down the huge staircase an then the lifeless bodies would land
on this disk.


-This unforgettable image relief not only shows the power
and victory of the Aztecs over their enemies, but the horrifying and dreading
fate that would wait for some of them when defeated.




-This statue, also known as the colossal statue, is one of
the most impressive works of the Aztec’s freestanding statuary. This beheaded
statue of Coatlicue, mother of the gods, was discovered around 1790 near Mexico
City’s cathedral. The specific setting of this statue is still unknown , but
some educated scholars have said that perhaps this statue was one part of a
group of many set up in the Great Temple.


  • As seen in the figure this beheaded goddess has
    2 snakes whose heads meet to form this sort of mask. We also see that the
    goddess wear this necklace of severed human hands and cut out hearts, and the
    main hanging center of the necklace is a skull. Some more snakes are seen in
    her skirt, and also yet another snake is seen as it emerges out between her
  • Like mostly all Aztec deities, the goddess has
    both feminine and masculine characteristics/traits.
  • 1487-1520
  • We might think of this figure as a symbol of
    sacrificial death, but actually for the Aztecs this figure shows savagery yet
    tenderness, because they believed there would be a new life after destruction.


-As we know it each Mesoamerican empire had their culture
and beliefs, and all practiced quite different types of art. However, the
Aztec’s had this unique sculptural style, which had developed when they were in
the height of their power in the late 15th century.




-Much much lament, it’s sad to know that not much of Aztec
and Aztec related art was able to survive the Spanish conquest.


-The Spaniards took many of the Aztec golden artifacts and
completely melted them down, and then zealous friars destroyed “idols” and
illustrated books, and other precious materials such as textiles and wood just
completely disappeared. Skilled Aztec craftsmen also designed and fashioned
these beautifully created feathered objects and even created these mosaic-like
images using these feathers, this type of art was often put into service for
the Catholic Church for a short time after the Spanish conquest.


-Many people found much of the Aztec empire completely
fascinating, they admired their surroundings and much of their uniquely designed
structures; however, they found their cults and their practices completely
horrifying. When Cortes got the opportunity to explore and view the shrine of
Huitzilopochtli’s temple, many of the new comers came into horror and much
disgust from the huge statues which were covered with dried blood.
Automatically, Cortes became furious and declared Huitzilopochtli to be the
devil, according to what he had seen. He then proposed to put a cross and a
statue of the Virgin Mary in top of the Great Temple in order to “eliminate”,
make all evil spirits “vanish”.




Late Horizon is
the name of the period found in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia,
countries both found in South America. The Late Horizon period belongs to the
late Postclassical period in Mesoamerica, and at that time the Inka Empire was
in dominant power within the region.




A small highland group who established themselves in the Cuzco
Valley around 1000. However, in the 15th century they managed to
rapidly extend, stretching their empire from modern Quito, Ecuador, to central
Chile, which was around a distance more than 3,000 miles. Maybe around 12
million subjects resided were the Inka ruled. Their empire was so big that at
the time of the Spanish conquest, the Ikan Empire only being a century old was
the largest in the world.


-Their empire was like no other,
all of their fascinating structures, art, and techniques were completely
outstanding, this obviously required the Inka skillful organizational and good
administrative control.


-The Inka were amazing architects
and also great farmers as well as artists. An example of hard work architecture
would be the fact that they upgraded or built more than 14,000 miles of roads,
one main highway running throughout the highlands and another along the coast,
with more connecting roads connecting the two regions. They also managed to
create a fast/swift communication system of relay runners who carried messages
the length of the empire. Another awesome thing would be that the Inkas placed these
small settlements/homes along the roads no more than a day apart, these
settlements were especially for the travelers to rest while in their journey.


-An astonishing thing about their
empire is that they never really did establish a writing system, however, they
did create this greatly sophisticated and well created and control device known
as the Khipu.


*Khipu= Andean record-keeping device consisting of numerous knotted
strings hanging from a main cord; the color and position of each tread, as well
as the kind of knot and its location, signified numbers and categories of
things, whether people llamas, or crops.




-As said the Inkas were amazing
architects, known for shaping and fitting stones.


-One of their most famous cities
is the Machu Picchu- around 9,000 feet above sea level


-Discovered by Hiram Bigham
(America explorer) in 1941


-50 miles from Cuzco


-15th Century


-fits the natural landscape


-Inkas carefully created the
windows for them to overlook at the landscapes and the mountain peaks and to be
able to view astronomical events




-City in shape of a puma. Shrine
fortress as its head, and two rivers as its tail.


-puma is a symbol of Inka power


-Temple of the sun, built of
ashlar masonry, fitted stone blocks together with no mortar


-So skilled that they could make
perfectly curved walls.


-Ashlar blocks could withstand


-The temple of the sun is the most
magnificent of all temple shrines, used to worship several Inka gods. Also
central point connected to sight lines to other 350 shrines.


-Spaniards and diseases completely
destroyed the Inka Empire.




-The native art and architecture
was more varied than Mesoamerica and Andean South America.




-Dominant culture in this period
were the Ancestral puebloan-1300-1500


-spiritual center was the Kiva-decorated with murals representing gods
of agriculture fertility and rain


The Kiva mural, made with intense black lines and dots, with the
colors red,




-Sand painting is originally an
art form from Pueblo but the Navajo adopted it and started practicing sand
painting but made it more complex.




-spirits representing ancestors or
natural elements (rain, sun)


-These figurines were


-Rain-bringing god who wears a
mask with these geometric patterns symbolic of water and agriculture fertility.


-Otto Pentewa made this figurine,
made out of cottonwood root and added feathers.

Northwest Coast and Alaska:


The groups that make up the
Northwest Coast area are the…


Kwakiutl-of southern British


The Haida-of Queen Charlotte
Island off the coast of the providence


The Tlingit-of southern Alaska


-All of these groups have enjoyed
a rich and reliable environment




Roles in Native American Art


-Native Americans had different
art forms and media/other tasks. Navajos’ weaving was important, Pueblos were
into pottery.


-In 1918 Maria Montoya Martinez
created this type of ceramic the block-on-black ware.


-This pot has traditional and
abstract patterns, is close to the contemporary Deco style of architecture.




-Northwest Coast religious
specialists used masks for healing or men used the masks for their dance


-A great exaggeration is seen in
most masks.


-This mask is a portrait, might
also represent supernatural being showing wearer’s strength, or created to
scare enemy.




-Frontal poles in Haida house
shows their interest in prestige and family history.


-They stand today in a
reconstructed Haida village that Bill Reid & Doug Cranmer created in 1962.


-Each form seen in poles
represents a crest, animal, or supernatural being that is seen in clan’s origin


-Later in 19th century,
Haida created more poles and were larger, in response of competiveness and more
metal tools.


-Carved poles 60 ft. high tall
from trunks of cedar trees.




-Chilkat blanket named for an
Alaskan Tlingit village.


-took at least 6 months to
complete, made out of goat loom and cedar bark.


-served as robs worn over the
shoulders, became widespread for ceremonial use in 19th century.




– Yupik Eskimos living around
Bering Strait, Alaska were greatly involved with ceremonial life.


-Religious specialists wore highly
imaginative masks with moving parts.


-The Yupik usually made the masks
& used them once, and then abandoned them.


-In an exp. of their masks, it represents
the spirit of the north wind, w/ hoop surrounding it signifying the universe, &
the wearer’s voice is imitated by the rattling appendages. Painted white spots
represent snowflakes.


-Paired human hands found in these
masks refer to the wearer’s power to attract animals for hunting.


*Canadian Eskimos are known as the


Great Plains:


After colonial governments took over settled indigenous
communities on the East Coast & Europeans introduced the horse to N.A., a
new Native American culture shortly emerged in Great Plains.


-They worked on different
materials and styles than those of the Northwest Coast & Eskimo/Inuit
people. (Leather garment, pouches, & horse trappings were made with sewn
quill designs but then with beadwork patterns.)




-The Plains people were mobile, so
most of their creations/designs were focused in clothing, and portable objects,
like shields, clubs, pipes, tomahawks, & containers.


-Some of the Plain art forms can
be seen in painting & drawings by visiting Americas & European artists.
(Exp. = Hidasta Warrior Pehriska-Ruhpa, watercolor painting by Karl Bodmer in


  • Artists depicts pipe, painted buffalo robe,
    bear-claw necklace, and feather decorations, symbolic of his military
    accomplishments & group.
  • Items represent his biography


-Shields & shield covers were also made. The owners of
them now believe the symbolism, pigments, added materials, and feathers
provided them with magical protection & supernatural powers.






-Even during the reservation period (the U.S. removed the
Native Americans from their homelands, but then made them settlement
reservations in Canada & the U.S.) some Plains arts began to flourish such
as beading decorating for the women & painting in ledger books for the men.


-Plains artists began to record not only their heroic past
and vanished lifestyle, but their reactions toward their new surroundings, far
from home.


-An exp. of an illustration in ledger book is by an unknown
artist, a group of men and woman who appear to dance an honoring song before




Study Questions 32: Native Arts and
the Americas after 1300




  1. Why do we have so few books from indigenous


Many manuscripts were made,
however, out of the great amount produced only a few survived. These books were
very meaningful and valuable to the Mesoamerican people, but for the Spanish
the writing text and the illustrations all together found in the books were
worthless to them, it is then that the Spanish decided to burn each and every
one of the precious books.


2. Discuss the possible meanings of image 32-2 from
the Borgia Codex?


There may be many diverse
interpretations to the possible meanings to this image, but perhaps this one
might be one…


  • The artist is trying to make the viewer see the
    great connection and unity found between death and life (bad and good) both
    being high/kings in their own way. As said, the skull with the double key board
    teeth is a symbol representing the underworld, which is underneath the two
    gods. As seen in the image, the underworld is underneath the two gods making it
    less superior and perhaps under their control. Also, in the way and position
    things are drawn, we can say the underworld is both influenced by “bad and
    good”, and also given to all the gift/choice of death or life.


3. Make a list of the Mesoamerican deities in this
chapter, along with their roles.


  • Quetzalcoatl- god of life, wind, and of learning
    and culture.
  • Mictlantecuhtli- god of death
  • Huitzilopochtli- god of war and sun
  • Tlaloc- local rain god (in rituals the Aztecs would
    sacrifice small/young children because their tears would bring the rain)
  • Coyolxauhqui- moon goddess
  • Coaltlicue- mother of the gods




4. Explain the architectural trait of the
superimposition as it applies to the city of Tenochtitlan.


Superimposition is a common trait used in Mesoamerican
architecture; this trait is simply the nesting
of a series of buildings inside each other, usually a newer structure on top of
an earlier/older structure. This trait is seen in the Great Temple found in the
center of Tenochtitlan.


5. Discuss the richness of the “Aztec ritual
cycle.” What kinds of occasions did their rituals commemorate?




The Aztec ritual cycle was completely
full, making them create two separate calendars to celebrate their events,
these two calendars were the sacred calendar(260 days) and the solar
calendar(360 days plus 5 unlucky & unnamed days). These 2 calendars work quite
the same, requiring 52 years for the same event to reoccur. Some of their
rituals done for example were the New Fire Ceremony, which was done every 52
years celebrating the new cycle that would arise. In most of their rituals the
Aztecs made human sacrifices in order to honor and receive acceptance and
blessings from their gods, for example festivals were done for Tlaloc, the god
of rain, the priest offered small children because their tears would bring the
rain. Also rituals were done in occasions just to celebrate the completion of
important religious structures.


South America


  1. Discuss the skills and strategies that enabled
    the Inka to maintain their empire.


Great skills such as mining and metalwork were mastered by
the Inka, however, according to their sophisticated empire it required skillful
organizational and administrative control as well. The Inka also used
stradegies such as their record-keeping system using a device named the Khipu. They
were also amazing architecs. As you can see the Inka had everything and more to
maintain their extremely sophisticated empire.


2. What purposes did a khipu serve?


The Khipu is a device used for record-keeping, instead of
the Inka having a writing system, they instead used this system. With this
device the Inka recorded calendrical and astronomical information, census and
tribute totals, and inventories. This khipu consisted of knots and strings of
various colors. The color and position of each thread, and the kind of knot and
its place, showed the different categories and numbers, whether they were
counting llamas, people, or crops.


3. Discuss the relationship between architecture
and nature at Machu Picchu.


The architecture and landscape design of Machu Picchu seems
to be a part of the mountain ranges. Also the Inka greatly admired nature as
well as architecture, so they constructed the buildings carefully in order for
the windows and doors to frame amazing landscape views.


North America


  1. How did the Navajo transform Pueblo sand


The Navajo learned this art form from the Pueblo, but the
Navajo transformed it into a more complex ritual art style. For example the
sand paintings were a great part in ceremonial events for curing, and the
Navajo used these rituals in order to assure success in hunting and bring
fertility. This technique uses sand, various colors of powdered stones, corn
pollen, and charcoal.


2. According to ATTA, why is Navajo painting
especially stylized?


The Navajo painting are especially stylized because of the
fact of its many designs and patterns. Simple curves, right angles, and serial
repetition are all forms that characterize these paintings.


3. What is a transformation mask? How is it used.


A transformation mask a simply a mask Northwest Coast
specialists wore during dance rituals, this mask is constructed for it to open
and close rapidly as the wearer manipulated some type of strings. This whole
effect/process makes it seem as the wearer magically transformed himself from a
human to an eagle.


4. What design principles are shared among images
32-11, 32-13, and 32-14?


They all seem to be showing 2-dimesional designs and both in
some way their designs have an abstraction of animal motifs.


5. Discuss the way patterns of art-making have
evolved over the past 200 years in North America. In your view, which changes
have been positive and which have been negative, and why?


We no longer see many practice or interest in sculptures;
however we do see mini figurines which were done by the Hopi culture. We also
see that pottery was still quite involved. One thing we quite don’t see is
actual paintings, maybe perhaps because of the lack of tools or materials. Masks
were the art type that was more frequently done, perhaps because of the fact
that these cultures practiced more ceremonial and religious rituals that
required dancing using these masks. Relating to the making of these types of
art, we can say that each culture had its own way of creating their art
according to what they have available in were they are settled, however, one
type of material that was commonly used in their art was feathers and of course
a variety of colors. All of the changes I find quite positive, but I do find it
negative that the Navajo don’t allow one to photograph their sand paintings
because of their sacred nature, and I also find it quite negative that they would
also destroy their sand paintings as part of their ritual so there won’t be no


What was the specific purpose for the Aztecs to build a series of layers of buildings within each other in their pyramid-temples?












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