Art was an important part of Aztec life. They used some forms of art such as music, poetry, and sculpture to honor and praise their gods. Other forms of art, such as jewelry and feather-work, were worn by the Aztec nobility to set them apart from the commoners.
The Aztecs often used metaphors throughout their art. For example, the hummingbird represented the sun god, the eagle represented the warrior, and flowers represented the beauty of life. Metaphors like these were used in their drawings, sculpture, and poetry.
The highest form of art in the Aztec culture was poetry. The Aztecs wrote lots of poems. Many of their poems were about the gods and mythology, but others were about everyday life. They called poetry "flower and song".
The poetry and stories of the Aztecs were passed down verbally from generation to generation. They didn't begin to write down their poetry until after the Spanish arrived. The largest collections of Aztec poems were put together in the 1500s. These books include the Romances de los seņores de la Nueva Espaņa and the Cantares mexicanos.
Here is an Aztec poem about fishing:
you will embrace
the red chichimec
am I calling just one?
indeed all of them I call
the child fish
the man fish
the woman fish--
dwellers of meanders
Here is a poem that is a prayer to the sun:
I'll go first
I'll be on the road first--
then you'll go
then you'll follow the road
I'll be the first to cross
all the desert lands
all the canyon lands
I'll pass swiftly over
the Earth's smooth face--
she won't hinder me
no matter what truly lies
on her smooth face
up in the sky
I shall go
I shall walk
The Aztecs also enjoyed music. They played various instruments such as flutes, shells, whistles, and drums. They played their music for the gods and used it to make requests such as asking the gods for rain or for the harvest to be good.
An Aztec musician
The Aztec carved a lot of sculpture from stone of all types. They carved small items as well as huge statues of their gods that were placed in public areas and the temples. A lot of their sculpture had similar features. Male statues were usually shown sitting with their knees up and their arms crossed. Female statues were generally shown kneeling with their hands on their knees. The facial features were often similar with the main differences being symbols that were unique to each god.
An Aztec sculpture
The Aztecs took pride in creating a variety of beautiful pottery. Other nations from around the lands often traded for the prized Aztec pottery. They made everything from small simple bowls to tall jars that were heavily decorated and painted. The pottery makers of the Aztecs were very sophisticated, mass producing pottery in large shops using a potter's wheel.
Perhaps the most prized art during the time of the Aztecs was feather-work. Using this art form, artisans wove brightly colored feathers together to make beautiful cloaks and headdresses. Only the nobility and wealthy were allowed to wear feather-work items.
The Aztecs also made a variety of jewelry. Jewelers used different materials including gold, silver, copper, jade, and obsidian. Jewelry made from precious stones and metals was generally reserved for the nobility.
Interesting Facts about Aztec Art
Every 52 years the Aztecs destroyed all of their household items in a religious ceremony. This included their pottery. Archaeologists are able to track changes in Aztec pottery over time because of this.
The Aztec women were responsible for weaving cloth for clothing and blankets. They often used detailed and artistic designs in their work.
Feather-workers were called amanteca. They were some of the most respected artisans in all of the Aztec Empire.
One of the most famous Aztec sculptures is the calendar stone. It is twelve feet in diameter and weighs around 24 tons.
There were poetry contests at many of the Aztec festivals.