- Art of the Mixteca-Puebla
The Mixtecs are considered one of the most extraordinary artisans of Mesoamerica during the Post-Classic period (1000-1697). They occupied the area of Oaxaca to the valleys of Puebla and Tlaxcala (a complex known by archaeologists as the “Mixteca-Puebla”). In the art of goldsmithing Mixtecs created works of surprising delicacy as it can be seen among the numerous objects found in the famous “Tomb 7” of Monte Albán, a Zapotec tomb that the Mixtecs re-used: pectorals decorated with masks of deities, necklaces, rings, bracelets, nail protectors, fan handles, etc., all enhanced with tiny bells and other embellishments of exquisite taste. And the grecas* used to decorate the buildings of the archaeological site of Mitla appeared chiseled using the same sensibility that was applied to the gold objects.
These palaces of Mitla are characterized by the architectural use of large monolithic stones and their facades ornate with mosaic fretwork and geometric designs known in Spanish as “grecas” framed by panels (tableros). These decorative elements were part of the rich Zapotec architectural tradition that started in Monte Alban along with strong Teotihuacan influences. None of the fretwork designs are repeated anywhere in the Mitla complex. The fretwork found there is unique in all of Mesoamerica. The decorative element of the stepped greca represents for the pre-Hispanic plastic what the capital does for the Greek culture or the ogival arch for the Gothic art. It is a symbol that has been found from Arizona in the United States to Peru and Argentina in the south of the American continent.
The Mixtec artistic refinement is reflected in many aspects: delicate carvings on wood and bone, goblets and statuettes in rock crystal, elaborate mosaics in turquoise, shells, coral and other materials. Ceramics (which since Pre-Classical times have been a highlight in Pre-Hispanic Mexico due to its careful execution and the diversity of its forms) appeared now covered with a particularly fine ornamentation applied with maximum care. Some of the vessels are so precise and detailed in their execution that they look like pages torn from one of the famous “codices” or painted manuscripts found in this region, a series of manuscripts made on long regular strips of “amate” paper* or deer skin with stucco, which were carefully folded like a screen and that used to serve as archives and sacred books for the ancient Mexicans.
The Mixtec painter-scribes also excelled in the art of codex elaboration as can be seen in the few examples that have managed to survive the passage of time and the systematic destruction carried out as a result of the Spanish conquest.
Parallel to the Toltec cultural influence that marked the last centuries of pre-Columbian life with its militaristic and bloodthirsty seal, the Mixtecan artistic influence was heavily felt in ancient Mexico by greatly “softening” the “Toltec” hardship and rudeness that prevailed at the time. We know from many accounts of the conquest that the Aztec emperor Moctezuma had exclusively for his personal service the finest vessels made in Cholula, a city that had become the most renowned pottery producer as well as the most revered sanctuary in Mesoamerica. In addition, it is very likely that many of the jewels so admired by the Spaniards (and so highly pondered by the German painter Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528) were made by Mixtec artisans although under the Aztec rule. In other words, the “good taste” was given at that time by the refined art of the Mixteca-Puebla, and therefore it is possible to speak of a mixture of Toltec-Mixtec influences in the last centuries that preceded the Spanish conquest during which the stylistic frontiers that had until then extended throughout many regions of Mesoamerica began to be erased.
Amate paper: (in Spanish, from the Nahuatl). A type of bark paper that has been manufactured in Mexico since the pre-conquest times. It was used primarily to create codices. The Amate paper was extensively produced and used for both communication, records, and ritual during the Triple Alliance, it was manufactured using the bark of several species of trees of the genus Ficus (family Moraceae), collectively known as “fig trees”.
Greca: A Mesoamerican decorative freeze typical of the Mixtec site of Mitla that includes intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs. The geometric patterns of the grecas were made from thousands of cut, polished stones that were fitted together without mortar. The pieces were set against a stucco background painted red.