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Sculpture of the Lord of the Underworld © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

BERLIN.- The Martin-Gropius-Bau presents the exhibition Teotihuacan – Mexico’s Mysterious Pyramid City. More than 450 outstanding objects giving a comprehensive insight into the art, everyday life and religion of this enigmatic culture will be on view in Europe for the first time. They include specimens of monumental architecture, filigree vessels and figures, costly stone carvings, masks, statues of gods and representations of animals as well as examples of highly symbolic murals which have retained their brilliant colours since their creation some 2,000 years ago. Permission has been given for the first (and probably the last) time for the 15 large-format fragments of murals to be sent abroad. Numerous exhibits were only discovered in the latest excavations.

In its Classical Epoch (100 B.C. to 650 A.D.) Teotihuacan was the first, largest and most influential metropolis on the American continent. Some thousand years later, in the 14th century, when the Aztecs discovered the abandoned ruins of the city, they gave it the name of Teotihuacan – “the place at which men become gods” – and used it as the setting for their own creation myth.

Treasures from leading Mexican museums have been brought together for this exhibition. Most of the exhibits come from the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City and the two museums in Teotihuacan itself. In addition, the Anahuacalli Museum – built by Diego Rivera for his collection of pre-Hispanic sculptures – has for the first time lent valuable items. The exhibition is divided into nine sections. The first item to welcome the visitor is the Great Jaguar of Xalla, one of the more recent finds from a palace complex and a characteristic example of decorative monumental architecture. An introduction to the development of the city and its archaeological history is followed by a section on architecture and town planning as represented by sculptures, friezes and murals. The social themes of politics, hierarchies, economy, war and commerce are represented by a multitude of objects, including stone sculptures, clay vessels and jade jewellery. Obsidian, for example, was the material from which weapons were made, Teotihuacan being a great manufactory of weapons. There is a spectacular reconstruction of a tomb found under the Pyramid of the Moon in the course of an excavation campaign in 1998-2004. Original objects are shown in glass cases. A special category may be seen in the “innkeeper figures”, which house inside them tiny, elaborately shaped figurines arranged as in a seedling box. Religion, gods and rituals, urban and social life, art, crafts and workshops as well as cultural exchange are further themes of this unique show, which displays a wealth of new findings.

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Mask from Malinaltepec, Teotihuacan and Western Mexico Guerrero, Malinaltepec, Middle Classic period (300-550 A.D.) Stone with inlaid work of turquoise, amazonite, obsidian and mussel shells; string of 55 pearls with pendant, 21.6 x 20.7 x 7.9 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant: Olivier Dekeyser

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Sculpture of a masked god, Teotihuacan, Xolalpan, Classic, Xolalpan phase (500-650 A.D.) Clay, stucco, colour pigments, 110 x 49 x 31 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

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Vessel with innkeeper figure, Becan, Campeche, 450-550 A.D., Clay, colour pigments, greenstone. Vessel: 16.5 x 18 cm - Figure: 22 x 16.2 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

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Anthropomorphic mask, Teotihuacan, Classical period (150-650 A.D.) Clay, stucco and paint, 17.5 x 24.4 x 7.1 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant: Olivier Dekeyser

Archaeological site

Located nearly 50 kilometres to the north of Mexico City, Teotihuacan has had UNESCO heritage status since 1987 and is the most frequently visited of Mexico’s 170 accessible archaeological sites. The pyramid city lies in a wide valley that has been settled since time immemorial. Between the first century B.C. and about 650 A.D. the inhabitants laid out a unique Ceremonial Centre on the basis of astronomical observations. The main pyramids are the 63-metre-high Pyramid of the Sun, (Pirámide del Sol) with a lateral length of 215 metres, and the 48-metre-high Pyramid of the Moon (Pirámide de la Luna) at the northern end of the two kilometre-long Avenue of the Dead (Calzada de los Muertos). The southern end of the ensemble, of which only a fraction has been excavated and studied, is dominated by what the Spaniards called the “Citadel” (Ciudadela), containing the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent (Templo de la Serpiente Emplumada), and the Aztec Rain God, Tlaloc, which is decorated with 365 sculptures of these divinities. In this complex and under the Pyramid of the Moon archaeologists have made important discoveries in recent decades, showing that burials and sacrificial offerings, wars and taking of captives, were part of everyday life in Teotihuacan.

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The Pyramid of the Sun seen from the Pyramid of the Moon, i.e. from the north-west © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

The city
Until its mysterious end in the 7th century, which was accompanied by a devastating fire, Teotihuacan was a powerful political, military, economic and cultural centre that influenced the whole of Mesoamerica, especially in the fields of architecture and art. The area covered by the city, which in its heyday was home to over 160,000 people and was one of the greatest cities in the world, was about 20 square kilometres. It was laid out along wide avenues and had efficiently functioning drainage and water-supply systems. The imposing and splendid pyramids, temples and palaces were coated with stucco and decorated with murals in brilliant colours. There were public buildings, administrative quarters, and various residential areas. Particularly worthy of note are the accommodations and workshops kept for visiting artists, craftsmen and traders from such places as Oaxaca or the Maya cities, who contributed to the city’s prosperity.

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Feathered serpent and glyph, 650-750 A.D., stucco and paint © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

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Jaguar of Xalla, Teotihuacan, Xalla, Xolalpan-Metepec phase, 350-652 A.D., Stone, stucco and paint, 97.5 x 235.5 x 74.5 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

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Feathered serpent and glyph, 650-750 A.D., stucco and paint © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser

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Anthropomorphic mask, Azcapotzalco, San Miguel Amantla, Classical period, late Xolalpan phase, 450-550 A.D. Clay, stucco and paint, 9.7 x 16.8 x 5.6 cm © Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes - Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México | Foto: Martirene Alcántara, assistant Olivier Dekeyser