In 1790, workers repaving Mexico City's main plaza unwittingly unearthed two enormous Aztec stone monuments—both had been buried after the destruction of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan, in the 16th century. Within two years, Antonio de León y Gama (1735–1802), a Creole intellectual, published a description and interpretation of these works, the Coatlicue, which can be seen in the Vistas gallery, and the Calendar Stone.

Across the colonial period, Mexico City had largely effaced the remnants of the Aztec capital city, Tenochtitlan. The first conquerors and missionaries had destroyed most Aztec monuments, seeing them as potential sources for native "idolatry." Likewise, Aztec buildings were dismantled, their materials recycled. In the late 18th century, however, Aztec monuments and histories began to generate new interest. León y Gama's work provides an early example of this new interest.
Visual Culture
A well–educated man, Antonio de León y Gama understood scientific procedures of his day and Enlightenment thinking, and brought both to bear in his analysis—which includes a drawing from multiple perspectives. This excerpt seeks to explain the unfamiliar iconography of a female earth deity through careful observation of the ancient statue and reference to earlier colonial sources. León y Gama calls the figure Teoyaomiqui, although today it is known as Coatlicue. The engraved image of the Coatlicue sculpture that was published along with his account is included in the Vistas gallery and in the Closer Look section of this unit.

While the Coatlicue statue was discovered accidentally, it was moved to the University in Mexico City which also housed other archaeological works, early colonial manuscripts and archives, yet the Coatlicue would soon be reburied. This excerpt provides a description of an work not widely available for public viewing at the time. Only after Mexico gained its Independence from Spain, did the Coatlicue remain permanently above ground, and today, it stands in the Hall of the Mexica of the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.

See the engraving of the Coatlicue in the Vistas Gallery.

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