The story of Moctezuma, last to reign over an Aztec empire, is one of absolute power – and abject surrender. And now it is the subject of a haunting new exhibition at the British Museum and DVD
The fall of Moctezuma is a fabled chapter in the bloody European road to world conquest and it makes a fitting conclusion to the British Museum's series of exhibitions and DVDs about great rulers. This series began with the First Emperor of China; it ends with one of the last native rulers of the Americas. The tale it tells – and one of the virtues of this compelling show is that it gives a distant place and time a graspable human narrative – is one of the most haunting of all true-life epics.
Moctezuma (reigned 1502-1520) inherited and then consolidated Aztec control over a politically complex empire that by the early 16th century stretched from the shores of Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico. Moctezuma was regarded as a semi- divine figure by his subjects charged with the task of interceding with the gods. As a battle-hardened general he was appointed supreme military commander and headed the two most prestigious warriors orders: the eagle and jaguar warriors. He was elected as Ruling Lord in 1502, built a new palace in the heart of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) and restructured the court. The arrival of the Spanish, during Moctezuma’s reign, witnessed the collapse of the native world order and the imposition of a new civilization that gave birth to modern Mexico.
Uniquely, the exhibition and DVD presents a biographical narrative of Moctezuma II and reveals the dual nature of his reputation. On the one hand, he is recognised as a successful and cunning warrior but he is also widely perceived as a tragic figure who ceded his empire to foreigners.
The exhibition and DVD presents masterpieces of Aztec culture including the impressive stone monument known as the Teocalli of Sacred Warfare, amongst other works commissioned by Moctezuma himself which bear his image and his name glyph. An exquisite turquoise mask and goldwork showcases the consummate craftsmanship of artisans employed in the Aztec court and masterly paintings known as “Enconchados” (oil paintings on wooden panels with inlaid Mother of Pearl detail) portray the events of the conquest in vivid detail. Included are the idealized European portraits of Moctezuma and stunning colonial Codices which have helped shape our interpretations of Moctezuma and his world.
Release Date: 07 December 2009
Certificate: E - Exempt from Certification