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   Aztec: The Arts and Architecture                                   Page developed by: Jessica Cheung 2007


The Importance of Art

The Aztecs thought of craftsmanship and extraordinary work as something that was extremely valuable.  The Aztecs viewed the creations of art as outlets that helped express their opinions - their doubts and their joys - about the human condition.  Art, whether it is in the form of poetry, murals, music or paintings, was a fundamental element of life in the era of the Aztecs as well as the in the world today.  Religion did not have a clear explanation on the meaning of life, thus art allowed for an exploration of these thoughts on life.  Gods and sacrificial victims were often represented by stone statues.  Paintings on both paper and on walls (murals) represented gods and religious ceremonies.

The Forms of Art

  • Literature
    -- learned in the House of song and in the calmecac (the schools for noble children)
    -- in writing and oral forms
    -- made recordings of the Aztec people and history (were important because it preserved history and it was to be passed down to future generations)
  • Music
    -- religious songs were to be memorized
    -- oratory skills were valued, especially lyric poetry
  • Sculptures
    -- miniature representational figures of dogs, turtles, jaguars, monkeys, rabbits, eagles, grasshoppers, and even plants were only 2 or cm high
    larger sculptures included skulls, human figures and deities
  • Painting
    -- used for hieroglyphs (symbols)
    -- different colours symbolized information about the object (i.e. north represented by red or black; south represented by white or blue; east represented by yellow or red; west represented by blue-green)
  • Writings
    -- books, manuscripts, ritual records, calendars, maps, astrological accounts, were found in Aztec libraries
    -- paper was made from the bark off fig trees (first soaked in water then scraped apart and then pounded together by a special stone that made the bark smooth

    The Importance of Architecture

    Architecture of the Aztecs included temples, houses, causeways (roads), and political buildings.  Aztec architecture was monumental and expressed an empire's values and its
    civilization. Exhibiting power while keeping strong religious beliefs was the purpose of the architecture, which is noted by the designs of the many palaces, shrines, temples and houses. Aztec architecture presented a sense of order and symmetry, and it's design elements were portrayals of the power of its kingdom.



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    Fig. 1 - Aztec Calendar Stone: The Aztec calendar stone that has a 12 feet diameter and weighs 20 tonnes. This calendar was used for religious purposes, as well as determining the good days for building houses and when to go to war.


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    Fig. 2 - Aztec Moon God of Flowers: A statue of an Aztec god, Xochipili, who is most known for his love of music, feasting, dance and other pleasant things.

    Ancient Aztec Art, Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor
    Fig. 3 - These statues were found leaning against the Aztec temple, Templo Mayor.

    Fig. 4 - An example of Aztec architecture

    Most Popular Aztec Art/Architecture
  • The Calendar Stone (Fig. 1)
  • The Statue of Xochipili (Fig. 2)
  • Stone of Coyolxauhqui

    Related Links:




    AncientWorlds LLC. Aztec Art. 2007. 13 Feb. 2007

    Baird, Philip. Aztec Moon God of Flowers. 1999. 13 Feb. 2007

    Baird, Philip. Aztec Calendar Stone. 1999. 13 Feb. 2007

    Baird, Philip. Malinalco Aztec Water Temple Structure. 1999. 15 Feb. 2007

    Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel. Tenochtitlan, Mexico.. 15 Feb. 2007

    Newman, Garfield. Echoes from the Past: World History to the 16th Century. Toronto, ON: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 2001.

    Whelan, Kurt. Tenochtitlan, Mexico. 15 Feb. 2007 

    World-Mysteries. Aztec and Mayan Calendars. 2007. 13 Feb. 2





       Review Questions

    1. What did the stone statues often depict?

    1. Gods and Goddesses
    2. Gods and sacrificial victims
    3. Only Gods
    4. Political leaders

    2. What specific oratory skill was especially valued?

    1. Lyric Poetry
    2. Opera
    3. Speeches
    4. Singing

    3. What kind of tree was Aztec paper made from?

    1. Oak
    2. Elm
    3. Palm
    4. Fig

    4. Where was literature learned?

    1. The House of song and in the church
    2. In the temple and in the calmecac
    3. The House of song and in the calmecac
    4. At home and in the church

    5. What did religion not give a clear explanation of that made the Aztecs explore the arts?

    1. Life
    2. Love
    3. War
    4. Emotions