Mixtec culture, Oaxaca, Mexico, Mask of Tlaloc

Mixtec culture, Oaxaca, Mexico 

Mask of Tlaloc, c. 10th – 12th century 

carved basalt 

Purchase, 1973 (4154.1) T

he Mixtec (pronounced mish-tec) culture existed between the 10th and early 16th centuries in part of what is the present-day state of Oaxaca in west Mexico, during roughly the same period the Aztec empire rose farther east in central Mexico. Many Mixtec, though not all, eventually paid tribute as vassals to the Aztecs. The Mixtecs were particularly known for their objects in gold, but they also had a sculptural tradition in ceramic and stone. This mask, carved in a very dense, fine-grained black volcanic rock known as basalt, depicts Tlaloc, the god of rain, fertility, and water worshiped throughout many Mesoamerican cultures. The identity of the deity is signified by the large circles around the eyes, referred to as “goggle eyes.” Tlaloc is also usually depicted with fangs coming out of each side of his mouth; these are not present here, and the difference in surface and color between the mouth area of this mask and the rest of the face, perhaps indicates that the mouth was reworked at some point and the fangs were eliminated.