Posts Tagged ‘British Museum’

London — By Andrea Kirkby on September 16, 2009 at 10:02 am
Filed under: Attractions, aztec, British Museum, exhibition, moctezuma

Coming up – Moctezuma

The British Museum is best known for its Greek and Egyptian artefacts – but it’s got some rather stunning American ones, too, as a recent visit to the galleries showed me.

This autumn, you’ll get a double dose of ancient America as the Moctezuma exhibition goes on show. (There were already a few gaps in the Aztec collections when I went round last week – the exhibits have headed off to their temporary home.)

Moctezuma II was the last Aztec emperor, reigning from 1502 to 1520. (That’s about the same time as the young Henry VIII – a king who had a much longer innings, though, apparently, fewer wives.) His empire covered most of today’s Mexico; he was an unrivalled ruler – until the Spanish appeared. They had two weapons – guns, and smallpox. The end of the empire came not long after – according to the Spanish, Moctezuma was killed as a traitor; according to recently re-evaluated evidence, though, they may themselves have murdered their captive king.

The exhibits are sure to be impressive. They include gold jewellery and fine turquoise masks – masks which grin implacably, or stare stonily out of hollow eyes. I’ve rarely felt as far removed from a civilisation as I do when I look at these masks.

What’s really intriguing, though, is that the exhibition will show both sides of the conflict. So as well as Aztec sculptures, we get Spanish oil paintings; we see the Aztecs through Spanish eyes, and the Spaniards through Aztec eyes. Most museums only show you the Aztec artefacts, giving what’s clearly a biased picture.

This is clearly going to be a massive exhibition – pictures of the turquoise mask are already pasting the walls of the London Underground, and kids everywhere will of course thrill to the Aztec habit of cutting prisoners’ hearts out while still beating. But it looks as if it’s going to be an interesting scholarly exhibition too – reassessing Moctezuma as a warrior emperor, who would have been one of the greatest Aztec rulers if only the Spanish hadn’t appeared…

When: 24 September 2009 to 24 January 2010, 10-530, till 2030 on Thursdays and Fridays

How much: £12 adult (concessions apply): book online

Photo by A Blight on flickr

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