About This Artwork

Aztec (Mexica)
Tenochtitlan, Mexico

Coronation Stone of Motecuhzoma II (Stone of the Five Suns), 1503

55.9 x 66 x 22.9 cm (22 x 26 x 9 in.)

Major Acquisitions Fund, 1990.21

This stone, commemorating the beginning of the reign of Emperor Motecuhzoma II, was originally located within the ritual center of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the extensive empire established by the Aztecs (Mexica) between 1428 and 1519. The ruins of Tenochtitlan lie beneath downtown Mexico City. Known as the "Stone of the Five Suns," this monument draws connections between Aztec history and the cosmic scheme. The quadrangular block is carved with the hieroglyphic signs of five successive cosmic eras, called “suns” in the language of the Aztecs. These eras were mythic cycles of creation and destruction that began in the time of creation and continued with the birth of humankind and the period of Aztec rule. From "4 Jaguar" in the lower-right corner, the eras proceed counterclockwise through "4 Wind," "4 Rain," and "4 Water." The X motif carved in the center represents "4 Movement," the sign of what was for the Aztec the present era. The year "11 Reed" in the square cartouche refers to 1503, the year of Motecuhzoma’s coronation, while the day listed above it—"1 Crocodile"—corresponds to July 15, when the ceremony probably occurred. On the underside, the hieroglyphic date "1 Rabbit" denotes the beginning of things in the distant mythological past. The sculpture thus legitimizes Motecuhzoma’s rule as a part of the larger cycles of birth, death, and renewal and shows him as heir to the world in the present era.

— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 24.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art in association with Dumbarton Oaks, Art of Ancient Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan, Sept. 28, 1983–Jan. 8, 1984, cat. pp. 41–42 (ill.).

London, Royal Academy of Arts, Aztecs, Nov. 16, 2002–Apr. 11, 2003, cat. 226, pp. 41, 455–456 (ill.); traveled to Berlin, Germany, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Kulturveranstaltsltungen des Bundes, May 16–Aug. 10, 2003, and Bonn, Kunts-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundersrepublik Deutschland, Sept. 12, 2003–Jan. 11, 2004.

Art Institute of Chicago, The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes, Oct. 10, 1992–Jan. 3, 1993, cat. 3, pp. 58–59, 375 (ill.); traveled to Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Feb. 4–Apr. 18, 1993, and Los Angeles Country Museum of Art, June 6–Aug. 15, 1993.

Chicago, The Field Museum, The Aztec World, Oct. 28, 2008–April 19, 2009, cat.

London, British Museum, Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler, Sept. 24, 2009-Jan. 24, 2010, cat. 14, pp. 68–69 (ill.).

Publication History

H.B. Nicholson with Eloise Quiñones Keber, Art of Ancient Mexico: Treasures of Tenochtitlan, exh. cat. (National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., 1983), pp. 41-42 (ill.).

Richard F. Townsend, ed., The Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes, exh. cat. (Art Institute of Chicago, 1992), pp. 58–59, 375 (ill).

John McKay, A History of World Societies, 5th ed. (Houghton Mifflen Company, 1999).

Jean Sousa, Looking at Art Together: A Parent Guide (Art Institute of Chicago, 2002).

Art Institute of Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago: The Essential Guide, revised ed. (Art Institute of Chicago, 2003), p. 15 (ill.).

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Felipe Solis Olguín, Aztecs exh. cat. (Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2003), pp. 455-456, cat. 226 (ill. pg. 41).

Gauvin Bailey, Art of Colonial Latin America (Phaidon Press, 2004).

Eduardo Matos Moctezuma and Felipe Solis, The Aztec Calendar and other Solar Monuments, trans. H. J. Drake (México, D.F., CONACULTA-Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Grupo Azabache, 2005).

Art Institute of Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago The Essential Guide, revised ed. (Art Institute of Chicago, 2009), pg. 24 (ill.).

Richard R. Townsend, The Aztecs, third ed. (Thames and Hudson, 2009), pp. 29-30 (ill.).

Colin McEwan and Leonardo Lopez Lujan, eds. Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler, exh. cat. (British Museum, 2009), pp. 68-69 (ill.)

Richard F. Townsend and Kathleen Bickford Berzock, “The Art Institute of Chicago New Galleries,” in Tribal Arts XVI-1/62 (Winter 2011), p. 65, fig. 15 (ill.).

Ownership History

Stendahl Galleries [Alfred E. Stendahl and Joseph Dammann, owners], Los Angeles, Calif., from winter 1971 [correspondence in curatorial file]; sold to Seth G. Atwood (1917–2010), the Time Museum, Rockford, Ill., November 14, 1972 [correspondence in curatorial file]; sold to the Art Institute, January 9, 1990.

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