Teotihuacan, Mexico
Mural Fragment Representing a Ritual of Seasonal Renewal

Lime plaster with mineral pigment
63.8 x 95 cm (25 x 37.5 in.)
The Art Institute of Chicago, African and Amerindian Art Purchase Fund, 1962.702

The ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan was once the largest city in all of the Americas. The pomp and color of this great city were expressed most distinctively through its monumental architecture. Façades of pyramids and interiors of palaces, temples, and homes were frequently decorated with splendid frescoes. The fragment shown here was part of a cycle painted on the interior walls of an aristocratic palace. It shows a rain priest walking or dancing in profile and wearing an elaborate headdress and costume. His speech-scroll, adorned with seashells and plants, indicates that he is praying for water and agricultural prosperity, which were highly valued in his society.

To create the frescoes from which this fragment came, workmen in Teotihuacan layered coats of ground lime or stucco over the palace’s rough walls. The artist then mixed and applied pigments to the wall while it was still wet. The colors used were earth tones, such as hematite red and ochres, as well as greens, blues, and whites. Once the composition was painted or drawn and almost dry, artists would burnish the entire surface with a stone until smooth.