The god of fire
This figure represents Xiuhtecuhtli, the Mexica god of fire. Xiuhtecuhtli is generally represented nude except for a loin cloth, with eyes semi-closed and only two teeth protruding from the corners of his mouth (characteristic of the old god Huehueteotl, with whom he is also identified). His headdress consist of a headband decorated with circles and a bow made of pleated bark paper (amacuexpalli), common among fertility deities. Xiuhtecuhtli is also represented in codices (screenfold books) with his face painted with black and red pigment, and with Xiuhcoatl (‘Fire Serpent’) as a back ornament. The cult of the fire god goes back many centuries before Mexica times and extended throughout Mesoamerica.
Xiuhtecuhtli is shown seated, with his hands resting on his knees. This position is common in Mexica sculpture representing gods such as Tlaloc, Macuilxochitl-Xochipilli, Quetzalcotal or Mictlantecuhtli. In the codices small figures representing deities are depicted in this pose, inside temples, when receiving offerings or gifts.
This piece was among a collection of antiquities taken to Spain after Mexico’s independence in 1821. It was later acquired by John Wetherell and was illustrated in a catalogue he published in 1842. The British Museum purchased the entire Wetherell Collection in 1849.
© Trustees of the British Museum
*The people and culture we know as ‘Aztec’ referred to themselves as the Mexica (pronounced Me-shee-ka).
L. López Luján, The offerings of the Templo Ma (University Press of Colorado, 1994)
M. E. Miller and K. Taube, An illustrated dictionary of t (London, Thames and Hudson, 1997)
C. McEwan, Ancient Mexico in the British (London, The British Museum Press, 1994)