A delicate pen and ink drawing of a stylized pre-Columbian Chacmool figure.

Chacmool (Study for El mundo magico de los mayas)

By the early 1960’s, Leonora Carrington’s career in Mexico was flourishing, and she was awarded a prestigious government commission to paint a mural for the new Museo Nacional de Antropología, which opened in 1964.

This drawing is a study for one of the central subjects in the mural – the Chacmool, portrayed as a deity rising out of the mountain range. Carrington based this figure on pre-Columbian Chacmools. These distinctive sculptural forms were used by many Mesoamerican cultures and depict a reclining figure, shown from the side, leaning on its elbows with its head rotated 90 degrees to the front. Chacmools are thought to have served as repositories for offerings to the gods, and they occupied a space between the physical and supernatural worlds.

Here Carrington has infused this iconic form with her own distinct vision. Her Chacmool, exquisitely drawn, is embellished and given a heart, emphasizing the connection with ancient sacrificial offerings. In the mural it takes on a monumental presence, overseeing the mystical landscape below.

A colorful mural by Leonora Carrington showing a fanciful landscape. A mountain range looms above a glowing valley while a rainbow and planets span the scene.
Leonora Carrington, El mundo mágico de los mayas, 1964

Entitled El mundo mágico de los mayas, hers was destined for the section in the museum dedicated to the state of Chiapas, and to that end she traveled there in 1963 to study the region and its peoples. . . . During a six-month period Carrington executed many preliminary drawings of the villagers and also of the animals at the zoo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez. When she returned home she began to study the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the ancient Quiche Maya, in order to understand better the preconquest beliefs of the Chiapas Indians, descendents of the ancient Maya. In spite of the fact that Carrington in general tended to avoid the constrictions of commissions, previously had little interest in depicting Mexican scenes, and had never painted anything of this size (the mural is 213 × 457 cm), El mundo mágico de los mayas presents a sweeping, vibrant panorama of the material and spiritual life of Chiapas. The composition is clearly divided into celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean realms where mythological entities animate the landscape, Catholic processions take place next to indigenous healing and animals energetically cavort, moving with ease between realms. Here the past and present, the sacred and the secular, and the seen and hidden co-exist and co-mingle as they are viewed through Carrington’s visionary filter.

Susan L. Aberth, “Leonora Carrington, Surrealism, Alchemy and Art,” 2010, pp. 97 – 102

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