La Calavera Catrina

La Calavera Catrina (‘The Elegant Skull’) is a 1910 zinc etching by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada, part of his series of calaveras (humorous images of contemporary figures depicted as skeletons, which often were accompanied by a poem). The image has since become a staple of Mexican imagery, and often is incorporated into artistic manifestations of the Day of the Dead in November, such as altars and calavera costumes. Although these holy days have a long cultural history reaching into the prehistoric traditions of several European cultures, many aspects of the Mexican festival have indigenous origins in an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. After the conquest of Mexico, the Spanish superimposed their cultural traditions upon the similar Aztec festival and a synthesis occurred.

‘La Catrina,’ as it is commonly known, was a popular print in Posada’s day, but soon faded from the popular memory. Along with the rest of Posada’s prints, it was revived by French artist and art historian Jean Charlot shortly after the Mexican Revolution in the 1920s. ‘La Catrina’ soon gained iconic status as a symbol of uniquely Mexican art and was reproduced en masse. The image was incorporated into Diego Rivera’s mural ‘Dream of a Sunday’in Alameda Park,’ which also includes images of his wife Frida Kahlo, Posada, and a self-portrait of Rivera. Notable paper cutter Marcelino Bautista Sifuentes has also recreated the famous ‘La Calavera Catrina’ in papel picado (a decorative craft made out of paper cut into elaborate designs).

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