Rare and precious Aztec objects on show in New Zealand for the first time

30 September 2013

An exhibition telling the glorious, dramatic and ultimately tragic story of the Aztec empire, opens at Te Papa this weekend.

More than 200 treasured artefacts have been collected from museums throughout Mexico to go on show in New Zealand for the first time.

Te Papa Curator Lynette Townsend says “Aztecs: Conquest and glory provides a fascinating insight into the ways of life, beliefs and sacrifical rituals of the Aztecs.

“This is a rare opportunity to view the Aztecs’ most sacred and treasured objects firsthand. One of my favourite objects is a large ceramic sculpture of Mictlantecuhtli, god of death and lord of the underworld.

“He stands bent over with his liver hanging out, grinning manically. This fearsome looking sculpture stands guard at the entrance to our inner temple experience. Here visitors will learn about life after death and the journey to Mictlan – the place most Aztecs journeyed to when they died.”

“Another feature of the exhibition is a gold pendant depicting Xochipilli (Flower Prince) – the god of dance, song, art, flowers and beauty. He was a god associated with spring and a patron god of artisans who crafted precious metals. It’s a beautiful and skillfully made decorative piece, as many of the exhibits are,” said Lynette Townsend.

A similar exhibition in London more than ten years ago was described as ‘powerful and macabre’.

The centre piece of the Te Papa exhibition will be a walk-in Aztec Temple. The exterior is a replica of the Templo Mayor, one of the main Aztec temples.

“Religion was central to the Aztecs’ way of life. Their Great Temple dominated Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec empire. This incredible structure was a grand and magnificent sight, and a major feat of engineering.

“It was considered to be the physical and spiritual centre of the universe and was an important site for ritual sacrifice. The structure was created in seven stages by successive emperors, each asserting the growing power of the Aztec empire, beginning with the founding of Tenochtitlán in 1325. The temple was destroyed after the Spanish conquistadors overthrew the empire in 1521.

“The Te Papa replica will be a scale model, about one-tenth the size of the Mexican temple,” said Lynette Townsend.

It has taken several years to plan Aztecs: Conquest and glory.Te Papa has been working closely in partnership with the National Council for Culture and the Arts and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (CONACULTA-INAH) in Mexico, along with the Australian Museum and Museum Victoria.

“INAH, the Mexican regulatory body which has national oversight of all historical, archaeological and ethnological museums, excavations, research and international lending, has been coordinating the loan and collection effort. Mexican curator Raúl Barrera who is head of the INAH Urban Archaeology Program, has selected an incredible and fascinating range of objects from a number of different Mexican museums.

“It’s been an ambitious and complex project so it’s exciting to be at the point now where we are about to open this once in a life-time exhibition to the public,” said Lynette Townsend.

Aztecs: Conquest and glory will move to Museum Victoria in Melbourne (21 March 2014 – 27 July 2014) and Australian Museum, Sydney (13 September 2014 – 1 February 2015) following its four month showing at Te Papa.

Media contact

Guy Randall, Communications Adviser
021 601 0180

Bridget MacDonald, Senior Corporate Affairs Adviser
04 381 7071 or 029 601 0010

Aztecs: Conquest and Glory is open for a preview to Visa Platinum cardholders on Saturday 28 September from 12 – 4pm, and the exhibition will be open to the general public on the Sunday 29 September.

Aztecs: Conquest and glory
29 September – 9 February 2014
Visa Platinum Gallery,
Level 4, Te Papa.
Admission charges apply