Iconography

Tlaltecuhtli is the “Lord of the Earth.” The deity is both male and female, but is often referred as “she/her.” In Aztec mythology, Quetzalcoatl (“Feathered Serpent”) and Tezcatlipoca (“Smoking Mirror”) brought Tlaltecuhtli down from the heavens. Quetzlcoatl and Tecatlipoca transformed into serpents, tore Tlaltecuhtli into two parts, and brought half of her back to the heavens. The other half of Tlaltecuhtli remained and became the earth, surrounded by water. Her hair became plants, and her shoulders became mountains. Tlaltecuhtli was not happy with how she was separated into halves, so she requested to be fed by blood of human sacrifice so that human beings can keep consuming her. Hence, her face is often depicted as attached on the ground, waiting to be fed by blood. Matos and Solis (2002) suggest that this god represents the embodiment of earth, the first place that the dead enter into the underworld level, as well as a monument for death and sacrifice, which achieve balance of energy to sustain life (2).

Art historians suggest to analyze this Tlaltecuhtli sculpture’s iconography from three different sides. 

Firstly, the topside is Tlaltecuhtli’s face, with clawed hands rising to the sides of the face. Eyes and fangs are distinguishable. A flint knife comes out of her mouth as a tongue. 

From the front, the first thing we noticed is the deity’s pose as crouching. The scholars believe that this pose shows how the earth deity crouching under the earth, mouth open, waiting to devour the dead and the sun, which metaphorically returns to the land by going into the body of the monster. In Aztec culture, crossing-leg crouching often refers to a male god; however, Tlaltecuhtli wears a skull and crossbones skirt, which refers to its female characteristics. We tend to refer Tlaltecuhtli as “she/her,” but it is important to keep in mind that the deity is both male and female due to the strong sense of duality in Aztec ideology. Another important iconography is that Tlaltecuhtli wears a necklace consisted of hands and heart. 

From the back, we see the symbolic Mali-nali grass hair, which symbolizes plants and fertility. Tlaltecuhtli wears a back-apron-like thing, attached to her belt. It has a skull and animal fur on it.