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Gardens and Cosmos/Moctezuma @ the British Museum

Fairytale forests, human hearts and a few nasty endings

Written by Satu Fox

Gardens and Cosmos


This is your last chance to see the Gardens and Cosmos exhibition, viagra 100mg which has been extended to October 11. On the surface it doesn’t sound very exciting: 17th century Indian paintings about gardens do not seem to have sparked much interest in anyone I know other than my dad and I. But we loved it.

A really well-curated exhibition, sale the captions here are very revealing and they need to be. There are so many stories here unfamiliar to your average English viewer (me) although luckily my learned dad was able to explain a few of them to me: anytime you see a blue person, symptoms he will be Krishna, a deity who was very popular among a certain set of kings, many of whom rose through judicious poisonings and were despatched the same way.


I got a very strong sense of the desert environment these kings lived in: there’s a lot of gold and 18th century babes but the really high-status possessions were ones requiring water. Trees, birds and pools are rendered in all the colours of the rainbow, and in beautiful minute detail. There is also an amazing embroidered tent designed to bring a bustling natural world of flora and fauna to places mainly comprising sand.

gardens and cosmos 2

The “cosmos” element means religion, which is where the lucid captions really come into their own. The creation myth is represented by an infinite sea upon which gods float, pondering whether to make a new world (yet more water). The sense of cycles and flow is represented through style and some of the works look totally out of time: it would be wrong to say they look modern but it’s also hard to say where else they would fit in my mental Art Filing Cabinet.

gardens and cosmos 3

Any fans of illustration will love the teeming, detailed natural world on display and the cosmos element is light on the religious education, preferring instead to show us how spirituality can be conveyed in two dimensions. I have been raving about this show: go, and make a slow tour throughout the galleries, take everything in and above all, spend time on each work. They will reward your patience.

Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler

The new blockbuster exhibition at the British Museum follows the sad story of Moctezuma, the most famous ruler of the Aztecs (who we are politely reminded to refer to as the Mexica despite “AZTEC RULER” being boldly emblazoned across all the advertising). What is terrible about this story is not just the destruction of one man, but the entire civilisation he represented, one well-established, ancient and brought down abruptly by the Conquistadors.

moctezuma mask

The exhibition is quick to point out, with a huge carved eagle container designed to hold human hearts, that Moctezuma was not himself a particularly understanding guy. He assumed his position as a semi-divine king by being excellent at warfare rather than running efficient local services for example. That’s part of the appeal of the Aztec Empire for European audiences from then to this day: supremely clever astrological calculations and murderous practices make an irresistible cocktail for those interested in the supernatural (check out the embellished human skull, above). In addition, they really loved gold and made a lot of very shiny things.

moctezuma gold figurine

Many of the objects on display in this exhibition reflect this Mexica emphasis on physical strength and prowess in war: a wooden drum is carved in the shape of a tied-up prisoner (below). There is no sympathy shown in any of the writings or objects for those who fail: prisoners were very likely to have their hearts cut out for use in religious ceremonies. Hard to relate to! But then we hear about the New Fire ceremony, intended to bring the renewal of the calendar, rather like our Millennium celebrations; Moctezuma presided over the last such ceremony in history – all recognisable traditions were destroyed and their spiritual system torn down. It must have felt to the Mexica like the very end of the world.

mexica drum

In the end, it was a quirk of technology that brought them down: the Spanish had steel sword, while the Mexica weapons were made of wood and a stone called obsidian. There was no contest and much of the ruling class was massacred. Moctezuma made a last appearance before a public mob, and then disappeared, presumably dead or so demoralised he never wanted to appear in the history books again. He lost a war; in his own eyes he was probably a loser.

mexica codex

Aside from the emphasis on war and sacrifice, Tenochtitlan was an amazingly advanced place and must have been a stunning sight: it had a population of 200,000 at a time when London had around 70,000 and had a central temple rising 50m into the sky. They also loved gold, turquoise and decorative objects and had plenty of resources to make them, including the skills of craftsmen who could mosaic pretty much anything with tiny pieces of precious material. So, go to see what the Mexica people produced and lament, just a little, at the destructive power of the Conquistadors.

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