Installing the Aztec Eagle Warrior in Contested Visions

November 22, 2011
Sofía Sanabrais, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art

At the opening of Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World stands the majestic sculpture known as the Eagle Warrior, from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City. This incredible example of Aztec imperial sculpture was discovered in the House of Eagles at the north end of the Templo Mayor archaeological site in 1980. The House of Eagles was used by the Aztec elite for meditation, prayer, and autosacrifice—an act performed to propitiate the deities of the earth and maintain cosmic order. This sculpture was one of two that flanked the main door of the temple that were perched atop banquettes bearing images of warriors in procession marching toward a zacatapayolli, or grass ball into which the instruments of autosacrifice were inserted. The sculpture portrays a man wearing a helmet in the form of an eagle head, and a costume with stylized wings and talons. It is composed of five hollow ceramic clay parts: the two lower legs below the knees, the thighs and midsection, the winged arms and torso, and the head, which is enclosed in the bird mask. Supported by an internal structure, the sculpture stands just larger than lifesize. For the installation of this fragile piece, LACMA’s team of art preparators and conservators worked alongside the archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and the chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

View of the current archaeological site of the Templo Mayor with the Cathedral of Mexico City to the west in the background. The Eagle Warrior was discovered on the northern perimeter of the Templo Mayor site within a structure known as the House of the Eagles. After the fall of Tenochtitlan in 1521, the sacred precinct of the Templo Mayor was razed and, as seen here in this photograph, the colonial city was built atop its ruins. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)


LACMA conservators Natasha Cochran and Siska Genbrugge condition report the legs of the Eagle Warrior. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)


Archaeologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and chief conservator María Barajas Rocha from the Museo Templo Mayor check the stability of the piece before continuing with the installation of the sculpture. (Photo by Sofía Sanabrais)


Carrizosa Montfort secures the torso of the Eagle Warrior to the sculptures’ mid-section.


Barajas Rocha and Carrizosa Montfort carefully secure the head of the Eagle Warrior before moving it into the galleries.


LACMA’s team of art preparators, led by Jeff Haskin (right), carefully lead the Eagle Warrior into the exhibition space.


The sculpture is placed atop the pedestal.


Final installation view of the Eagle Warrior as it majestically greets visitors into the galleries.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA by Yosi Pozeilov