Influence of the Posadas on the creators of the Mexican muralist movement

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Influence of the Posadas on the creators of the Mexican muralist movement Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and Charlot
Kiser, Jo Anne
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xi, 84 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Mural painting and decoration, Mexican ( lcsh )
Mural painting and decoration, Mexican ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Humanities, Humanities Program.
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Jo Anne Kiser.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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Resource Identifier:
25335433 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L58 1991m .K57 ( lcc )

Full Text
Jo Anne Kiser
B.A., University of Colorado, 1970
A thesis submitted to the
Faculty of the Graduate School of the
University of Colorado in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities
Humanities Program
Uu !
if > < £

This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Jo Anne Kiser
has been approved for the Humanities Program
ary S. Conroy

Kiser, Jo Anne (M.H., Fine Arts)
Influence of the Posadas on the Creators of the Mexican
Muralist Movement: Rivera, Orozco, Siqueiros, and Chariot
Thesis directed by Professor Charles L. Moone
There is a consensus of thought that the revolutionary
Mexican muralists originated modern Mexican painting,
grounded in their unique heritage. A tradition of "painted
walls" in Mexico facilitated this transference of Indian and
Spanish iconography to forge a contemporary popular art form.
MacKinley Helm in Modern Mexican Painters contends that:
... the modern Mexican movement is not the flowering of
an uninterrupted history of developing indigenous art, but
rather the abrupt recrudescence of feeling, taste and
conscience after an interval of complacent imitative
painting. . (xx)
Guadalupe Posada, a printmaker working in the early 1900's,
epitomized the return to Mexico's past--his prints were the
muralists' roots. Jean Chariot, a member of the Muralist
Movement, describes Posada as an "unpolluted mirror for
mexicanidad. Posada is also a precursor to the Mexican
Revolution of 1910, that signaled the fruition of new political
and social ideas which also invariably found their way into the
mural paintings. This paper will examine the linkage of the art
and life of the common man through Posada to the final
'Mexican' product--the murals. Specific works of Posada and
of the creators of the Mexican Muralist Renaissance--Diego

Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, Jean Chariot, and David Alfaro
Siqueiros-will be compared in order to determine the
influence of the Posadas on the Mexican murals.
The form and content of this abstract are approved. I
recommend its publication.
Charles L. Moone
i v

This paper is dedicated to my family and
friends, who have given me the support
necessary for the courage to risk.

List of Figures....................................ix
1. BACKGROUND AND HISTORY.............................1
2. POSADA............................................10
Posada the Man...................................11
Themes and Symbols...............................14
Historical Events.................................1 7
Legendary Figures................................18
Fiestas and Public Gatherings....................20
Religious Figures................................24
3. THE MEXICAN MURALISTS.............................28
Jose Clemente Orozco.............................31
Diego Rivera......................................3 4
David Alfaro Siqueiros............................3 7
Jean Chariot......................................4 0

Historical Events..................................44
Posada, Hernan Cortes and Cholula...............4 5
Jean Chariot, The Conquest (detail),
Jose Clemente Orozco, The Conquest of
America, 1938-39................................49
Diego Rivera, Clash of Civilizations
(detail), 1929-30...............................50
Posada, Los preparativos para la fiesta
del 16 de septiembre and Politica del
David Alfaro Siqueiros, The
dictatorship (detail), 1957.....................52
Legendary Figures..................................54
Posada, Sorprendente milagro and
Estupendo y prodigioso
acontecimiento..................................5 5
Jose Clemente Orozco, Cortes y
Malintzin, 1926.................................57
David Alfaro Siqueiros, Cuauhtemoc
resurrected: the torture, 1951..................60
Fiestas and Public Gatherings......................62
Posada, La calavera del editor popular
Antonio Vanegas Arroyo..........................6 3
Diego Rivera, A Dream of a Sunday
Afternoon in the Alameda Park,
1947-48 and The Fair on All Souls

Posada, El corrido de Heracleo Bernal.........68
Diego Rivera, Corrido: Lunch in the
Rain, 1927....................................69
Posada, Calaveras de monton...................71
Jose Clemente Orozco, Hildago, 1937...........71
Religious Figures...............................7 4
Posada, El Defensor de los Indios and
Fray Bartolome de las Casas..................7 4
Jose Clemente Orozco, A Franciscan
bending over a leper, 1926....................75
Diego Rivera, The Bad Monk and The
Good Monk, 1929-30............................77
5. CONCLUSION.........................................79

2.1. Posada. El entierro de Zapata..........................1 9
2.2. Posada. Verdadera imagen del Senor de Chalma...........27
2.3. Posada. Nuestra Senora de la Soledad de Santa
2.4. Posada. Loa en honor de la Stma. Virgen de la
Soledad................................................2 7
4.1. Posada. Hernan Cortes..................................47
4.2. Posada. Cholula........................................47
4.3. Jean Chariot. The Conquest (detail), 1922..............47
4.4. Jose Clemente Orozco. The Conquest of America,
1938-39................................................ 48
4.5. Diego Rivera. Clash of Civilizations (detail),
4.6. Posada. Los preparativos para la fiesta del 16
de septiembre..........................................53
4.7. Posada. Politica delporvenir...........................53
4.8. David Alfaro Siqueiros. The Dictatorship
(detail), 1957.........................................54
4.9. Posada. Sorprendente milagro...........................56
4.10. Posada. Estupendo y prodigioso
acontecimiento.........................................5 6

4.11. Jose Clemente Orozco. Cortes y Malintzin,
4.12. David Alfaro Siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc resurrected:
the torture............................................61
4.13. Posada. La calavera del editor popular
Antonio Vanegas Arroyo.................................64
4.14. Diego Rivera. A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in
the Alameda Park, 1947-48..............................66
4.15. Diego Rivera. The Fair on All Souls Day, 1923..........67
4.16. Posada. El corrido de Heracleo Bernal................. 69
4.17. Diego Rivera. Corrido: Lunch in the Rain, 1927.........70
4.18. Posada. Calaveras de monton............................72
4.19. Jose Clemente Orozco. Hildago, 1937....................73
4.20. Posada. El Defensor de los indios......................75
4.21. Posada. Fray Bartolome de las Casas...................7 5
4.22. Jose Clemente Orozco. A Franciscan Bending
Over a Leper, 1926....................................7 6
4.23. Diego Rivera. The Bad Monk and The Good Monk,

I offer grateful appreciation to these people
who have provided special guidance and
support: the staff of the Colorado Springs
Taylor Museum, muralist Eric Bransby,
Professor Phil Hernandez, and Hal's friend-
Paul Nicholson.

Murals span two thousand years of cultural life in
Mexico. Emily Edwards states that .. through conquest,
colonial rule, revolts, invasions, and revolution, mural art has
never ceased to be a cultural solvent in Mexico" (xii). Mural
painting was a traditional art form in Mesoamerica; both
Teotihuacan and, later, Tenochtitlan were painted cities. At
the time of the conquest of Mexico, it had become a highly
developed art form in Europe. Wall painting was practiced
lavishly in Mexico after the fall of Tenochtitlan to
psychologically conquer the Indian. The massacre that
Alvarado had perpetuated in the Aztec capital was painted on
the walls of Tecpan, or the Governor's Palace. All the
monasteries originally had painted decoration and much of that
work was done by Indian painters under the direction of the
Jean Chariot, both as a participant in and a writer
about the modern Mexican mural movement, feels that although
the three styles of Mexican art-Pre-Hispanic, Colonial, and
Modern-appear to have profound differences, they are one in

three. In the foreword to Edward's Painted Walls of Mexico, he
Yet the three styles are but masks that the one individual,
Mexico, puts on at wish, or discards. Deeply embedded in
soil and race, underlying themes bridge unscathed from
one era into the next, (ix)
Chariot feels that "mural painting presupposes in its maker a
certain amount of selflessness" (ix). Communication is the
essence and the message must be simple so that it is clear to
the man in the street. "It so happened that in any century when
walls beckoned to Mexican artists they themselves were
preconditioned to the task" (ix). Mural art was a conscious
Unfortunately many of the records of the history and
religion of the indigenous cultures that the Spaniards found in
Mexico were destroyed. Frank Waters points out the
eccentricities in this destruction. He gives the example of the
Bishop Diego de Landa, who in 1552 publicly burned his
collection of Mayan hieroglyphics and destroyed hundreds of
"idols". Yet it is his Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan.
published a century later, that has become a primary source of
Maya information. Modern day excavations of ancient sites

have shed more light on these remarkable civilizations;
uncovered murals play a key role.
Wall paintings of the Mayans and Aztecs, the two
major civilizations, tended to record the intimate life of its
peoples. Subject matter was tied to matters of the soil;
theocratic societies ruled by priestly orders bound the art to
religion. Emily Edwards finds these murals exciting because
... art which is found exactly where it was painted,
which expresses the sense of place and of the rapport
between people and place, and which reveals the
knowledge and beliefs that have ruled the artists and their
times, (xi)
Themes born at that time pervade the Mexican psyche today,
intermingling with the message of those whom Anita Brenner
calls the "White Redeemers", Cortes and the Church.
"Mayan" designates a style of Mesoamerican art that is
located primarily in Southeastern Mexico and Central America.
One sees in the remnants of their culture a preoccupation with
time, even to the extent that they accurately predicted their
demise. Their art is marked by, "an elaborate, concentrated,
and natural form of expression, characterized by architecture
of aspiring vertical forms and by painting concerned with
events from human life" (Edwards 8). Jean Chariot notes their
masterful use of geometry in a twelfth-century Mayan mural,
attesting to their interest in abstractions and mathematics.
"The use of line, volume, and color for non-descriptive, highly

intellectualized purpose, was as natural with him as an
objective fidelity is to the camera" (Artist 42).
The "Mexican" or "Aztec" style denotes "an ample,
severe, geometric art, with architecture expressed in
horizontal forms and painting dedicated to religious
uses" (Edwards 8). Central and Southern Mexico is the
locality in which this style emerged. The Aztecs' concern with
space lent their murals a symbology that turned to abstraction.
Jean Chariot observes that, although the Aztec painting
appears to be merely writing, that councils of ancients had
wed each color to a complex of subject matter"
(Renaissance 6). They made a cult of war that allowed them
to dominate their neighbors and to create a strange
juxtaposition between some of the most beautiful poetry ever
written and the most bloody, gruesome sacrifices ever
Mural art was used extensively in the first century of
Spanish colonization of Mexico; the mendicant friars, close on
the heels of the Conquistadores, employed Indian artisans to
decorate their fortresslike monasteries. Mural painting not
only contributed to the psychological conquest of the Indian,
but also provided the visual aids needed in the missionary zeal

of conversion. Not unlike the mural painting of the Pre-
Columbian era, these murals were created from religious
impulses, and were what Jean Chariot calls masterpieces of
plastic propaganda. It is interesting that some of the first
literature of this era consisted of dramas that reenacted
biblical scenes in concrete presentations that relied on visual
props (Motolinia's rendition of Adan v Eva. for example,
employed a real garden replete with new world flora and
Cortes marveled in his own letters at the
magnificence of this new world; colonial buildings and city
plans were built on this same large scale. Indian temples
became Christian temples and Tenochtitlan's ruins became
Mexico City, capitol of New Spain. The riches that were found
in Mexico allowed for the lavish building and decorating of
churches. Certain chance parallels between the old and the
new religion facilitated this transition. According to Edwards
in Painted Walls of Mexico arriving European artists to the
New World established an Artists' Guild in 1556 that excluded
Indian painters from its membership; however, this monopoly
did not apply to murals. In the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries canvas painting began to replace the wall painting in
the churches; almost ironically the whitewashing of the walls
to make room for the canvases preserved the murals

By the end of the sixteenth century with the country
enjoying a relative peace, responsibility for the native
population passed from the friars to the village priests. The
Indians were isolated in pueblos that afforded them little
protection from the ravages of Old World diseases and the
specter of deculturalizaton. Emily Edwards states that, "the
Church filled a great need of the people; it was their only
salvation from despair" (65). Perhaps a real synthesis of the
cultures of the Old World and the New World took place at this
time in the independent expression of religious images in the
bultos and retablos (carved three dimensional saints and
painted altar pieces). Murals were secularized in the
decorating of the pulcherias, local drinking establishments.
These three hundred years of Spanish rule play a
significant role in Mexico's cultural development; the Indian
and Spaniard heritages were welded together. Jean Chariot
points out that while there is a contrast, a true affinity exists
between the two. In his essay on a fresco of Saint Christopher
rediscovered in 1944 with the reopening of the Church of
Santiago Tlatelolco, he traces three centuries of changes to
the fresco. "The Saint is as solidly based and as pyramidal as
is the neighboring Aztec temple, or teocalli" (Artist 81). He
notes "elements incongruously borrowed from the Italian
Renaissance" (Artist 811. Chariot ends with a summation of
the importance of the colonial period for the mural artist:

To the three centuries-sixteenth, seventeenth,
eighteenth-to which this mural is related, we should add
still another. Indeed, few periods of history could
appreciate the merit of its colossal size, its brutal force,
its obvious awkwardness and far from academic
proportions. Yet our twentieth century feels a special
gratitude towards the Saint Christopher of Tlatelolco, a
precursor that unconsciously embodies some of the
characteristics of modern Mexican murals. (Artist 84)
Mexico's twentieth century Revolution was preceded
and accompanied by a resurgence of cultural activity; mural
painting formed an integral part of this Revolution--the
artists themselves were soldiers. Jose Vasconcelos, the
Minister of Education in the early 1920's, initiated the Mural
Movement when he offered the walls of his ambitious building
program to Mexican artists. Along with the walls he offered
material expenses, artists' salaries, and stylistic freedom,
directly linking the mural movement to the changing political
scene. Vasconcelos was one of the founders of the 1910
"Atheneum of Youth" along with the adolescent thinkers
Antonio Caso, Alfonso Reyes, and Pedro Henriquez Urena. One
of their principal objectives was to investigate, defend, and
affirm the Mexican culture, delineating her most pure values.
Dr. Atl (Geraldo Murillo) was stirring up the young
artists at the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City. He
carried in his hands the rainbow of the Impressionists and a

great enthusiasm for the great Renaissance frescoes of Italy.
Diego Rivera returned from a government-financed study in
Europe filled with revolutionary technical experiments in
painting and political ideas. Native art was rediscovered and
validated, eclipsing the Spanish Catholic tradition.
It was the period before the 1910 Mexican Revolution
that provided the incubation period for ideas. The years under
Don Porfirio Diaz, who seized power in 1876 and reigned until
1911, were characterized by peace (one investigator said
peaceful to the point of dullness). The Porfiriato, as these
years were named, embraced "order and progress whose goals
were set by technocrat advisors. Mexico City became a modern
capitol along with a building of railroads, increased mining,
and a stable currency.
There was little real improvement in the daily life of
the people. This is reflected in the statistics of the Porfiriato
regarding: land distribution that favored the privileged few;
the static income of the campesino; and the cost of food,
which had risen dramatically while consumption had lowered
disproportionately. Foreign interests controlled the
development of natural resources. Even the Mexican literary
tradition neglected to treat these problems. Donald Schmidt in
an article in the Latin American Literary Review states that
"It has persistently attracted the attention of scholars that
Mexican novelists during the Porfiriato showed little concern

in their works for the socio-economic problems of the lower
classes" (43). The nineteenth century Mexican novelists wrote
for the middle and upper classes conveying their own class
consciousness. Jose Guadalupe Posada Aguilar, a self-taught
printer, turned his attention to the people--their daily lives
and the things that affected them. He was in truth a balladeer,
a man for his times, who accessed this information to the

Only in our own day have we been able to answer the
Spanish Yes with a Mexican Yes rather than with an
intellectual affirmation containing nothing of our
individual selves. The Revolution, by discovering popular
art, originated modern Mexican painting, and by
discovering the Mexican language it created a new
poetry. (Paz 34)
Octavio Paz exemplifies the vanguard of twentieth
century Mexican thought in exploring the parameters of
Mexican character and culture. Carlos Fuentes, a Mexican
writer, joins Paz in seeking to define mexicanidad by carving
his own path, which breaks from European influence. An
important theme in his books explores history and myth. Luis
Leal calls his introduction to Carlos Fuentes. A Critical
Review "History and Myth in the Narrative of Carlos Fuentes"
and uses this quote of Fuentes to begin his essay: "I believe
profoundly in societies that do not kill the past" (3). A key to
his writing is understanding his concept of a mythological path
to history or a creative history. This, perhaps, is what Posada
provided to the Mexican muralists. His prints were the link to
their past. Chariot called Posada the "printmaker to the
Mexican people" (Artist 162).

It is apparent that Posada had great influence on the
muralist painters. Orozco himself writes that:
[A visit to Posada's shop] was the push that set my
imagination in motion and impelled me to cover paper with
my earliest little figures; this was my awakening to the
existence of the art of painting. I became one of the most
faithful customers in Vanegas Arroyo's retail
shop ....(8)
Rivera openly affirmed Posada directly in his art work:
Of the many homages to Posada in the muralists' work, the
most famous is in the Hotel del Prado, across from the
Alameda, in Mexico City. There, Diego Rivera, the
acknowledged master and spokesman for the art
community, painted himself alongside a jocular 'Don Lupe'
Posada and one of his most famous creations, the Calavera
Catrina, a skeleton dressed as a fashionable lady.
(Posada's Mexico 5)
Posada's influence on the Muralist Movement is recognized in
generalities. To be more specific, this chapter will explore
Posada's ability to illuminate key themes and symbols from
the people and his employment of the graphic arts as the
medium to do so.
Posada the Man
Jose Guadalupe Posada Aguilar was born February 2,
1852, in Aguascalientes, and died a pauper in 1913. Ron Tyler
in Posada's Mexico describes him as a short, chubby,
mustachioed Mexican, who attracted little attention; however,
he possessed uncommon talent in using his thorough knowledge

of his people to produce covers for a satiric weekly or the
illustration for a penny broadside. Posada began his career in
the lithography shop of Trinidad Pedroza; the two were forced
to move to Leon in 1872 because of their political commentary.
Sometime after 1876 Posada came to Mexico City, his press in
hand. He was amazingly productive using several different
styles and illustrating a variety of subjects (in fact, over
15,000 prints for many different publishers).
Anita Brenner labels Posada a prophet; as an
illustrator of ballads he foretells two revolutions--one by the
mob, the other on painted walls. She bestows this title on
Posada, because "he breaks sharply from the past, on the
strength of the social philosophy and attitude which
determined his position, his occupation, the choice of his
subjects and the manner of portrayal" (192). Posada came
from the lower middle class, and it was to that audience he
geared his art. While there were many daily, weekly, and
occasional papers, Tyler feels that the partnership between
Posada and the publisher Vanegas Arroyo in covering events
allowed them to be special chroniclers of the day due to a
style unique to their time and place. Their collaboration in the
newspaper Gaceta Calleiera "imbibed and fostered the Indian-
Spanish duality of the developing nation" (Posada's Mexico 101.
Jean Chariot's essay in Posada's Mexico points out that even
Posada's studio was situated at the borderline of two

contrasting Mexicos. One was "the last vestige of the great
Tenochtitlan" with little change since Cortes' arrival. Not far
was Zocalo, the city center with its majestic cathedrals, the
implant of the New Spain.
Posada arrived in Mexico City already adept at his
trade, but found that his lithographic press brought him little
business. Text illustrations were in demand, so Posada
developed a skill in wood engraving. He could turn out a
caricature in a matter of minutes. Jean Chariot in his An
Artist on Art explains the process and its advantages:
The direct cutting with burin results in a white line on
black ground. While in the making, the block was coated
with azarcon. Digging into this red lead composition
helped Posada to evoke all the more easily the flames that
heat and the blood that splashes his visions. The furrowed
line acquires a musculation the lithographed one lacked.
Journalistic deadlines, improvisations in a hard medium,
and an adjustment of his plastic vocabulary to a special
audience, combine to give a primitive flavor.... (171)
When obtaining the necessary large blocks of tough,
hard boxwood became difficult, Posada employed a lead or
typemetal engraving. He successfully used this method until
he became familiar with zinc etching, which permitted him the
freedom of a draftsman, and a cheap alternative to the
increasingly popular process of photo-engraving. Jean Chariot
also elucidates this unusual medium:
. . zinc is drawn upon with an acid-resisting ink, all
exposed parts hollowed in an acid bath. Unlike orthodox
etching, the plate is inked with a roller like a

woodcut.... The result is a black line penned on white
ground, and Posada, in a swagger of calligraphic
arabesques, celebrates his release from the exacting
bondage of the burin. (Artist 172)
Before examining Posadas treatment of some of the
key themes that marked the coming upheaval in Mexico, a few
commentaries help to define the man. Brenner believes that
Posada chose to be "unknown, widely distributed, and much
enjoyed; to be also useful" (192). Rivera wrote upon the first
publication of a book on Posada in 1930 that "Posada was so
great that perhaps someday his name will be forgotten"
(Posada's Mexico 91. Ron Tyler summarizes by saying:
So pervasive are Posada's images-particularly in
Mexico-that many, unaware of Mexico's rich graphic
tradition, think he alone fed the hungry muralists in their
voracious consumption of Mexico's past. A survey of the
works of Posada, his predecessors, and his successors
offers abundant proof of the strength of Mexico's graphic
arts tradition and places Posada within it. To document
many of the sources of his popularity, both during his
lifetime and afterward, we can point to his reliance upon
well-known symbols, his uncanny journalistic sense, and
his deep feelings of identity with the people, all evident in
his work. Why Posada was singled out to become the
artist of the Mexican people might still be a valid
question. That he fulfilled the role cannot be doubted. (5)
Themes and Symbols
Frank Waters speaks of a Mexico that has lived a
history of contradictions, exemplified by the landing of Cortes
at Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz on Good Friday, 1519. Even

geographically Mexico rises from impenetrable tropic jungles
across steaming savannahs to a long volcanic line. While
Mexico City manifests a modern persona, dedicated to a
technological future, remnants of great civilizations lay
buried underneath. Waters speaks of Mexico's orientation in
the ancient past: "[In Mexico] rise pyramids of cut stone as
large as those of Egypt, ruins of ancient cities magnificent as
those in Greece, new stone idols on mountain tops, and fresh
flowers and sacrificed turkey cocks deposited at hidden
shrines" (vii). The mestizo is a new race that has been
gradually fused from two diverse ethnic groups--one European
Spaniard and the other native Indian. Perhaps the ironic laugh
known as the vacilada, derived from the verb "to vacillate",
gives meaning to these two opposite polarities.
The twentieth century Mexican Revolution evoked a
need to reevaluate the Mexican character, and that included
respect for native values. Maximilian had added a French
veneer to Colonial Mexico, reinforcing the belief that culture
was to be found in Europe. Colonial Mexico, after all, had
always been synonymous with loot. The principles of the
Constitution following the Revolution sought to correct the
socio-economic problems with real solutions like minimum
wage and equal work-equal pay. Later novelists looked at the
indigenous peoples with works like El Indio by Lopez and
Fuentes in 1935. Paz talks of a Mexico "attempting to

reconquer [its] past, to assimilate it and make it live in the
present" (147). He goes on to say:
Our Revolution is the other face of Mexico, ignored by the
Reform and humbled by the dictatorship. It is not the face
of courtesy, of dissimulation, of form imposed by lies and
mutilations; it is the brutal, resplendent face of death and
fiestas, of gossip and gunfire, of celebration and love
(which is rape and pistol shots). (149)
Posada portrayed the peasant-laborer in his own,
unique world, thus evolving themes and symbols that were
meaningful to him. Posada illustrated death: a campesino
hanged by the Federals, or a notorious bandit in place before a
firing squad. He brought to life sensational events from prison
escapes to domestic quarrels. He portrayed the arrival of
Halley's comet in 1910, connecting it to the centennial of the
Hildago and Morelos independence effort against Spain in 1810.
A comet was an ill omen to the Aztecs just before the arrival
of Cortes. Posada's calavera, his famous skeleton figure,
borrowed from, the Aztec past to comment on the present. His
prints of religious saints affirmed their Mexican citizenship;
for example, Our Lady of Solitude, a devotional aspect of Mary
developed in Spain in the 1500's became Nuestra Senora de la
Soledad de Santa Cruz que se venera en Mexico.

Historical Events
Posada's prints have been described as "stills" of the
political events that were taking place in the last quarter of
the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth.
Posada approached these illustrations more from the
viewpoint of a satirist based in oral tradition than a political
activist. One must remember that he was providing
information to a readership that was often illiterate and news
hungry. In particular Posada picked at the Porfiriato and the
minor disruptions that spelled the people's underlying
frustrations with it. Jacques Lafaye, in Posada's Mexico.
marvels in Posadas genius in capturing an event. "His
prints . have a precision of detail and an expressionistic
stylization that make them more than an ordinary visual and
narrative reconstruction of an event" (128). His audience was
made to feel Posada's interpretation of the quintessence of the
event. Lafaye states that some of the categories of the
engravings of Posada include: "revolutionary, politico-lyrical
subjects; accounts of executions by firing squad; heroic
exploits; bandits; kidnapping and assassinations by treachery;
crimes of passion; accidents and catastrophes; bullfighters;
and religious or moral subjects" (128).

Legendary Figures
Posada went back into time to retell the stories of
the Conquest, and this perspective has an impact in particular
on Orozco, who amplifies the symbolism of Cortes. Octavio
Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude devotes one whole chapter to
the "Sons of Malinche" and wonders about the strange
permanence of Cortes and la Malinche in the Mexican's
imagination. Malinche (Aztec name--Malintzin or Spanish
title--Dona Marina) is the Indian woman, who as the
translator/mistress of the Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes
becomes an integral part of the downfall of the Aztec nation.
She is seen as both traitor and victim. He surmises that they
have become more than historical figures and indeed, are
symbolic of an unresolved, secret conflict in the Mexican
psyche. The Mexican struggles with his history made less
concrete by the power of these imaginary entities. Included in
this paper is a copy of two of Posada's prints concerning
Cortes and the Colonial period. They are rather primitive and
simplistic in character, but somewhat brave in confronting the
reality of the Conquest. Their impact on Orozco will be
investigated in Chapter 4, when they are compared to two of
his murals concerning Cortes.
The other figure that Posada tended to romanticize
was Emiliano Zapata (Fig. 2.1), the most influential

Figure 2.1. Posada. El entierro de Zapata.

revolutionary leader in southern Mexico. The Mexican
Revolution spawned its share of revolutionary heroes and
aspiring presidents, but only Zapata espoused a real platform.
He was primarily interested in a restitution and distribution
of the land, that harkened back to the ayalas of the Aztecs.
Octavio Paz calls him one of Mexico's legendary heroes:
"Realism and myth are joined in this ardent, melancholy and
hopeful figure who died as he had lived: embracing the
earth" (142).
Fiestas and Public Gatherings
Octavio Paz writes of the solitary Mexican's love of
We are a ritual people, and this characteristic enriches
both our imaginations and our sensibilities, which are
equally sharp and alert. The art of the fiesta has been
debased almost everywhere else, but not in Mexico. There
are few places in the world where it is possible to take
part in a spectacle like our great religious fiestas with
their violent primary colors, their bizarre costumes and
dances, their fireworks and ceremonies, and their
inexhaustible welter of surprizes: the fruit, candy, toys
and other objects sold on these days in the plazas and
open-air markets. (47)
Mexico moves through a soothing calendar of saints'
days and patriotic anniversaries, punctuated by religious
pilgrimages. Paz feels that it is in the celebration of fiestas
that the Mexican is able to open up, and all social, sex, caste

and trade distinctions disappear. The fiesta is "a revolution in
the most literal sense of the word" (51). He like Carlos
Fuentes talks of time being transformed to a mythical past or
a total present. "... space, the scene of the fiesta, is turned
into a gaily decorated world of its own; and the persons taking
part cast off all human or social rank and become, for the
moment, living images" (50). This allows "the burdens of time
and reason" to be put away.
Posada feels comfortable delving into the world of
imagined fantasy-his invention of the Calaveras (one of his
most famous images) dresses skeletons in their appropriate
outrageous costumes. Lafaye in Posada's Mexico even suggests
that Posada's calaveras are born in "the transposition of the
papier-mache dolls or the candies manufactured in Mexico for
the Day of the Dead" (137). They grow to become "sort of a
X ray of a [Mexican] collective soul" (138).
The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes
about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is
one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.
(Paz 57)
A seemingly shocking preoccupation with death is part
of Mexican thought. The sheer fact of life after all can be
harsh. A common motif in art is the skull. Brenner says that

"the skull is a symbol of the thing which like the rain, the
trees, the colors and the moving birds is caught, controlled,
and made into lasting visible life" (26). She feels that in
Mexico death creates the messiah and that the messiah has a
specific template:
His form is multiple. There may be many of him at once.
Always he is the same messiah, projection of divinity.
Always he must die, always return. He is fundamentally
an abstract principle, the function of which is to kindle,
maintain, justify, embody and give life. (16)
Tied in with this interrelated theme of life-death, the messiah
is always accompanied by disaster or catastrophe. As a motif
in art, death occurs before the Conquest, appears in the
Colonial period and is present today.
The Aztecs are known for their bloody sacrifices that,
according to Frank Waters, embodied a collective
responsibility to assure a continuation of the universe. The
advent of Catholicism made sacrifice and the idea of salvation
personal. Ancient Mexicans believed that life extended into
death and death into life, engendering each other in unending
cycles. Death did not have a negative connotation and was not
to be feared. The Spanish friars brought two deaths according
to Jas Reuter's essay in Posada's Mexico. One was the physical
death found in the Conquest and subsequent epidemics and
plagues and the other death was the Catholic hell punctuated
by the countless images of European Death.

And so the Mexican, particularly in terms of the
mestizo, celebrates Death in his own manner every
November 2, the Day of the Dead. This holiday encompasses
Aztec lore and Christian practices. It was Posada who took
the popular traditions and vigorously brought them to life with
his calaveras, representations of the human skeleton. The
majority of them were meant to amuse his public using a
"mischievous irony". These moral and social satires followed
the Christian tradition (medieval Spanish allegories), exposing
the vanity of life. On the other hand, their imagery reflects
those piled Aztec skulls that the conquistadores found in
Tenochtitlan. With caricature he eases the blending of the two
conflicting cultures or poles of the Mexican, and creates new
popular traditions. Lafaye conjectures that it is this
"confluence of Christian symbolism and Indian rites" (138)
that gives Posada's calaveras their depth of meaning:
The past constantly rubs shoulders with the present in the
universe of the calaveras. A skeleton of Don Quixote
galloping blindly on a skeleton of Rocinante, lance poised,
.trampling over the skeletons of little matchstickmen, is
the symbol of Spain par excellence. But is it not also an
allegory of those Mexican caudillos, Zapata, Villa, and
others, who, during the last two years of Posada's life,
ravaged the villages and attacked the towns? (138)
The calavera has become a Mexican archetype, a
powerful and unique symbol that inherits the. two mother
cultures of Mexico. Lafaye is impressed by the power of the
image of the horseman as a symbol of death that is born out of

the calavera. Zapata riding over a land strewn with human
skulls foreshadows Picasso's Guernica. Posada's genius
captured Mexico's own brand of death inherent in its
revolution. He effectively illustrates, according to Lafaye,
that "the revolution is no longer running away like a wild
horse; the weapons of war harvest the living to replenish the
tzompantli (skulls) of the ancient Aztec sacrifices (139).
Posada's print of a jaguar (gato morrongo) playing a game of
bowls with skulls or ninepins with terrified people returns to
pre-Columbian imagery to convey this feeling.
Religious Figures
The Spanish conquistadores reacted with horror to the
Aztec temples stained with blood, as related in first-hand
Spaniards' accounts. Octavio Paz believes that when the
Spanish friars arrived determined to change this, the
transition was easier because Christ as the son of God, as a
youthful God, resembled the pre-Hispanic divinities in place at
the time as they, too, were youthful deities. With the
exception of the rain-God Tlaloc, an old man and a child
simultaneously, the great Masculine divinities were sons of
gods, like Xipe, god of the young corn. The life of
Huitzilopochtli, the "Warrior of the South", parallels in some
key ways that of Christ's; he, too, was conceived without

carnal contact and had to escape the persecution of a mythical
Herod. These similarities do not totally explain the devotion
to Christ. The more popular Mexican Christ is a bleeding and
humiliated Christ (as evidenced in the Penitente Cristos that
display every wound), relating Him to the legendary
Cuauhtemoc, the young Aztec emperor who was dethroned,
tortured and murdered by Cortes.
Perhaps more important to this study, is the Mother
figure; the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the center of
Mexican Catholicism. She is an Indian Virgin who makes her
appearance at a former shrine to the pre-Hispanic goddess of
fertility-Tonantzin. Paz finds that the Indian goddesses were
linked to fecundity, affairs of agriculture. The Catholic
Virgin's main attribute is to provide a haven for the
unfortunate, the dispossessed. She, as the universal Mother,
has become the intermediary between "disinherited man" and
the unknown. Paz fears that because the Reform Movement of
the middle nineteenth century demanded the end of all colonial
tradition, the Mexican was separated from the symbolic
Mother-helping to create the Mexican characteristic of
In painting a portrait of the Mexican people, Posada
includes the religious processions, apparitions of the Virgin,
images of many of Mexico's saints, and people placed in pious

scenes. William Wroth in editing the captions in Posada's
Mexico states that:
... in [a] combination of popular sentiment, Christian
imagery, and classical remnants, Posada created what is a
unique "folk neoclassic" style, which was perfectly suited
to the time and the popular print medium in which he was
working. (170)
Posada's prints in this genre are very mindful of the retablos
and ex-votos that permeated the folk arts of Mexico (see Fig.
2.2, 2.3, and 2.4). It is not only another place where
pre-Hispanic and colonial traditions can meet and fuse, but as
Chariot points out, it is a source for a new plastic language.
The classically trained muralists sought this new vocabulary.
Chariot states that in 1922, Diego Rivera in the magazine
"Azulejos", affirmed his respect of the retablos: "The anguish
of our people caused this strange flowering of painted
ex-votos to rise slowly up against the walls of their churches"
(Artist 1301. They underlined the wants of the people, which
the muralists sought in their socially conscious murals.

Figure 2.2. Posada.
Verdadera imagen del Sen or
de Chalma.
Figure 2.3. Posada. Nuestra
Senora de la Soledad de
Santa Cruz.
Figure 2.4. Posada. Loa en honor de la Stma. Virgen de la

Without the need for translation or a story sequence,
Mexico resolves itself harmoniously and powerfully as a
great symphony or a great mural painting, consistent with
itself, not as a nation in progress, but as a picture, with
certain dominant themes, certain endlessly repeated
forms and values in constantly different relationships, and
always in the present, like the Aztec history-scrolls that
were also calendars and books of creed. (Brenner 15)
Octavio Paz feels that there were major
repercussions in Mexican thought born out of the revolution.
The historical project of the liberals of the Independence
movement of 1857 was to replace the colonial tradition, based
on the Catholic doctrine, with the new universal ideal of the
freedom of the individual. Acceptance of these precepts
required a complete denial of the past. The Revolution "was a
sudden immersion of Mexico in her own being" (148). The
relative artistic inertia of the nineteenth century was
replaced by creativity. "Its cultural and artistic fertility
resulted from the profound manner in which its heroes, bandits
and myths stamped themselves forever on the sensibility and
imagination of every Mexican" (148). Seemingly recognizing
this need for a new Mexican identity, the painters were given

public walls to paint by the new government (Jose
Vasconcelos, as Minister of Education played a special role).
Carlos Fuentes, an articulate voice of mexicanidad,
expresses well the search for Mexican identity. In his book,
Myself with Others, he reacts to the fact that he was raised
outside of Mexico by saying: "This anomaly further illustrates
a central fact of my life and of my writing: I am Mexican by
will and imagination" (4). It was in the look of the eyes
captured in the photographs of the mestizo Mexican president,
Lazaro Cardenas (1934-40), that Fuentes discovered a new
concept of time:
The United States had made me believe that we live only
for the future; Mexico, Cardenas, the events of 1938, made
me understand that only in an act of the present can we
make present the past as well as the future: to be a
Mexican was to identify a hunger for being, a desire for
dignity rooted in many forgotten centuries yet to come,
but rooted here, in the instant, in the vigilant time of
Mexico I later learned to understand in the stone serpents
of Teotihuacan and in the polychrome angels of Oaxaca. (8)
Orozco and Rivera made a great point of being Mexican,
although Rivera is described as being a classical painter with
romantic leanings and Orozco as a universal painter with
baroque tendencies. Whether it may be said that mexicanidad
in their work does not extend beyond subject matter or theme,
there is no doubt the murals are nationalistic in several
effects. Rivera was comfortable as a spokesperson for
mexicanidad; he held court in Europe and sparred with the

Russian communists (he privately tried to envision Russian
peasants relating to Cubist propagandistic art). Orozco was
more inclined to stay at home and brood. Brenner says that a
critic called Orozco a "disillusioned youth with the soul of an
old man" (272). Siqueiros could be called a "man of action" by
first being a soldier, and, secondly, writing a manifesto for
the mural movement. Chariot came to Mexico to rediscover
part of his Parisian family's heritage; in doing so he became
part of the Mural Movement. He was also the most capable in
intellectualizing from within about the Movement. They all
labored under Dr. Atl's challenge that a renaissance in Mexico
must be Mexican and pagan. Christian religious images still
permeated their work. However, Dr. Atl's night classes caused
Orozco, for example, to question accepted European superiority
and the power of the Parisian art critic. Orozco writes:
Why must we be eternally on our knees before the Kants
and the Hugos? All praise to the masters indeed, but we
too could produce a Kant or a Hugo. We too could wrest
iron from the bowels of the earth and fashion it into ships
and machines. We could raise prodigious cities, and create
nations, and explore the universe. Was it not from a
mixture of two races that the Titans sprang? (21)
Chariot writes that "Mexican aesthetics have
remained enmeshed in practicalities" (An Artist 48); Posada
chose to be useful. Brenner defines a wholesome and
nationalistic art as being:
. . concerned with more than the immediately visible
form, the surface appearance. It discovers and accepts the

local variations which time and race and environment have
wrought upon the otherwise immutable elements of
art. (119)
Jean Chariot felt that walls are not a proper surface for a
naked display of self; their purpose was didactic. The human
themes of passion and pain and death should not be discarded.
Brenner succinctly captures Posada's role in the
Muralist Movement;
He had caught up the past and etched it to the future in
hundreds of dramatic little pictures permanent till dust
and the ink of many reprintings erase them. He had
sketched in two inches monumental figures, national
epics, that later grew to ten and fifteen feet high on
frescoed walls. (197)
The purpose of this chapter is to look at each of the four early
Mural painters, and relate how they individually and as a group
carried on Posada's legacy and their own desire to create a
monumental art.
Jose Clemente Orozco
John Leeper, in the introduction to Orozco's
autobiography, writes that when Orozco submitted his
memoirs, he wrote:
.. there is nothing of special interest in it, no famous
exploits or heroic deeds, no extraordinary or miraculous
happenings. Only the uninterrupted and tremendous efforts
of a Mexican painter to learn his trade and find
opportunities to practice it. (xvii)

Orozco was born in a small town in the state of
Jalisco in November 1883 of pure Spanish descent. Sometime
in 1890 his family settled in Mexico City, where he was
enrolled in a primary school. In his autobiography he values
more the discovery of the shop of Vanegas Arroyo, where
Posada did his engravings. He would even venture into the shop
on his way home from school and snatch up a bit of the metal
shavings on the floor. He attended the School of Agriculture,
but found his way into the National Preparatory School and the
Academy. He worked his way through with political and social
drawings for publication in dailies and magazines.
Orozco, unlike the other Mural painters, did not study
in Europe and only ventured out of Mexico on a couple of trips
to the United States and Europe. Like most residents of Mexico
at the time he was personally caught up in the revolution. He
accompanied Dr. Atl in the "Red Battalion", but because he had
lost his left hand, his pen was used in a publication called
"Vanguardia". As he became known for his cartoons in the
tradition of a Mexican "Carrangista", he did not receive a mural
commission until June 1923.
Orozco used mural art to further his need to create a
"New World". He understood the delight of the Mexican people
in visual expression and the democracy of mural art (laborers
took part in its creation). Orozco stressed the importance of
the idea to a painting so symbols are significant in his work.

The stories exist only in the mind of the viewer, and the
painting acts as a stimulus. The muralist Eric Bransby in an
interview said that in his work Orozco is drawing all the time,
and due to Orozco's own political cartoon and graphic work, he
has a reliance on black and white in his value scale and a
graphic understanding of the use of line. Orozco grew as an
artist by communicating directly on the printed page, and
therefore, uses color arbitrarily to divide areas in his murals.
It is easy to see Orozco's background in the Mexican
graphic arts as a key link to Posada as a mentor. As will be
discussed in Chapter 4, Orozco also shared an interest in the
themes Posada was delineating; they both found ways to
illustrate their all-important ideas. He simplified his later
work by limiting his palette and refining his drawing to
produce what Chariot terms monumental art. Chariot states
that in Orozco"s work "the process of ideation, composition
and technique succeed each other quickly and are so
interwoven as to be practically simultaneous; the artist
himself cannot dissociate them" (Artist 24QL Like Posada
Orozco was interested in humanity, man in his variety. Chariot
quotes Orozco as saying that: "My one theme is HUMANITY my
one tendency is EMOTION TO A MAXIMUM; my means the REAL
and INTEGRAL representation of bodies, in themselves and in
their interrelation" (Artist 249). Orozco desired to make
more universal an art that could get bogged down in "Indian

sandals" and "Mexican straw hats"; and yet Chariot states that
Orozco's "brown man swathed in white" was the synthesis of a
national style.
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera was born in December 1886, in
Guanajuato, the birthplace of Mexican independence. His
inheritance was the mestizo blood, including some Portuguese
and Jewish ancestry. Teachers recognized his artistic talents
early in his life and with the aid of government stipends, he
studied extensively in Europe. He left Mexico in 1908 at the
age of twenty-two, and did not return permanently until late in
1921. MacKinley Helm feels that "Probably no one but Picasso
in modern times is as erudite as Rivera in the technical
aspects of the art of painting" (39). Rivera experimented with
a variety of styles before he settled on his own uniquely
Mexican walls. A government sponsored trip to Italy shortly
before his return to Mexico had introduced him to the Italian
murals and the Byzantine mosaics, which explains the tapestry
feeling in his murals. Rivera had to reconcile his early
exposure to Cubism with the resurrection of didactic painting
after the Revolution; he retained the new European theories of
color in his work.

Rivera, like the other muralists, needed to learn the
technicalities of fresco as a medium; however, as discussed
earlier, fresco was not new to Mexican art. A fresco is a
painting made by applying water color to a surface of fine
lime-and-sand plaster while still wet. The color integrates
with the surface of the plaster as it sets (the lime
crystallizes over the pigment as it dries), thus producing great
durability. Rivera taught to the other artists his observations
of the Italian murals: the harmonic proportional principles of
form and composition which had come down from the ancient
Greeks as interpreted by the architects of the Renaissance.
These principles included the importance of the unity of the
painting with the structure of the building and the control of
the volume of the painted form so as to comply with the
thickness of the wall. He noted on a sketch of Baptism of
Hermogenes as quoted by Chariot:
Construction where the actual partitioning of the surface
follows guidelines relating to depth; thus creating a
surface harmony shot through in make-believe style by the
architecture. The frightening relief does not violate the
surface. (Artist 222)
Rivera was bigger than life as the quintessential
Mexican artist both literally and figuratively. He had quite a
intellect and was gregarious in nature, which made him a
natural leader of the Mural Movement. He was an international
figure; art circles abroad recognized his work. Rivera had
returned to Mexico with political ideas also, and it was

perhaps these that made mural art particularly attractive to
him as a platform. He employed what he called "spectator-
aesthetics", which allowed ordinary people to enjoy the art.
He looked for large spaces in public buildings to make his art
accessible to the man on the street.
Posada had been the first to turn his back on the
movements imported from abroad and concentrate on what was
around him-his people and his country. He was not impartial
in recording what he saw; he added a personal touch by
satirizing and sometimes eulogizing personalities and events.
Antonio Rodriguez in A History of Mexican Mural Painting feels
that Posada was an artist of the people because "he was able
to encourage its heroes and identify himself with the longing
for progress" (141). Rivera of all the muralists succeeds
Posada in this role. Rivera began his muralist period by
depicting Mexican people, primarily at work, thus portraying
social conditions. He employs folk-tale and parable,
portraying heroes, ceremonies and fiestas to give symbolic
meanings to new subjects. Helm says that this work led to
three interesting characteristics in Rivera's work: the use of
modeled painting, the emergence of the Rivera Mexican type,
and the employment of the propaganda motif. Rivera inserted
his own editorial comments directly into his murals by
satirizing world icons like Rockefeller or by eulogizing Posada
and Lenin. Like Posada his caricatures are on the whole

amusing and cutting, not grim and violent; Rivera's rediscovery
of his native land was loving.
David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros was born in Chihuahua in 1898
to a privileged, conservative, Catholic family. He claimed to
have been strongly influenced by a grandfather nicknamed
Seven-Blades, who was a colonel in the civil wars of the
Reform and during the French invasion. While Siqueiros was
still in the Preparatory School, he also attended night classes
at the Academy. Emily Edwards, in the preface to Painted
Walls of Mexico, defines Siqueiros' contribution to the Muralist
Movement as the "concept of art as revolution". Literally, he
began his revolutionary inclination early-participating in the
art students' strike of 1911. At the age of fourteen he was a
sergeant in the Batallon Mama, an army of children. It was his
military support of Carranza that rewarded him with a trip to
Europe as a chancellor to the Paris consulate. There he
exchanged his experiences with Rivera, who was able to
initiate him in the Parisian art world.
Vasconcelos lured Siqueiros back to Mexico in 1922 to
be part of his vision of a Mexican plastic renaissance.
Siqueiros was given a wall in the Preparatoria School to paint;
the result was The Spirit of the Occident, a monument to the

beginning of the Mural Movement. Siqueiros had difficulty in
carrying his many projects to a conclusion, because he was
prone to acting upon his political convictions to the detriment
of his art. He had thought about the aims of the Movement
while in Europe and authored a manifesto that led to the
formation of the Syndicate of Technical Workers, Painters,
Sculptors and Engravers. Even with his conscientious
attention and much to his consternation it failed. It did,
however, clarify the signatories' point of view, establishing a
new tradition. Brenner hails it as a "positive creed expressed
profoundly" (259).
Because of his political activism, time in jail and
even exile interrupted his art work. Some of his works were
produced in jail and when asked to leave Mexico, he spent time
working in the United States and Argentina. Brenner credits
Siqueiros for the idea of "welding a patria". "His data was the
stock of scenes and desires accumulated through years of
fighting and a lifetime of painting and thinking" (240).
Siqueiros was the natural leader for the second wave of young
muralist painters as well as labor and peasant leaders,
creating an image of "brush and gun". Included in his creed was
respect for the native cultures of the Aztec and Maya, but a
desire to use them for a point of departure to something more
universal and applicable to the present. Siqueiros participated

in a few group projects, upholding his principles concerning
the socialization of art expressed in the manifesto.
Siqueiros was willing to experiment in his later
murals; he employed Pyroxilin and spray gun to create a
simplified realism that was violent. Texture made objects
protrude from the wall and proportion was exaggerated to
emphasize forms. Siqueiros left no room for interpretation of
his message; his murals were simplified to the point of being
poster-like. According to Chariot, Diego Rivera, in reaction to
Siqueiros' frescoes, complimented him on arriving at the "most
complete synthesis of our race to be realized since pre-
Cortesian times" (Renaissance 2Q7T Chariot writes that
Siqueiros "instead of portraying a given locale or of fitting a
costume to each festival, a step to each ritual dance, was the
first to erect a naked Indian body as removed from
picturesqueness as a Greek athlete, a figure of universal
meaning within its racial universe" (Renaissance 207). Lafaye
considers Posada as the master of this means of expression:
"The plastic grimaces of a Siqueiros have nothing of the
dramatic truth of Posada's burin" (139). He feels that Posada
was able to fuse into one symbol the two mother cultures of
Mexico, inevitably treating the tragic destiny of man.
Siqueiros reacted to Posada by incorporating his didactic tools
into his own dogmatic messages. He gave flesh to Posada's

anonymous calaveras, unveiling the anger underlying the
coalescence of the Spaniard and the Indian.
Jean Chariot was born in 1898 to a Parisian family,
whose ancestry had intermingled with Mexican blood during
Maximilian's invasion of Mexico. His father was a Russian-
born Frenchman sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. He grew up
with Mexican picture manuscripts and classical training in art
galleries and medieval books, working in abstract sculpture
and becoming conversant with woodcuts. He marched into
World War I as an artillery lieutenant with an engineering
background. Chariot arrived in Mexico in 1921 to live with an
uncle, and found himself immersed in the Mural Movement. His
technical knowledge of European art techniques was
appreciated; he revived woodcut. He is credited by some
sources with painting the first mural in the Preparatory
School, which was also the first fresco. Joining Rivera in the
Secretariat, he oversaw the work of the masons, painting
backgrounds for Rivera and three of his own panels.
Jean Chariot inaugurated a scholarly study of popular
Mexican art, writing revues for Parisian journals. He brought
to the attention of his fellow muralists the plates and prints,
traced from broadsides, that he had collected. They

represented the body of work of one man-Posada, and in them,
Chariot believed, was the message the muralists were
attempting to convey. In 1926 Chariot was asked to copy
Mayan frescos for the Carnegie Institution archaeological staff
at Chichen-ltza. In his book Art from the Mavans to Disney.
Chariot ponders the collective urge that gave rise to the Mayan
temples and major sculptures. A purely aesthetic approach to
this social art does not do it justice. Chariot was attempting
to give the notion of monumental art some parameters.
Chariot came to Mexico to experience it first hand; he
marveled at the simple decoration and the color schemes found
in the rebozos and the serapes. He, according to Helm, was not
a Mexican by birth but Mexican in genre. Even when he resided
in New York his work retained Mexican motifs. Bertram Wolfe
in his biography of Diego Rivera asserts that Chariot's "point
of contact was his admiration of the humble common folk,
women servants and burden bearers whose labors he delighted
to represent monumentally within a tiny compass, and a strain
of primitive Christian anticlericalism that mingles with his
piety" (159).
Jean Chariot offered his fellow muralist painters a
fresh insight and the perspective of a European painter. Orozco
in his autobiography credits Chariot:
Chariot often tempered our youthful violence with his
culture and equanimity, and illuminated our problems with
his lucid vision. He used to go along with us to the

Museum of Archeology, where the great Aztec sculptures
are on view. They impressed him profoundly and we would
talk for hours of that tremendous art, which comes down
to us and outstrips us, reaching into the future. Pre-
Cortesian Art influenced him to such an extent that his
painting is still saturated with it. (87)
Chariot is the chronicler of the Muralist Movement,
keeping it in touch with itself and Mexico's past. He was
instrumental in pulling Posada out of obscurity and saving his
work. He wonders as Posada's prints end up in American
museums if they will be truly understood outside of their
special environment. "Will he [the visitor] believe that the
guns shoot, the blades rip, that the ink is blood?" (Allisl 173).

CAMPBELL: Yes. There's an old romantic idea in German, das
Volk dichtet, which says that the ideas and poetry of the
traditional cultures come out of the folk. They do not.
They come out of an elite experience, the experience of
people particularly gifted, whose ears are open to the song
of the universe. These people speak to the folk, and there
is an answer from the folk, which is then received as an
interaction. But the first impulse in the shaping of a folk
tradition comes from above, not from below.
(Campbell 85)
Jean Chariot in Posada's Mexico reiterates "Guadalupe
Posada was not just a man anymore, but the Voice of his
People!" (51). His example is that El Machete for August 1924
reused an unsigned Posada block depicting an ambush of
Federals by Zapatistas a decade after his death, demonstrating
the endurance of Posada's images. Anonymity, according to
Chariot, was a very special sort of apotheosis for Posada.
Posada's work was a counterpoint to the classic training the
muralists received at the San Carlos Academy; Posada's new
plastic language offered vitality and spontaneity. Eric
Bransby, in an interview, stated that formal figure training is
difficult to abandon. Because of the muralists own abilities,
Posada's style was slowly absorbed and integrated into their

own work--not just affectedly stylized. He feels that Rivera's
extensive training allowed him to be the most effective in
"mexicanizing" the Greek figure. Rivera and Siqueiros retained
a more formal notion of composition fitting the idea into the
composition; they relied heavily on Posada thematically.
Orozco's experience with the graphic arts affiliated him most
closely with Posada stylistically; this is especially seen in
the use of line-cross-hatching, repetition, and harsh strokes.
Both Orozco and Posada would find a way to illustrate an idea
that was important to them.
This chapter will look at specific Posadas and relate
appropriate murals to them, loosely following the motifs in
Chapter 2. In some examples the muralists, in their own
unique interpretation, extend the themes and symbols that
Posada had developed. In other examples, subject matter,
style and presentation are similar enough to make a direct
Historical Events
This grouping of two Posada prints, Hernan Cortes
(Fig. 4.1) and Cholula (Fig. 4.2) and the following murals:
Chariot's The Conquest (Fig. 4.3); Orozco's The Conquest of
America (Fig. 4.4); and Rivera's Clash of Civilizations (Fig. 4.5),
represent different interpretations of the Conquest. They all

revolve around this theme, unified in their impact. The
treatment of a historical political event, directly impacting the
present time, is exemplified by Posada's Los preparativos para
la fiesta del 16 de septiembre (Fig. 4.6) and Politica del
porvenir (Fig. 4.7). David Siqueiros' The Dictatorship (Fig. 4.8)
can be interestingly juxtaposed to the Posadas, which engender
some useful techniques.
Posada. Hernan Cortes and
Posada in 1900 was asked to illustrate a series of
pamphlets for children on Mexican history by a Spanish
publishing firm. These booklets are chromolithographs (color
pictures produced mechanically), rare for Posada. His depiction
of Cortes in Hernan Cortes places him in front of a pile of
skulls, representing both the culture of the Aztec and their
devastation by the Spaniards. Note the reptiles on the upper
right; it appears to be a simplified attempt at using the
awakening interest in pre-Hispanic/Mexican mythology. The
second illustration La Matanza de Cholula emphasizes the
Spanish words for blood and fire, fire and blood. The symbolic
pyramid is burning and scantily dressed Indian women lie in
pools of blood in the foreground. Dramatic fodder for children,
but perhaps an honest look at the repercussions of the Conquest,
for a long time hidden under the cloak of Evangelization.

Jean Chariot. The Conquest
(detail). 1922
Jean Chariot, a Frenchman, is the first muralist to
tackle the theme of the Conquest, an issue of much contention.
Chariot had zealously adopted Mexico, acquainting himself with
its history through such sources as the prints of Posada. To
Chariot the Conquest is a brutal act matching the superiorly
armed and armored Spaniards against the Indian, whose
inferiority lay only in the lack of sophistication of his weapons.
Chariot stresses the extent and the intensity of the
Conquest's destruction, much like Posada does in Cholula. The
size and power of the horses and lances are intimidating,
unstoppable in their rhythm. The Indians are in the native dress
of quetzal feathers and gold pectorals, holding the revered
flowers of the Aztecs. Chariot's conception is bold; the
powerful diagonal lines of the lances convey dynamism and
emphasize the violence. The spherical forms found among the
Indians counteract with placidity. Chariot knew how to use
compositional techniques to produce these desired effects. Note
the use of contemporary figures, Rivera and himself included.
Posada used the skeleton symbolic of the Aztec to comment on
modern life; Chariot, in turn, portrays the modern commentators
along side this significant historical event. The inscription at
the bottom is remindful of Posada's illustrations of corridos,
where often the writing is extraneous to the picture.

t^r6o,mGD.p.. n
Figure 4.1. Posada. Hernan Figure 4.2. Posada. Cholula.
Figure 4.3. Jean Chariot. The Conquest (detail), 1922.

Figure 4.4. Jose Clemente Orozco. The Conquest of America,

Figure 4.5. Diego Rivera. Clash of Civilizations (detail),
Jose Clemente Orozco. The
Conquest of America. 1938-39
Orozco dealt with Cortes as a symbol in different
ways. Here Cortes is mechanized, gleaming in gray half-light
and hostile steel. The graphic use of repetition of line along
with a high-value contrast is similar to Posada's. For Orozco
expressions of wars and conquests are found in the
Apocalypse, and he painted this mural in the worst period of
World War II. Orozco amplifies in a monumental way Posada's
words of blood and fire, fire and blood. The color scheme is
similar to Posada's Cholula-red and gray. The flames spread

under the feet of Cortes, like the pyramid. The bodies are a
cross between a skeleton and a hunk of meat, providing a shock
value similar to Posada's women victims as opposed to
warriors. The angel (perhaps out of the Apocalypse), who is
driving him, is also mechanized and has burnt sienna hair,
reminiscent of the fire. Cortes is a triangular, dominating
central figure, only darker in value to distinguish him from the
background smoke, much like the temple in Cholula.
Diego Rivera. Clash of
Civilizations (detail). 1929-30
Rivera also treats the subject of the Conquest.
Posada's prints are symbolic of Mexico's rekindled interest in
its native heritage. Rivera's rendition of a Tiger Knight stands
on its own as part of the larger mural, and attests to the
painter's increasing archaeological interest in the Aztecs and
their lives. In Wolfe's The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera.
Rivera is quoted as approaching Communism as "a new Flowery
War". The Palacio de Cortes is the location of this mural that
depicts the defense of Cuernavaca against Cortes by
interrelating a tapestry of events. He tells the story
fantasizing real archaeological data. Rivera makes full use of
his command of luminous color in a setting that is known for
its rich landscape. Rivera's multitude of figures are easily
discerned as this small interlocking piece shows. The obsidian

knife against the armour relates the same dialogue expressed
before in a different manner, typically Rivera.
Posada by chronicling current events was foretelling
the way in which the Revolution would unfold, making history
contemporary. Posada helped to make a legend of Zapata,
whose platform of land reform was based on an Indian concept.
Rivera loves the use of symbol, expressed in this mural by
placing Cortes' white stallion in the hands of Zapata. He is a
commentator on the direction of history.
Posada. Los DreDarativos para
la fiesta del 16 de septiembre
and Politica del porvenir
Posada provided illustrations to a number of
newspapers portraying current events, including the political
machinations under the Diaz regime. The six scenes in Los
preparativos para la fiesta del 16 de septiembre show
different segments of society preparing for the annual
celebration of Zocalo. Posada experiments with the telling of
a story on a single page, conforming to the dictates of the
published piece. The muralists, admitting the didactic nature
of their work, need to solve the same problem bound by size
and architectural structure. Posada employs lost and found
edges (the feet of some of the figures merge into the white of
the paper) to unite the scenes. The orator that is putting the
chairs to sleep is a caricature of a government official. The

gyrating figure is animated more effectively by his two-
dimensional legs. The important looking officials look odd
carrying the firecrackers. Politica del porvenir (Politics of
the Future) is of the same genre and again displays a masterful
composition. The circle of the skirt balances against the
circular wedge of the stage and figures below.
David Alfaro Siqueiros. The
dictatorship (detaili. 1957
Siqueiros for the first time attempts to describe the
Revolution itself from a historical perspective. Siqueiros has
special interest in working in and out of the picture plane,
which Posada experiments with in separating his vignettes in
Los preparativos para la fiesta del 16 de septiembre.
Siqueiros puts the women and their skirts, where all the color
resides, in motion to counteract the more subtle rhythm of the
top hats. Antonio Rodriguez in A History of Mexican Mural
Painting states that Siqueiros' artistic conception involved
"masses in motion, moving in consecutive rhythmic waves;
conflicts between irreconcilable forces, opposing each other;
inner cohesion of homogeneous groups, and a harmony of
color. . (408). Porfirio Diaz, the dictator, is surrounded by
a swirl of citified landowners, seemingly losing credibility in
duplication and a whirl of supplication, imitating Posada's
subtle satire. Like Posada the costumes of some of the figures

Figure 4.6. Posada. Los preparativos para la fiesta del 16 de
Figure 4.7. Posada. Politica del porvenir.

Figure 4.8. David Alfaro Siqueiros. The Dictatorship (detail),
stereotypically reveal their class. Siqueiros experimented
later with actually taking figures out of the plane of the wall
using texture, relief effects, and metal sculpture. Posada in a
different medium changed from two-dimensional to three-
dimensional within the figure to vary the picture plane.
Legendary Figures
It is striking how Posada's Sorprendente milagro
(Fig. 4.9) and Estupendo y prodigioso acontecimiento (Fig. 4.10)
is a harbinger of one of Orozco's fundamental philosophies, that

he evolves in Cortes y Malintzin (Fig. 4.11). Orozco wants to
create a New Art that represents the creative potential of the
New World, recognizing but not getting mired in its history.
While Orozco uses a different legendary figure than Posada, both
pieces indicate a common desired outcome--a final merging of
native and Catholic traditions. Siqueiros offers a variation of
that desire in Cuauhtemoc resurrected the torture (Fig. 4.12);
he employs legendary figures to regain lost values that help to
create necessary new ones to forge a New World.
Posada. Sororendente milaaro and
Estupendo v prodiaioso acontecimiento
These two prints interestingly take the legendary
religious figure of the Virgin of Guadalupe and place her in the
maguey plant, one of Mexico's most used native plants. Its
leaves are harvested for the thatching of roofs and its sap is
converted into pulque and forms of tequila and mescal. Pulque
itself is ancient; the Indians considered the maguey plant to be
sacred, regulating its use by elaborate laws. Ritual guided its
divine gift of heightened sensation. The Aztecs made
"spiritual measuring-tapes out of the fiber of the maguey"
(Brenner 290), that were knotted with thorns. They would test
themselves by passing this cord through a hole in their tongue.
Brenner believes that it is in the murals decorating and giving
names to the pulcherias where the Spanish-lndian image is

Figure 4.10. Posada. Estupendo y prodigioso

fused. Even their names are Mexican--"The Lovely Xochitl",
"The Brave Charro of the Sierras", and "The Loves of Cupid".
The saints and madonnas imported from Spain certainly
become native, according to Brenner, in the pulque fermenting-
sheds where religious shrines are adorned with strips of paper
and the white heart of the maguey.
Octavio Paz says that the cult of the Virgin of
Guadalupe is the center of Mexican Catholicism. She is the
dark-faced Madonna, the patroness and protectress of New
Spain, especially Indian Mexico. There is a sense in this
portrayal of Orozco's philosophy of a New World-an
acceptance of one's roots. Posada suggests that it is quietly
happening in the simple acts of the people.
Jose Clemente Orozco.
Cortes v Malintzin. 1926
Orozco writes in his Forma v Idea that "if new races
have appeared upon the lands of the New World, such races
have the unavoidable duty to produce a New Art in a spiritual
and physical medium. Any other road is plain cowardice" (30).
He feels that Cortes was the first among them all to accept
his destiny as an American. Malintzin and Cortes in this mural
are transformed into Adam and Eve, progenitors of today's
actuates pueblos americanos. Orozco in his autobiography has
a wonderful chapter on "How the Conquest Should Have Gone"

expressing his distaste for the obsession with Indians,
Spaniards, mestizos, and the Conquest. He suggests that the
Conquest be a theoretical study kept in the bounds of the
sixteenth century. To dismiss the racial question once and for
all would be enough to achieve unity, peace and progress.
Correspondingly Posada "mexicanizes" the European Catholic
Church's saints, which become an integral aspect of Christian
worship in the New World.
Orozco translates this idea by combining his artistic
expertise and vision of a new race in Cortes y Malintzin.
Orozco's palette is limited to a relatively few pigments.
Malintzin's burnt sienna and yellow ochre coloring not only
identifies her race, but also integrates her with the land. The
whiteness of Cortes makes him the center-of-interest against
the darks, emphasizing his presence. The symbolic strength of
Cortes is accented by the right hand subjecting and covering
the hand of Malintzin, while at the same time his left arm
stretches across her body seemingly imparting protection.
This same association occurs in Posada's depiction of the
"mexicanized" yet still Catholic Virgin of Guadalupe, a
Protectress, centered in the maguey plant, where both are


The figure of Malintzin, the faithful Indian, is
physically solid and conveys strength. She is the epitome of
the Mexican native, like the maguey plant. There is in the
wideness of the body a reference to the squat figure found at
Chichen-ltza vis-a-vis Posada. She is the companion of the
white man in America, cooperating with him in order to
establish new races in this world. At the feet of the conqueror
lies the defeated race and yet above a new one is emerging.
Posada also suggests that a new heritage has arisen.
Underneath, symbolic of Mexico, is the maguey plant. The
leaves may be cut, but the plant is still vital.
David Alfaro Siqueiros.
Cuauhtemoc resurrected the
torture. 1951
While Malintzin is the symbol of violation of the
Indian woman by the Spaniards, she has never been forgiven for
her betrayal as the mistress/translator of Cortes.
Cuauhtemoc, "Falling Eagle", is a warrior/child, who went out
to meet Cortes and was sacrificially killed. He is a hero
turned into myth, awaiting resurrection. Paz says that to the
majority of Mexicans Cuauhtemoc represents the origin of
Mexico; his tomb is the "cradle of the people". The mystery of
the location of Cuauhtemoc's tomb remains unknown.

Figure 4.12. David Alfaro Siqueiros. Cuauhtemoc
resurrected: the torture, 1951.
"Cuauhtemoc and Dona Marina (Malintzin's Spanish name) are
thus two antagonistic and complementary figures" (Paz 86).
Siqueiros cultivates the ideals of justice and
heroism; Cuauhtemoc is the epitome of the hero-type and the
struggle for liberty. The Mexican Indian relates to a bleeding
and humiliated Christ that also recalls Cuauhtemoc, both of
whom he has made realistic, different from the abstraction
of his native deities. Siqueiros is convinced that the subject

is as important as the style and needs to evoke emotion. So
in a sense he is proffering a New World that regains the
traditions and spirit of the past in order to create new ones.
According to Siqueiros, "We must rebuild in painting and
sculpture their lost values, and create at the same time new
values" (Brenner 241).
Fiestas and Public Gatherings
Mexico is known for its numerous fiestas provided
for by the church and state. Each village and city celebrates
the blessing of its own patron saint; furthermore,
neighborhoods and trades have their own ceremonies and
fairs. Rivera incorporates these into his murals, being
committed to the portrayal of the daily life and traditions of
Mexico. Posada's La calavera del editor popular Antonio
Vanegas Arroyo (Fig. 4.13) typifies one of the roles of the
calavera, born out of the "Day of the Dead" celebration.
Rivera's A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park
(Fig. 4.14) and The Fair on All Souls Day (Fig. 4.15)
demonstrate his own usage of fiestas and public gatherings,
which he himself links to Posada. Another connection
between Posada and Rivera lies in their illustration of
corridos. Posada's El corrido de Heracleo Bernal (Fig. 4.16),
taken from his immediate time, correlates to Rivera's

Corrido: Lunch in the Rain (Fig. 4.17), that meets Rivera's
didactic needs.
Posada. La calavera del editor
popular Antonio Vanegas
This print by Posada exhibits one of his uses of the calavera
to satirize, in this case his own profession and
acquaintances. While its subject is not particularly a fiesta
or public gathering, it does reflect the ease the Mexican has
with the skeleton image straight from the Day of the Dead.
The central figure to which the print is dedicated is in the
center of the page between two columns of text. All the
activity of the press is indicated by calaveras integrated
with the symbols of their occupation. A stop watch, for
example, is a reminder of the pressure on the artist and
fellow associates in making deadlines.

E*ta 9>S t-N la c.ilavera
del Editor { ptilar,
muR farhi'sa \ s'lamer.i
otra mi L*a han de hnllar.
Kl fut* |uiMi nos publicaba
mil primnres i!e pocsi'a,
(pic nui-Htru v'uh endulzaba
v Iknoba tie alej/ria
'l\*inu preciosAs hi&torid*
i*ue al :ua triple Imefan tr \'n rn las uieimniHs
nn rvuerilo 'b'ynlar.
Erwalegre* sin mediJa.
Irveado aus nrm'iones
M-Dtisc tan cortu la vida
que prendiao au c-nraaooes.. .
La* muchacb-is que alocadas
pur cl novin ni dormir
puedcn laa....eneuoradas
y as li sabea decir.
ao ae aabeu expreaar....
y Ian desdscbada* Uorao....
el Editor Popular.
Da colecciones precinna*
para podcr eecofer
de mil carta* amoroMa,
U c^ue guate a la mujcr.
Y lew trains arregJadoa
le Don A ntonin___
Los eiAos afrradccids
au* cucate*leveron va,
que son las entretenido*
que lea !e? hasta su papi..
Y millares de folletoa
y bibliotecaa enter**,
que llevd 4 loa esqueleto*
v 1 todaa laa calaveras.
Lo que e& de hoy en adelante
el cementerio aerA
la invitacidn min galante
que cutlquier mortal hari.
Alii eacoatrarli* gustoao*
mil lectura* abradable*,
mil cueotoa tuarovilloco*
v veraito* admirable*.
liistoriaa catravag ante*,
nraciones fervor***;
auceaon capetuxoaot**
y coiediaa muy herrooaaa.
AUi Dos .Toncbo Vaaefan,
coaocd el muado faixo igual;
t aqfiac Ucaaodo talega*
y aumestaado au caudal
Aqui dejd i au hi jo Blaa,
que catre vivoa retumb*,
pero que remit* mia
para el paf* de Ultratumba.
Alii coapra baatael demooio
paxa cacribirlc i au dimhla.
laa carta* que Don Antonio,
de puroa amorea habla,
Y Lambida wad* i la muerte
"ref la* pa cchar I* haraja
que ella aplica diligente
y i loa medicos deaf aja....
Y todo aqucllo ea gaoar.
all! cualquiera trabaja,
y el Editor Papular,
lie a
i Ser* y-V
Y aipue siempre veadiendo
us rdicionva moderns*
v toilns sifiten leyembi
vsas lecterns cternas....
Si tu fitatas, alnlr.r,
direction tv lar?.
?l lUspacbn to enviarv.
Y coaprai tu cilaver**
y ruadernas de canciones,
v j*ta* y petcncra*
>|tsa .ilvyr m limrora/.itnc To'ln ik vuclvc fxar
ni qtiieti recuerdr la vida..
y cl quien to *cpa cuntar
no mas un ciimlernn j>Ha.
Y aprendsra mil cautare
y olvidara con raxdn
ja niledad, Ins pcKaren
v irin'.em del |*nllN.
Si rstff atV nr* ipri*rn if,
Te erp^rar^ el aftn entranii*
Quu cuuii hi vuelva & venir ...
;Tu que esi£j pata lirantel
Figure 4.13. Posada. La calavera del editor popular
Antonio Vanegas Arroyo.

Dieao Rivera, A Dream of a
Sunday Afternoon in the
Alameda Park. 1947-48 and
The Fair on All Souls Dav. 1923
Brenner finds that Rivera's need for being
comprehensible leads him to the use of heroes, typical
ceremonies and diversions and folk postures found in folk-tale
and parable. His interest in his pre-Hispanic heritage
facilitates his welding of art to doctrine. "Upon the abstract
structure conceived in aesthetic terms he pours a cast of
philosophic ideas" (280).
In a A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda
Park, Rivera fantasizes a gathering of figures in Alameda Park
that could only coexist in a dream, although perhaps Alameda
Park had experienced them all. Conspicuous in the mural is an
elegantly dressed skeleton reminiscent of Posada's Calavera
Catrina. She wears a feather boa around her neck made of
sheaths of corn resembling a rattle snake, associating her
with an ancient goddess of death. Bertram Wolfe, Rivera's
biographer, says that the calavera expresses the "mordant-
reckless-festive-friendly-familiar Mexican attitude towards
death" (375). She stands between Rivera and Posada.

Figure 4.14. Diego Rivera. A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon
in the Alameda Park, 1947-48.

Figure 4.15
Diego Rivera. The Fair on All Souls Day, 1923.

While Rivera plays with time, he uses much the same
baroque composition that Posada did, inserting an interplay of
symbols and activity. Rivera's little fat-boy self portrait is
as characteristically Mexican in its mood as Posada's self
portrait of calaveras. Rivera incurred the wrath of the public
by inserting the words "God does not exist!" on a scroll that
Ignacio Ramirez, an intellectual leader of the Reformation,
holds over the head of Benito Juarez, who espoused the
separation of Church and State. Posada was familiar with
walking the fine line of politics/religion and satire.
The Fair on All Souls Day is included to demonstrate
Rivera's utilization of fiestas, one of his themes. This is one
of his earlier murals and he includes not only himself in the
crowd, but also personal friends and contemporary celebrities.
Revolutionary symbology rests in the pyramids of skulls in the
Posada. El corrido de Heracleo
Corridos are ballads that deal with a variety of
subjects from bandits to catastrophes. Corridos provided the
latest news of the battles during the Revolution. Posada was
asked to illustrate numerous corridos, when they were put into
print. Heracleo Bernal was one of the few Mexican bandits who
really did rob the rich to give to the poor. The decorative

framing of the picture and verse adds to its entertainment
quality. The illustration itself is unmistakably Mexican. The
rurales are unified by their hats and the repeating angle of
their guns; Bernal elicits sympathy alone and on foot.
Figure 4.16. Posada. El corrido de Heracleo Bernal.
Diego Rivera. Corrido: Lunch in
the Rain. 1927
This is part of a series of panels that Rivera painted
as a song of the Agrarian Revolution of Mexico; some of the
panels show the life of the agrarian worker and contrastingly

Figure 4.17. Diego Rivera. Corrido: Lunch in the Rain,
the others treat the corruptness of international wealth to be
eliminated. Rivera acknowledged that his awareness of Posada
came from the myriads of broadsides printed on colored tissue
with rude texts composed by nameless bards that filled the
streets. Rivera relates the story of Posada asking him to
compare an engraving of Michelangelo's Last Judgment to the
prints. Rivera answered, "Movement". It is clear that Rivera
remembered this for this series.

The calavera has become a unique symbol of Mexico, a
paradigm of the Mexican attitude towards death. One of
Posada's most dramatic calaveras, Calaveras de monton
(Fig. 4.18), is powerfully paralleled by Orozco's Hildago
(Fig. 4.19).
Posada. Calaveras de monton
This Calavera certainly has a different feeling,
emanating violence and terror; it is simple yet intense. He
appears to be in the process of creating more calaveras. It is a
precursor to the horrific realities of the Revolution. This
figure is one of Posada's most striking images of skeletons in
motion; he dominates the page. There is a pandemonium of
movement in the figures that surround him. The central figure
is emphasized by his dark value.
Jose Clemente Orozco. Hildaao.
Hildago was a leader of the War of Independence,
which freed Mexico from Spain; his cry for freedom became
known as the Grito de Dolores and the banner was a painting of
the dark Virgin of Guadalupe. There are many of the same
compositional features of Posada's Calaveras de monton in this
mural. Hildago is a central dominating figure in motion. The

figures below are frightful in their abject suffering; the line
work here is very similar to Posada's. The lower portion has
its own title of Fraternal Strife, consisting of dark tints and
sombre figures. Orozco's meaning is different in that he
represents Hildago as a liberator-a purifier. He emphasizes
this with his use of color; the light and pure color surrounds
the figure of Hildago. Orozco, however, treats revolution as a
brutal theme--ca/averas de monton (piles of skeletons).
Figure 4.18.
Posada. Calaveras de monton.

Figure 4.19
Jose Clemente Orozco. Hildago, 1937.

Religious Figures
Posada's El Defensor de los Indios (Fig. 4.20) and Fray
Bartolome de las Casas (Fig. 4.21) are simple illustrations for
a pamphlet on Mexico's past. If the murals are indeed the
prints of Posada projected to monumental size, then Orozco's A
Franciscan bending over a leper (Fig. 4.22) is a powerful
result. Rivera with his great concern for the depiction of
Mexican life reflects more precisely Posada's design in his The
Bad Monk and The Good Monk (Fig. 4.23).
Posada. El Defensor de los
Indios and Frav Bartolome de
las Casas
These prints are from the same work as the Cortes
prints. The role of the friars as evangelizers has two faces;
many of their efforts were genuine attempts to advance the
life of the Indian. These prints impart the compassion
between the tonsured, robed friars and the natives-children
or adults in a child's posture. The friars bow their heads in
sympathy and attention to the figures in misery and need.

Figure 4.20. Posada. Figure 4.21. Posada.
El Defensor de los indios. Fray Bartolome de las Casas.
Jose Clemente Orozco. A
Franciscan bending over a
leper. 1926
The image of the gaunt Indian in the embrace of the
Franciscan monk is powerful, filling the entire vault. Orozco's
interpretation of the Conquest does not deny the benefits that
the Spaniards offered, including deliverance from human
sacrifice and education. This work was painted during a time
that Orozco had shifted from bitterness to pity when dealing
with the Mexico of the Conquest. All the edge is not taken off
--the rugged, crude cross above the vault is wrapped around
with a poisonous serpent. Pieces of iron suggest violence.

Figure 4.22. Jose Clemente Orozco. A Franciscan Bending
Over a Leper, 1926.

Diego Rivera. Bad Monk and
Good Monk. 1929-30
These figures are taken from Rivera's monumental
work at the Palacio de Cortes, Cuernavaca and underscore
thematic similarities between Rivera and Posada. Posada has
a series of prints that are concerned with the exploits of a
Padre Cobos, a gross caricature. Rivera matches that with his
Padre Mangus, equally offensive. These two figures exhibit
Rivera's style of masterly drawings; luminous coloring, a
multitude of figures that are easily discerned by a clear
plastic language, and an unconcealable joy of living.
Additionally in these two scenes he parablelizes, which he
loves to do, the good and bad monk. His good monk is encircled
with a seemingly willing audience of young adult Indians. In
the second scene, among the native bounty, the deference of
the Indians seems sadly one-sided.

Figure 4.23. Diego Rivera. The Bad Monk and The Good
Monk, 1929-30.

Guadalupe Posada was a man of and for his times. He
came from a middle-class, provincial family, anchored in the
landscape and life of a people that Brenner terms biblical. He
took up his tools of trade with little formal training at the
close of a relatively peaceful, but stagnant period of time, the
Porfiriato. The Porfiriato followed the upheaval of Mexico's
independence from Spain and then France (Maximilian), which
had promised major changes, but had done little to change the
daily life of the people. The Revolution was fermenting just
beneath the surface. Posada stood at the crossroads.
Posada lived in the age of the newspaper and political
pamphlet. The penny press flooded the streets with a
multitude of different editions. Posada drew illustrations for
some fifty or more newspapers, employing a technique of zinc
etching that allowed him to react simultaneously and
instinctively to events of the day. He also illustrated the
corridos, popular ballads, which put him in touch with
provincial Mexico. Jean Chariot sums this up beautifully: "The
bulk of an ancient and rich tradition funnelled through his

[Posada's] work at a time when it was fated to leaven modern
formulas" (Artist 163).
The Revolution ebbed and waned from 1910 through
1920, distinguished by brutality and confusion borne in the
number of opposing factions and the lack of direction. Mexico
needed to get in touch with herself. Jose Vasconcelos, as
Minister of Education, evoked Mexican artists to create a
contemporary art by offering them the walls of public
buildings and an artisan's wage. Diego Rivera, in recognition
for his artistic talents, had been sent to Europe to study and
virtually missed the Revolution. He returned to Mexico infused
with European art to lovingly rediscover his native land and
traditions. Jose Clemente Orozco was already proficient as a
graphic artist, when he asked for a wall to paint. He
articulated both in his murals and his writings the desire that
mural art create "a New World". David Alfaro Siqueiros
actively participated in the Revolution and the strikes that
followed; he conceived art as revolution. With his manifesto
he attempted to define the role of the Mural Movement in a
social and political context. French Jean Chariot visited
Mexico to explore a part of his family line and immersed
himself in Mexico. He not only joined in the Mural Movement,
but was able to assess its roots and results in a scholarly

Joseph Campbell in his book The Power of Myth
defines the role of the artist as one who communicates the
myth. This has to be accomplished by someone who
comprehends mythology and humanity. He feels this important
for a people's identity. Each one of the muralists endeavored
to fulfill this role, which led them to choose walls to paint--a
touchstone with an age-old Mexican tradition that spans all of
its history and provides a monumental size that met their
didactic needs. Posada's prints made them aware of their own
roots, a new mixture of Spanish and Indian heritage that had
slowly been occurring in the folk arts. By giving them a new
language, he aided their transition, almost rebellion, from the
academic art of the Academy, steeped in European tradition, to
the murals painted on public walls, a modern uniquely Mexican

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