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Art history professor publishes new book on Central Mexican ceremony

May 4, 2009

Catherine DiCesare, assistant professor of art history at CSU, recently published, "Sweeping the Way: Divine Transformation in the Aztec Festival of Ochpaniztle."

Central Mexican indigenous ritual

Incorporating human sacrifice, flaying, and mock warfare, the pre-Columbian Mexican ceremony known as Ochpaniztli, or “Sweeping,” has long attracted attention. Although among the best known of eighteen annual Aztec ceremonies, its significance has nevertheless been poorly understood.

Ochpaniztli is known mainly from early colonial illustrated manuscripts produced in cross-cultural collaboration between Spanish missionary-chroniclers and native Mexican informants and artists.

Role of pictorial elements

Although scholars typically privilege the manuscripts’ textual descriptions, Sweeping the Way examines the fundamental role of their pictorial elements, which significantly expand the information contained in the texts. DiCesare emphasizes the primacy of the regalia, ritual implements, and adornments of the festival patroness as the point of intersection between sacred cosmic forces and ceremonial celebrants.

The associations of these paraphernalia indicate that Ochpaniztli was a period of purification rituals designed to transform and protect individual and communal bodies alike. Spanish friars were unable to comprehend the complex nature of the festival’s patroness, ultimately fragmenting her identity into categories meeting their expectations, which continues to vex modern investigations.

Translation and transformation

Sweeping the Way addresses myriad issues of translation and transformation in pre-Columbian and post-conquest Mexico, as Christian friars and native Mexicans together negotiated a complex body of information about outlawed ritual practices and proscribed sacred entities. The book will be of interest to archaeologists, art historians, and religious historians studying Central Mexican indigenous ritual.

DiCesare's specialty is pre-Columbian art history and arts of the Americas, with research focusing on the conquest period in central Mexico.

The book is published by the University Press of Colorado

Contact: Kimberly Sorensen
Phone: (970) 491-0757