Formal Analysis of Aztec Feathered Serpent Sculpture
Facing out into the eyes of museum-goers, the Aztec feathered serpent sculpture currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art dates from between fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Though the iconographic motif of the feathered serpent is a common and meaningful one in Aztec art, the formal elements of this piece communicate an equally strong message. Through deliberate choices in the crafting and facture of this seemingly dense stone sculpture, the artist reiterates a formal theme of circular and spiraling elements to create a sense of mysteriousness and threat. The most salient elements contributing to this identity include the shapes of the elements and the overall sculpture, the spatial distribution of formal elements, and the material – all of which help to convey a specific message of uneasiness and threat in the piece. Despite being roughly a mere one foot in length, one foot in width, and six inches in height, the sculpture does not strike one as being small or insignificant in size. Rather, the formal choices present create a sense of great density and mass within the piece. The sculpture appears to have been carved from stone - possibly from the common medium of volcanic rock. The choice to use heavy, unburnished stone in the crafting of the piece adds a feeling of weightiness and ruggedness to the sculpture. Green stone, another common medium amongst the Aztec, would have allowed for a shinier and sleeker look. This stone, which is grey with a green tint, makes for a physically heavier and rougher piece. Volcanic stone also allows for a much larger amount of usable material, as many other precious stones would have been available in smaller quantities and samples. Though the piece cannot be touched by the public, I can imagine that the grainy feel of the rock would starkly contrast the colder, smoother, sleeker feel of a green stone. The texture of the stone is untamed. The technique...
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