Aztec peoples populated the area of Mesoamerica during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. They spoke the Nahuatl language and shared a culture that would later develop into the Mexica people who were located in the area of Mexico City. The major event of Aztec history was its infamous clash with the conquistador Hernando Cortes in 1521. Today, most of what is known of Aztec culture comes from archeological evidence whereby the art of the culture helps define the people who created it.
Aztec art had essentially evolved from the art of various earlier tribes of the Mesoamerican region. Aztec art, while primarily owned by the upper classes of the society, was also an important commodity to the Aztecs in general who traded it with other tribes. Also, while some Aztec art was strictly decorative, much of it was applied to objects that had another function. A large portion of the art was related to Aztec religion for example. Art might, additionally, adorn items like pottery or furniture. Other artistic items include knives, head dresses, clothing, architecture, statues, masks, shields, and jewelry.
Much of the art of the Aztecs was symbolic in nature. Popular Aztec symbols often featured animals like snakes, deer, jaguars, birds, and fish. Aztec religion was heavily linked to nature so the symbols were often found in the natural world of their region. Animals painted on various objects of walls conveyed important messages to onlookers. For example, monkeys were defined as symbols of celebration and happiness. Insects were also fairly typical symbols that were used in Aztec art.
The Aztec people were known to trade for materials that could be used in their artwork, but they often made use of natural decorations at their disposal. Clay and feathers were usual mediums for artwork, but other artistic materials included shells, rocks, coral, copper, gold, quartz, obsidian, silver, and turquoise. Some items would feature many different types of materials. The Aztecs were particularly fond of mosaic art.
Today there are many world-class museums that showcase Aztec art. Many exhibits feature statues that show great realism and are very life-like. Artistic artifacts of the Aztecs are frequently related to religion, but quite often they relate to war which was a primary element of Aztec life. Some famous objects of Aztec art include Moctezuma’s Throne and the Aztec Calendar Stone. Archeologists have also revealed Aztec art on temples depicting drawings of warriors as well as pictographs. Aztec designs were usually geometric in nature and artists often reproduced patterns and color schemes repeatedly for a variety of different objects such as pottery.