Mexico aims for Aztec coronation of Vienna – courthouse press service
VIENNA (AFP) – This is one of the top attractions of the Weltmuseum in Vienna, an ancient Aztec headdress resplendent with iridescent blue-green feathers nearly six feet wide with a centerpiece emblazoned with hundreds of gold coins.
This week, a long-standing feud over where she should be displayed was reignited when Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he asked his wife to persuade Austrian authorities to allow the exhibition of the headdress in Mexico in 2021 for the celebrations of the country. 200th anniversary of independence.
Weltmuseum director Christian Schicklgruber told AFP that Lopez Obrador’s wife Beatriz Gutierrez “visited Austrian President” Alexander Van der Bellen on Monday.
“And during this meeting, she showed a letter from her husband asking for the loan of the feather headdress.”
Schicklgruber says the request is currently being investigated by the Austrian Ministry of Culture.
This is not the first request of this type that Gutierrez presents during his current trip to Europe.
Last week, she met Italian President Sergio Mattarella and handed him a letter requesting the loan of two manuscripts from the Aztec era, again on display in 2021.
As for the headdress, Lopez Obrador seems to recognize that the request may well be denied.
“It’s an almost impossible mission, since they (the Austrians) make it their own,” he wrote on Twitter earlier this week.
The next day, at his daily press conference, Lopez Obrador set an even more candid tone on where the headdress belonged, calling it a “piece of ours, of Mexico” and saying the Austrians had it ” capture”.
But the Weltmuseum maintains that the piece is too fragile to be moved.
“We have an Aztec exhibit on display now downstairs and that would fit into that exhibit. But we do not have the right to drop it, it is really too fragile, ”explains Gerard van Bussel, curator of the North and Central America department of the Weltmuseum.
Schicklgruber says that a loan “would risk damage which would ultimately destroy the object.”
As a result of a study carried out between 2010 and 2012 – with the participation of Mexican experts – both parties agreed that the headdress could not be transported safely.
Since 2017, it has been exhibited in a custom-made “vibration-free” cabinet.
“Just consider the fact that it is over 500 years old,” says van Bussel, recalling that it is the only coin of its kind to have survived the time of the conquest of the Aztec Empire.
Ivan Escamilla, historian and researcher at the National University of Mexico, agrees the coin should not be moved, telling AFP it was “a miracle” that it survived so long.
It is not known for sure how the headdress ended up in Europe, but van Bussel says the first recorded mention of it is in an inventory of a Habsburg collection in the Austrian Tyrol region in the late 16th century, or so. 75 years after the conquest of the Aztec capital.
From there he went through various Austrian collections before landing at the Weltmuseum.
As to why Lopez Obrador chose to revisit the controversy now, Mexican pundits say he could star in a national gallery.
“Lopez Obrador plays with symbols and this is one of them,” explains historian and political scientist Jose Antonio Crespo.
“It’s a way of saying: ‘I am with the people… I am the one who tries to recover what the Europeans have taken from us.’ “
The symbolic value of the headdress is all the stronger as it is sometimes believed to have been worn by the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma – although van Bussel warns that there is no evidence of this.
But the question also has broader significance as debates rage elsewhere about the ethics of museum collections – especially those located in former colonial powers – and how they were put together.
While it’s doubtful the headdress will go anywhere anytime soon, the Weltmuseum has at least taken a step to make it more accessible to the Mexican public.
For those who can make it to the Austrian capital, Mexican citizens have enjoyed free entry to the museum since 2012.
by Jastinder KHERA with Sofia MISELEM in Mexico
© Agence France Presse