In the early 1940s, while exiled from Mexico in the wake of a failed plot against the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, Siqueiros dwelled at length on the defiant heroism of Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor and defender of its capital city, Tenochtitlán, against the Spanish conquerors. Cuauhtémoc opposed the pacifism of his predecessor, Moctezuma, distrusting the legend that Cortés represented the reincarnated god Quetzalcoatl. The emperor figured in four murals from this period, including the monumental "Cuauhtémoc against the Myth" (1944), in which he confronts the centaurian form of Cortés, the subject of the related painting, "El centauro de la conquista" (1944). The present lithograph is based on the eponymous painting, in which the hybrid figure rears up in a monstrous image of dominance and power, sword in one hand and crucifix in the other. Pierced by a massive spear, its writhing body is dramatized against a raging landscape, partly inspired by the spectacular activity of Mexico’s Paricutín volcano, and described with agitated, graphic violence.
This text was created in collaboration with the University of Maryland Department of Art History & Archaeology and written by Abigail McEwen.