José Guadalupe Posada: the ‘calaveras’ of a Mexican master of social reportage and satire
Posted: November 2, 2014 Filed under: Alexander Best, IMAGES, Retratos por José Guadalupe Posada | Tags: Day of the Dead (Mexico)
The etchings of José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) demonstrated a worldview that was, and often still is, profoundly Mexican. A commercial illustrator who also printed political broadsides, Posada invented the ‘calavera’ portrait. Calavera means skull, and by extension, skeleton. Aspects of the nation’s Indigenous heritage (skulls and death-goddesses were central to Aztec and Maya cultures) plus its Spanish cultural inheritance (death-oriented monastic orders, the ‘dance of death’ and ‘memento mori’ traditions) combine in Posada’s rustic yet sophisticated prints to give us the flavour of the average Mexican’s stoical yet humorous appreciation of Death.
La Catrina_zinc etching by J.G. Posada
A Sincere Tale for The Day of The Dead :
“ Lady Catrina goes for a stroll / Doña Catrina da un paseo ”
“¡ Santa Mictecacihuatl !
These Mandible Bone-nix (Manolo Blahniks) weren’t meant for
The Long Haul – certainly not worth the silver I shelled out for ’em ! ”
Thus spoke that elegant skeleton known as La Catrina.
And she clunked herself down at the stone curb, kicking off the
jade-encrusted, ocelot-fur-trimmed high-heel shoes.
“ Well, I haven’t been ‘bone-foot’ like this since I was an escuincle. ”
She chuckled to herself as she began rummaging through her Juicy handbag.
Extracting a shard of mirror, she held it up to her face – a calavera
with teardrop earrings grinned back at her. ¡Hola, Preciosa!
she said to herself with quiet pride. She adjusted her necklace of
cempasúchil blossoms and smoothed her yellow-white-red-and-black
Just then a lad and lassie crossed her path…
“ Yoo-hoo, Young Man, Young Woman !
Be dears, would you both, and escort an old dame
across La Plaza de la Existencia ! My feet are simply
worn down to the bone ! ”
“ Certainly, madam – but we’re new here…
Where is La Plaza de la Existencia ? ”
“ We’re just at the edge of it – El Zócalo ! ”
And La Catrina gestured beyond them where an
immense public square stretched far and wide.
She clasped their hands – the Young Man on her left,
the Young Woman on her right – and the trio set out
across a sea of cobbles…
By the time they reached the distant side of the Plaza the
Young Man and Young Woman had shared much with the
calaca vivaz – their hopes, fears, sadness and joy – their Lives.
The Woman by now had grown a long, luxurious
silver braid and The Man a thick, salt-and-pepper
beard. Both knew they’d lived fully – and were satisfied.
But my… – they were tired !
In the company of the strange and gregarious Catrina 5 minutes
to cross The Zócalo had taken 50 years…
“ Doña Catrina, here we are at your destination – will you be
alright now ? ”
“ Never felt better, Kids ! I always enjoy charming company
on a journey ! ” And she winked at them, even though she had
no eyeballs – just sockets. “ Join me for a caffè-latte? Or a café-pulque,
if you’re lactose-intolerant ! ”
“Thank you, no,” said the Man and Woman, in unison.
And both laughed heartily, breathed deeply, and sat down
at the curb.
When they looked up, Doña Catrina had clattered gaily out of sight.
And before their eyes the vast Zócalo became peopled with
scenes from their Lives.
The Man and Woman smiled, then sighed contentedly. And, side by side, they leaned closer together – and died.
* finis *
Alexander Best – November 2nd, 2011
Mictecacihuatl – Aztec goddess of the AfterLife, and Keeper of The Bones
La Catrina – from La Calavera Catrina (The Elegant Lady-Skull),
a famous zinc etching by Mexican political cartoonist and print-maker
Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913). Posada’s “calavera” prints depict
society from top to bottom – even the upper-class woman of wealth –
La Catrina – must embrace Death, just like everyone else…
She has since become a “character”,
invented and re-invented, for The Day of The Dead (Nov.2nd).
escuincle – little kid or street urchin
calavera – skull
¡Hola, Preciosa! – Hello, Gorgeous!
cempasúchil – marigold (the Day of The Dead flower)
huipil – blouse or dress, Mayan-style
El Zócalo – the main public square (plaza mayor) in Mexico City,
largest in The Americas
calaca vivaz – lively skeleton
pulque – a Mexican drink make from fermented
agave or maguey – looks somewhat like milk
¡Chaucito, chavos! Ciao, kiddies!