Cultural Corner: La Catrina

Cultural Corner: La Catrina

The image of La Catrina can be seen all over Mexico in particular during the festivities of Day of the dead. She takes the form of an elegantly dressed Lady from the turn of the 20thCentury. She wears one of the enormous hats that were in fashion at the time including a large feather but her face is that of a grinning skeleton. A Mexican artist and printmaker by the name of José Guadalupe Posada first produced an image of La Catrina in the early 1900s along with many other images of skulls or calaveritas.  The idea was to bring political satire and the news of the day to the majority of Mexicans who were still illiterate at the time. He chose to depict La Catrina in fine European clothing to show how unfair life was for the poor majority under then president Porfirio Diaz. It first appeared in 1910, a pivotal year in Mexican history as the Mexican Revolution was about to begin the result of which would be the removal of Porfirio Diaz from government after a near 35-year dictatorship.

Posada took the idea for La Calavera Catrina from Aztec mythology. There was a goddess of death known as Mictecacihuatl, who was the keeper of the bones in the underworld. She was responsible for a month-long Aztec festival held to honor the dead every year. Many aspects of modern Day of the dead celebrations still retain these Aztec roots, mixed with Christian beliefs. This is a common theme throughout Mexico where many modern-day celebrations of the Christian calendar still retain indigenous symbols.

The original image of La Catrina by Posada was just of her head with an ornate hat but in 1947 the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera painted a full length figure of her in an elegant dress into the center of his 50-foot mural titiled Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central. Rivera appears as a child holding the hand of La Catrina while his wife and fellow artsist Frida Kahlo, as an adult, stands behind them in traditional Mexican clothing. On the other side Posada himself appears dressed in an elegant suit!


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