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What Cortez Saw in Mexico

DATES September 24, 1948 through November 11, 1948
  • September 24, 1948 “What Cortez Saw in Mexico” is the title of a special exhibition which opened today in the Entrance Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum and which will remain on view through November 11th.

    Mexico, the people and their culture at the time of the Spanish Conquest in 1519, are shown by means of objects chiefly from the Brooklyn Museum collection supplemented by loans from the American Museum of Natural History, Museum of the American Indian, and Miguel Covarrubias; and by illustrations from 16th Century manuscripts.

    A prominent section of the exhibition is devoted to religion and ceremony which penetrated every phase of Aztec life. Here the Brooklyn Museum is exhibiting for the first time stone sculptures of various gods, these sculptures having been recently received in an exchange with the National Museum of Mexico.

    How the people dressed, how they lived, and how they amused themselves are reconstructed, as well as the extensive trade they carried on, their wars, and tribute. They brought up their children to go to school and then to learn a craft or a profession just as we do today. Their arts, such as painted pottery, gold and jewelry are given considerable attention. There are pottery vessels of all sorts such as “blue plate” dishes with sauce compartments, graters, bowls and street lamps. A tiny gold mask, a necklace of gold and jade, an aquamarine grasshopper are some of the pieces illustrating their work in precious metal and stone. Other media represented in this exhibition include wood, turquoise mosaic and obsidian.

    When Cortez and his small army beheld the great empire of Montezuma, they were dazzled by the large cities, the well-organized society, and the riches which they found. This has been best summarized by one of Cortez’s captains, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who said: “Gazing on such wonderful sights we did not know what to say or whether what appeared before us was real, for on one side in the land there were great cities and in the lake ever so many more, and the lake itself was crowded with canoes, and in the causeway were many bridges at intervals, and in front of us stood the great city of Mexico, and we----we did not even number four hundred soldiers.”

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 07-09/1948, 076.
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