Mexico sets sights on return of ancient Aztec headdress on display in Austrian museum - GulfToday

Mexico sets sights on return of ancient Aztec headdress on display in Austrian museum


The headdress of Aztec emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (1466-1520).

It is one of the star attractions of Vienna's Weltmuseum, a resplendent ancient Aztec headdress of iridescent blue-green feathers almost two metres (six feet) wide with a centrepiece sporting hundreds of pieces of gold.


This week, a long-running wrangle over where it should be displayed was re-ignited when Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he had asked his wife to persuade Austrian authorities to allow the headdress to be exhibited in Mexico in 2021 for the country's celebrations of the 200th anniversary of independence.


The Weltmuseum's director Christian Schicklgruber told AFP that Lopez Obrador's wife Beatriz Gutierrez had "paid a visit to the president of Austria" Alexander Van der Bellen on Monday.


Schicklgruber says the request is now being studied by the Austrian ministry of culture.


 'Too fragile'


As far as the headdress is concerned, Lopez Obrador seems to recognise that the request may well be turned down.


head1 Mexican president's wife transmitted a request for the famous Aztec headdress to be returned to Mexico on loan.


The next day in his daily press conference, Lopez Obrador struck an even more forthright tone on the question of where the headdress belonged, calling it a "piece of ours, of Mexico" and saying the Austrians had "seized" it.


But the Weltmuseum argues that the piece is too fragile to move.


Schicklgruber says a loan "would risk damage that would finally destroy the object".


Following a study between 2010 and 2012 -- with the participation of experts from Mexico -- both sides agreed that the headdress could not be safely transported.


Since 2017 it has been on display in a bespoke "vibration-free" cabinet.


Ivan Escamilla, historian and researcher from Mexico's National University, agrees the piece should not be moved, telling AFP it was "a miracle" for it to have survived for so long.


head3 A detail of the headdress of Aztec emperor Moctezuma Xocoyotzin (1466-1520) or Moctezuma II, also known as 'El Penacho.'


Potent symbol


It is not known for certain 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 Austria's Tyrol region in the late 16th century, around 75 years after the conquest of the Aztec capital.


From there it wended its way through different Austrian collections before landing in the Weltmuseum.


As for why Lopez Obrador had chosen to return to the controversy now, experts in Mexico say he may be playing to a domestic gallery.


The symbolic value of the headdress is all the more potent because it is sometimes assumed to have been worn by the Aztec emperor Moctezuma -- even if van Bussel cautions there is no proof of this.


But the issue also has a wider significance as debates rage elsewhere over the ethics of museum collections -- particularly those located in former colonial powers -- and how they were assembled.


While it is doubtful that the headdress will be going anywhere any time soon, the Weltmuseum has at least taken one step to making it more accessible to a Mexican public.


For those who can make it to the Austrian capital, Mexican citizens have had free entry to the museum since 2012.

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