Totonac Civilization Diego Rivera Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This stunning mural was produced by Diego Rivera in 1950. It can today be found within the permanent collection of the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, Mexico and is one of the biggest highlights of their impressive display.

The Totonac Civilization is also sometimes known as the Jaguar People in Veracruz and focuses on the indigenous population of Rivera's native Mexico. This region is a Mexican port city on the Gulf of Mexico coast and Rivera's mural helped to draw attention to this culturally and historically rich part of the country. The artist was tasked with painting a series of frescoes for the National Palace and this would be amongst his most challenging but rewarding commissions. With such love for his native country, Rivera would also have felt a great deal of pride in being asked to complete this high profile project. The series of frescoes would detail the lives of Mexicans prior to the arrival of settlers from colonial powers and was a topic which appealed greatily to the artist. He was always interested in Mexico's culture from past centuries and was well aware of the variety still remaining within the nation, but which had been oppressed and marginalised in recent years. He would plan his large murals very carefully so that they all followed a consistent narrative and were suitable for their respective positions within the palace.

The Totonac Civilization features a great variety of historical architecture, weaponary and fashion which tells us much about this ancient civilisation. The artist sets all of this content within a sprawling landscape scene which draws in light from the blue band of sky which fills the upper part of the painting. Rivera understood the technical challenges brought about by large mural work such as this, having already produced a number elsewhere in previous projects, and this, along with his deep love for his nation, made him the perfect choice to carry out this work. He would have spent many years working on this ambitious series of frescoes but its importance meant that he was willing to forego other work during this period in order to achieve as impressive a body of work as possible. He is today regarded first and foremost as a Mexican muralist, playing a major role in promoting this movement and combining it with elements of Social Realism at other times in his career. Totonac Civilization shows how he was not just interested in Mexican life during his own lifetime, but also in discussing and promoting the beauty of his culture from many centuries before too.

This artist's career was full of a variety of work, both in terms of content but also style too. Additionally, he made use of different techniques such as classical oil painting and also drawing, but he would become best known for large scale murals which came about later in his career once his reputation had reached a high level. Rivera would take on these huge challenges in both Mexico and the US and most remain on display today for the public to see in person. Some of his smaller pieces have been snapped up by private collectors and so are less easily accessible. Along with his wife, Frida Kahlo, he remains one of the most famous Mexican artists of all time.