Mesoamerica is a cultural area in the Americas that extends approximately from central Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, within which a number of complex societies flourished before the Spanish colonization in the 16th century. One of the most fascinating of these societies is Mexico's last pre-Hispanic culture: the Aztecs (ca. 1200-1521).
The Aztecs were descendants of Nahuatl-speaking nomad or semi-nomad groups which had come from the north of Mexico. In the early 15th century, one of these groups, the Mexica, settled on an island in Lake Texcoco (Valley of Mexico), a site now occupied by the historic center of Mexico City. They made their city Mexico-Tenochtitlan the capital of a great empire, forming an alliance with two other cities in the Valley, Texcoco and Tlacopan. Together they pursued a series of conquests, which in less than a century resulted in the Aztecs and their allies' dominating most of central Mexico.
Then, in 1519, Cortés and his men arrived in Mexico and met the sovereign who ruled from the capital, Moctezuma II. War broke out and, despite the Aztec resistance, Mexico-Tenochtitlan fell into the hands of the Spanish in 1521. This marked the beginning of the colonial era.
This conference will focus on the history and the socio-political organization of the Aztec empire, as well as provide an introduction to Aztec art, which combines a certain degree of realism with stylized elements. Some pieces are monumental and have an extremely sophisticated iconography, and, of course, there are the famous "codices" (pre-Hispanic pictographic manuscripts and manuscripts produced at the beginning of the colonial period in pre-Hispanic style).
The conference will also address how deities, myths and rites permeated the entire worldview of the Aztecs, because, in Mesoamerica, as in many ancient cultures, the religious sphere was not clearly delimited or circumscribed.
Sylvie Peperstraete has aPhD in History of Art and Archaeology from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. She is currently Professor at the ULB, Director of Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE) Paris, and Scientific collaborator at the Musées Royaux d'Art et d'Histoire (MRAH, Brussels). Sylvie's research domain is in Mesoamerican art, history, and religions (pre-Hispanic and early colonial periods). She is an active member of several laboratory and research groups connected with her work and has published several books and scientific papers on her subject.
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