The story behind 'La Catrina'

The story behind 'La Catrina'

Well… It’s almost Día de los Muertos! And if you read my first blog post you would know almost everything about it by now. However, today I’m going to talk about 'La Catrina'. You have probably seen her in illustrations or photographs! She’s an elegant skeleton wearing a big fancy hat and a feather stole. She is a really important character in Mexican culture and she is commonly known in Mexico as the 'Grand Dame of Death'. Her origins date back hundreds of years ago to the Aztec goddess of the underworld, Mictecacihuatl. However, it was the Mexican illustrator and lithographer José Guadalupe Posada, who first portrayed her as 'La Calavera Garbancera' between 1910 and 1913.  

La Calavera Garbancera gained a lot of recognition in the times of Porfirio Díaz - the longest serving president of Mexico (3 and a half decades in power!) During this time, known as el Porfiriato, articles written by middle class men showing discontent with the inequality and injustice of the Diaz government, began to popularise in newspapers such as 'El Hijo del Ahuizotle'. These articles were written in a mocking way and were usually accompanied by drawings of skulls and skeletons. La Calavera Garbancera was the most famous drawing by Posada. It was intended to represent indigenous people who were ashamed of their cultural heritage, and try to imitate the European style- which was popularised by Díaz.

La Calavera Garbancera was also meant to illustrate the contrast between the upper and lower classes, as they were notoriously segmented in this period - as we can imagine, the highest class had a lot of privileges (just like nowadays!). 

Three decades later, in 1947, a super talented and unique painter, Diego Rivera, introduced her again as 'La Catrina' in his famous mural ‘Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central’ (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda). Her presence in this mural is of great significance as it symbolises her importance to the Mexican culture. She is a reflection of the comfort and ease with which Mexicans embrace death. 

La Catrina has left the canvases and engravings to become an essential part of one of the biggest, if not the biggest celebration in Mexico - Día de los Muertos (Day of the dead). She has become a symbol of miscegenation and also highlights the spiritual wealth of Mexico. 

"Death is democratic, because after all, blonde, brunette, rich or poor, all people end up being a skull" - Guadalupe Posada



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