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José Guadalupe Posada
The late 1800's marked an important change in Mexican history, the beginning of civil and political unrest. Mexico became a country torn between the bourgeois and the working class. Political satire became a popular and comical way for the working class to speak out against the wealthy as well as political leaders; it became one of few acceptable outlets to express ideas without harsh punishment from the government. An important figure that helped pave the way for both the Mexican Revolution and future political satire was José Guadalupe Posada. Despite never reaching the financial security artists of the same time achieved, Posada was a revolutionary figure in Mexican history. Posada's humble roots, political cartoons, social commentary, and distinct iconography helped make him a legendary and celebrated figure throughout history.
Posada was born in Aguascalientes on February 2, 1852. His brother, Cirilo, a country schoolteacher, who taught him drawing as well as reading and writing, supervised his early education. This early education in art helped Posada become a lithographer. As a teenager, he worked in the workshop of Trinidad Pedroso, where he learned lithography and engraving. He lived during a time when Mexico had a well-established tradition of printing satirical newspapers. In 1871 he worked in his hometown as head lithographer. For a weekly periodical called El Jicote. It failed after fewer than a dozen issues, and he moved on to work on other presses as the popularity of illustrated papers increased. Posada was partially to blame for the failure of El Jicote, his satirical comic of cacique, regional boss, Portugal caused the periodical to be shut down. Portugal, then out of office, saw his comic in the periodical, took action against the press after reentering office in 1871. Posada moved to LeÃ²n to open another print shop with Pedroso, a fellow business partner. Within a year they were heavily involved in a variety of activities: commercial and advertising work, illustration of books, and the printing of posters and representations of historical and religious figures. Among the latter were the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Virgin of the Rosary, the Holy Child of Atocha and Saint Sebastian. For sixteen years, he ran a commercial lithography shop of his own. Although owning his own business was always a dream of Posada's, he craved more. During these years, he married, had a son, and taught lithography at a local vocational school. Posada earned local fame for his position as an instructor as well as business owner, but Posada was distraught by the political and class injustice the working class faced. A disastrous flood in 1888 that destroyed Posada's shop forced him to relocate. Posada moved to Mexico City in late 1888 and worked for the publisher Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. Posada would create fabulous illustrations for outrageous stories; he became a very well known artist throughout Mexico City.
The Vanegas Arroyo broadsheets were colorfully dyed, single pages with an illustration, often by Posada, at the top with an explanatory text at the bottom. The subject matter varied widely and oddities of nature, bullfights, religious images, sensational crimes, bandit escapes, executions, political commentary, and battles (especially during the Revolutionary years' anything that the publisher thought would sell.
Arroyo and Posada collaborated to create cheap newspapers for the illiterate masses, making their works a great success. Despite the varied subject matter, the penny press specialized in political satire. Intended for a working class audience that bore the brunt of Porfirio Diaz's obsession with order, it mocked corrupt politicians, Yankee interlopes, exploitive capitalists, upper-class pretentious, and ignorant policeman. Some sources suggest that Posada may have spent time in jail when his satire crossed the line into overt criticism of the Diaz regime. Under the Diaz regime, it was legal to throw any citizen in jail that directly criticized either Porfirio Diaz or the laws he put into place; journalists were jailed so often that they formed the Incarcerated Journalists Club. Although incarceration might have occurred, Posada usually knew how far to push the boundaries. Posada used specific iconography to not only criticize politics but also the bourgeoisie.
Posada's use of skeletons throughout his imagery not only provided social commentary on the wealthy but, also, made his work legendary and inspiring. These skeletons were given the name Calaveras, and although they were not only used by Posada, they are remembered as his creation. By the time Posada began creating Calaveras, they were already well established in Mexico's popular culture; however it was Posada who developed them to their mocking extreme. Posada's images of Calaveras are X-ray versions of humans (and sometimes animals). They are dressed, ready to do their everyday work as soldiers, laborers, cooks and various other jobs. These skeletal figures are often depicted drinking, eating, and playing musical instruments. They laugh and mock the upper classes, who will be equalized with the peasants in death. Posada's Calaveras point out that wealth and position do not save one from dying. This specific iconography is what Posada is best remembered for; he has been quoted as saying "In death we are all equal. Blond, brown, rich, poor, we come to the same fate"(9) Gran Calavera ElÃ©ctrica, The Grand Electric Skull, demonstrates this idea of the calavera. A large skeleton crouches down holding his finger up gazing into a mass crowd of skulls and skeletons; an electric car rides by, the large skeleton mesmerizes its passengers. This large skeleton may be Diaz or another political leader who has blinded the masses. The use of hierarchical scale as well the figures finger which gives a "come hither" expression, proves that political figures are important and valuable in Mexican society than the people they rule over. Instead of showing each skeleton in the crowd as an individual, Posada has lumped them into one large group, besides one. This way of depicting the working class demonstrates the idea that the working class is not thought of people but simply as a group that is easily controlled. The people's wants, dreams, hopes, and needs do not matter; political leaders and rulers come first. By reducing all individuals to bones, Posada not only eliminates individuality but wealth. Portraying politicians as skeletons may also save Posada from incarceration; the viewer can only guess who the large skeleton is. Although all people are equal at death, this image mocks the politician's idea that they will still have power over the working class in the afterlife.
Posada not only used the Calaveras to mock upper class and politicians, he used these skeletons to represent the working class and the poor. Gran Fandango y Francachela de Todas las Calaveras (Happy Dance and Wild Party of All the Skeletons) demonstrates Posada's use of skeletons to represent normal people in Mexican society. A man and women dance together simply dressed while a crowd behinds them watches and plays instruments. Unlike many of Posada's prints that directly criticize the upperclass and political leaders, all figures in the print are drawn individually, are roughly the same size, and have a happy expression. Although emotion is hard to convey through skeletons, Gran Fandango y Francachela de Todas las Calaveras has a lighter, happier aurora about it. This print conveys the idea that despite their financial misfortune these people matter; the lack of embellished accessories and clothing gives these people a poorer yet more humble look. These figures seem to be enjoying themselves with simple music and dance; they do not need lavished food and drink as well as clothing to keep them happy. These image may have been made to honor the working class for all the strenuous labor they endure every day as well as reminds viewers that this class will, most likely, have a marvelous afterlife. Unlike the upper class and political leaders, this group of individuals does not allow money or power to control their lives; their happiness and humanitarian attitudes will translate to the afterlife.
One of Posada's most famous images criticizes the rich and has been widely celebrated throughout Mexican history. La Calavera Catrina, The Elegant Skull, remains to be the most widespread and celebrated image of Posada's artistic career. This image depicts a skull adorned in a festive Mexican hat and earrings surrounded by flowers. This image was part of a series of Calaveras that depicted contemporary figures in a humorous fashion that were usually accompanied by a poem. This image is a direct criticism of the upper class; despite her festive accessories she is dead, these accessories will serve her no purpose in the afterlife. A living person dressed in such fashion would be seen as a classy and wealthy woman, yet a skeleton wearing accessories once associated with the upper class looks silly. Posada proves that wealth is only an issue for the living and that despite how much money and other worldly objects one has, all people suffer the same fate: death. Mexico is a predominantly Catholic country, meaning that the afterlife is thought of as either heaven or hell. Most people during this time likely believed that their fate in the afterlife was based on their actions and intentions during their life. Although greed and power were thought to lead to a one-way ticket to hell, politicians and other leaders were solely concerned with their status on earth. The pairing of wealth and power with death in Posada's images reminds the viewer that the two have nothing in common with one another; that wealth does not exist nor can help an individual in death and the afterlife. , La Calavera Catrina remained a popular image during Posada's time, yet faded from memory. Jean Charlot, a French art historian, found the print shortly after the Mexican Revolution, in 1920, and revived it. The image has since been mass-produced and a representation of Mexican art all over the world. However, La Calavera Catrina has become a symbol for the day of the dead celebration and a staple of Mexican culture, something that Posada, most likely, did not intend.
For thousands of years, Mexican culture has celebrated Dia de Muertos, The Day of the Dead. This celebration is used to honor one's dead ancestors by celebrating their lives, decorating their graves, and creating an alter-like station for them in one's home. Over the years, however, this day has become associated with the elaborate decorations, candy and pinatas, and, most importantly, the iconography. The skeletons and skulls of Mexican folk art reflect the dualism fundamental to the pre-Hispanic worldview. The iconographic image of the living and dead sharing a single body or head remains a common visual theme in Mexican folk art. The reason is simple: for the Mexican, life and death are part of the same linear process. Birth leads into life, and life leads to death. Join the ends of the process and the cycle of life is created.(10) Skulls and sugar skulls, a decorated skull in candy, makeup, or mask form, have been the classic image to represent this celebration. Posada's Calaveras have been an important part of this iconography after the 1920â€™s when he was rediscovered. Despite the Calaveras original intent to mock, they have been giving a new meaning in Mexican culture. Many of Posada's calaveras can be seen at DÃa de los Muertos festivals today. The Caretas (masks) worn at the end of the celebrations to scare the dead away from their altars are often times either reproductions of or influenced by Posada's illustrations.(11) La Calavera Catrina is one of the most common images used during this holiday. Many people, primarily women, attempt becoming this image through make up and accessorizing. Unfortunately, they become living examples of mockery and satire themselves; Posada's vision has disappeared from site. Luckily, Posada's life and works have lived on through the artists he has inspired.
Many artists during the Mexican Revolution incorporated Posada's imagery into their own murals and paintings that have helped his legacy live on. Thanks to Jean Charlot, Posada's imagery was reintroduced to some of the most important and famous painters and muralists of the Mexican Revolution. In 1920, a French artist, Jean Charlot, who brought his works to the attention of renowned artists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozo, rediscovered Posada. Prompted by Charlot's interest, both men recalled visiting the engraver in his workshop when they were children and promptly claimed Posada as their most important predecessor, a truly Mexican genius untainted by the compulsion to imitate European art.(12) To honor Posada, Diego, along with numerous other artists including Frida Kahlo, integrated his famous Calaveras into their works. Rivera even copied Posada's La Catrina, the upper-class female calavera in a wide-brimmed hat, and placed her beside him in one of his murals, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.(13) Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park is one of Diego's most famous and important works. This mural represents the three eras of Mexican history: the Conquest, the Poririato Dictatorship, and the Revolution of 1910. This image also depicts prominent leaders in Mexican history. In the center of the mural is Diego Rivera at the age of ten being led by the hand by the Dame Catrina ("La Calavera Catrina"), a skeleton figure parodying vanity created by the popular Mexican engraver JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada. The well-dressed gentleman in a black suit and derby hat is Posada, who stands on the right of Dame Catrina and gallantly offers her his arm. Posada's narrative style was an extremely influential model for Rivera's mural painting. Calavera Catrina, a symbol of the urban bourgeoisie at the turn of the nineteenth century must be taken here as an allusion to the Aztec Earth Mother Coatlicue, who is frequently represented with a skull. Coatlicue wears the plumed serpent, symbolic of her son Quertzalcoatl, around her neck as a boa. Her belt-buckle displays the Aztec astrological sign of Ollin, symbolizing perpetual motion. Rivera uses Posada's imagery for it's intentional mocking as well as dually using it for representations of the old world. However, the ones who were the most clearly influenced by Posada's work were members of the Linares family. They have re-created many of his two dimensional renderings into highly praised papier-mÃ¢chÃ© sculptures that continue to satirize the foibles of the Mexican people.(15) Although Posada is remembered in Mexican culture, his intentions have been lost between the mass-producing of his satirical cartoons and images; both Rivera and the Linares family have done Posada justice by keeping the recreations of his work satirical. Kahlo and Orozo have incorporated his Calaveras into their works as well, keeping Posadaâ€™s humorous criticisms alive and well in Mexican art.
Although Posada was seen as a glorious and inspirational figure to artists of the Mexican Revolution, the end of his life did not reflect this. Because this gifted and hardworking man was perennially out of official favor, he died on January 20, 1913, as poor as he had been born. He was buried in a sixth class grave (the lowest category) in the Dolores Cemetery. Since nobody claimed the remains, they were thrown out seven years after his death.(16) Despite the thousands of cartoons and images Posada had produced, he remained poor throughout his entire career. Since Posada never catered to wealthy sponsors, his work never made him rich.(17) The memory of Posada as well as his prints faded until 1920 when Charlot rediscovered him. Since then, artists and museums alike have paid tribute to this great man. In 1973, the Posada Museum opened in Aguascalientes, and today in Mexico there are collections of his works at the National Institute of Fine Arts, the Biblioteca de Mexico (the national library) and the National Library of Anthropology and History, as well as in museums in the U.S. and other countries. The political legacy of Posada's satirical skeletons, which influenced such Mexican artists as Orozco, Siquieros, Rivera and Kahlo, continues to inspire artists and cartoonists to this day.(18) Posadaâ€™s artwork has been mass produced and often misunderstood in modern society, especially during the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, yet artists and museums dedication to Posada and the original intentions of his images have helped make his works as well as the symbolism behind them understood.
Posadaâ€™s humble roots, political cartoons, social commentary, and distinct iconography helped make him a legendary and celebrated figure throughout history. Posada did much more than solely political cartoons, although he is best remembered for those. Posada produced an enormous body of work estimated at over 20,000 items, including not only his political cartoons but also commercial and advertising work (such as cigar box covers), book illustrations, posters and images of historical and religious figures.(19) Unlike many satirists before him, Posada came from a poor family and died as poor as he was born. Posada was not afraid to speak his mind through his images in periodicals and weekly newspapers, even though it occasionally led to his incarceration. He recreated and redefined the image of the calavera for Mexico; flipping it on its head, making it a satirical figure opposed to a joyful representation of Mexican culture. Posada was a revolutionary figure in Mexican culture, he found a creative outlet to both express his disapproval of the Diaz regime and inform the illiterate masses of the travesties occurring in daily life. Despite being temporarily forgotten in Mexican history, artists like Rivera and Kahlo helped revive him and his famous Calaveras by incorporating them into their works. Posada will continue to be thought of as a key figure against the Diaz regime, he is inspirational, not only to artists and people of the past, but to contemporary society he is proof that one person can make a difference.
Coerver, Don, Suzanne Pasztor, and Robert Buffington.Mexico:An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and HistoryÂ . Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO, 2005.
Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
Cano, Theresa. "Day of the Dead Art."Â AZ Central. (2010): 1-4.
Mendoza, Mary Jane. "Dia de los Muertos: the dead come to life in Mexican folk art."Â MexConnect. (2008): 1-5.
Russum, Barbara. "Skeletons as Political art; A look at 'Day of the Dead' artist Posada."Â People's Weekly World. 20. no. 21 (2005): 15-18.
Rojas, Sal. "Brown Pride." Last modified December 2011. Accessed January 28, 2012. http://www.brownpride.com/history/history.asp?a=diegorivera/rivera_dream.
Tuck, Jim. "Mexio's Daumier: JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada."MexConnect. 210. (2008): 1-4.
Biography of JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada by Kelsey Winiarski
27 January 2012
1) Tuck, Jim. "Mexio's Daumier: JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada."MexConnect. 210. (2008): 1-4.
2) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
3) Tuck, Jim. "Mexio's Daumier: JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada."MexConnect. 210. (2008): 1-4.
4) Coerver, Don, Suzanne Pasztor, and Robert Buffington.Mexico:An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and HistoryÂ . Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO, 2005.
5) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
6) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
7) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
8) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
9) Russum, Barbara. "Skeletons as Political art; A look at 'Day of the Dead' artist Posada."Â People's Weekly World. 20. no. 21 2005): 15-18.
10) Mendoza, Mary Jane. "Dia de los Muertos: the dead come to life in Mexican folk art."Â MexConnect. (2008): 1-5.
11) Cano, Theresa. "Day of the Dead Art."Â AZ Central. (2010): 1-4.
12) Coerver, Don, Suzanne Pasztor, and Robert Buffington.Mexico:An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Culture and HistoryÂ . Santa Barbara : ABC-CLIO, 2005.
13) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
14) Rojas, Sal. "Brown Pride." Last modified December 2011. Accessed January 28, 2012.
15) Congdon, Kristin, and Kelly Hallmark.Â Artists for Latin American Cultures: A Biographical DictionaryÂ . Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002.
16) Tuck, Jim. "Mexio's Daumier: JosÃ© Guadalupe Posada."MexConnect. 210. (2008): 1-4.
17) Russum, Barbara. "Skeletons as Political art; A look at 'Day of the Dead' artist Posada."Â People's Weekly World. 20. no. 21 2005): 15-18.
18) Russum, Barbara. "Skeletons as Political art; A look at 'Day of the Dead' artist Posada."Â People's Weekly World. 20. no. 21 2005): 15-18.
19) Russum, Barbara. "Skeletons as Political art; A look at 'Day of the Dead' artist Posada."Â People's Weekly World. 20. no. 21 2005): 15-18.