THE COMING OF QUETZALCOATL
Into the Valley of Mexico, cradle of the indigenous American civilization, moved aggressive emigrants from the North in successive waves, motivated by the "Promised Land" ideal of nomadic tribes. In the migrant Aztec group here represented as symbolic of the origin of American civilization are shown the characteristic reactions of humankind to impulses of change and progress: the aggressive minority of leaders, those who stand and wait, those who follow, those who fall by the wayside. The color, almost wholly in browns, is in a low key.
This representation of the militaristic Aztecs, carrying on the aggressive theme of "Migration", corresponds to the European conquerors on the other end of this wall (Number 7--"The Prophecy"). It is likewise analogous to the first panel in Part II (Number 8--"Cortez and the Cross"), the conquering Europeans being there represented in Cortez. In this Aztec group, the warriors carry banners of silver and feathers. Tribal emblems, the eagle and the tiger, are distinguishable. The plumed-serpent motif appears, the symbol of Quetzalcoatl, in the stone carving at the base of the panel.
The figure of Quetzalcoatl, the Great White Father, king of Gods, Ruler and Teacher of Men, appears for the first time, luminous, white-robed, blue-eyed, against a lurid parade of the primitive gods across the sky, above the people whom Quetzalcoatl arouses from intellectual and spiritual torpor. The figure of Quetzalcoatl is Orozco's own conception of this deity. The figures of the older deities are inspired by the ancient Indian representations in stone. They are, respectively, the God of Greed, clothed in the skins of his victims; the God of Magic, with feet of smoking mirrors; the God of Rain and Storm, a figure with a conventionalized twin-serpent mask; the God of Death, ominous dark figure with skeletal mask; the blue God of War, with feet of feathers as symbols of stealth; and the God of Fire, rising flame-like out of his home, the volcano Orizaba. Quetzalcoatl rises above the pyramids of Teotihuacan, temples of his worship. To the right of the sleeping figures, in the shelter of an abstract suggestion of a Toltec house, is a conversing group symbolic of the beginnings of understanding and cooperation, qualities which Orozco considers basic in any advanced civilization.
The interesting elements of composition developed in this panel form an important part of the integrated composition of this wall. The color key is heightened with reds and blues in the garish parade of the gods. Deep, rich browns contrast with cool grays in the lower foreground. The "subtle octaves of red-pinks" in the abstract house are particularly striking.
Three symbolic figures representing industry, art, and science, depict the golden age of ancient America. Since the civilization was based on maize-culture, industry is represented by the agriculturist, a muscular brown figure in the midst of the crisp light green of the maize-field. Art is represented in the figure of the sculptor at work on the dark block of stone. The amazing carvings of the Toltecs and Mayas are perhaps the most notable achievements of pre-Columbian art. Science is suggested through the contemplative figure, whose closed eyes imply an inner activity of the mind. His eloquently upraised arm indicates, perhaps, intellectual activity as an advance into the unknown.
The grill of a ventilator appears in this panel. When asked if it would be necessary to have this feature removed, Orozco, who was an architect before he was a painter, was emphatic in saying no. Recognizing the functional nature of the ventilator, he has made it an integral part of the mural composition.
According to the legend, Quetzalcoatl's departure from the land was brought about by the machinations of priests and magicians seeking to counteract his beneficent influence and to regain control for the powers of darkness. Witchcraft and human sacrifice were reestablished, and in their wake came war, disease, and the destruction of the great Toltec city, Tollan. The effective composition of evil figures against a pyramidal design in red-pinks suggests these ominously tragic events which result in the departure of the disappointed messiah. Quetzalcoatl, renounced by his people, departs into the East, whence he came, borne on a raft of serpents, prophesying that he will return in five hundred years with other white gods to destroy the civilization of those who denied his precepts, and to set up a new civilization in its stead.
The concluding panel in Part I is the symbol of European civilization and the Spanish conquest, depicting armored warriors, armored horses, and an armored cross, against a composition of columns and representing capitals as symbols of European architecture. These architectural symbols refer back to the stone carving of the plumed serpent in the panel at the opposite end (Number 3--"Aztec Warriors"). The Quetzalcoatl culture is bound in by these two aggressive end panels. The conquest by the Europeans is the implied prophecy of Quetzalcoatl.