La Calavera Catrina: Mexico’s Eternal Feminine Muse

José Guadalupe Posada, (1852-1913), Mexico City, Mexico; La Calavera Catrina (The Grand Dame of Death), 1913. Etching on zinc. Courtesy of The Mexican Museum, San Francisco, CA.

Written by Susanna Brooks, Director of Learning Innovation, for our exhibition, Images of Resilience: Chicana/o Art & its Mexican Roots

A wide-eyed lady skeleton donning a large, lace brimmed hat festooned with flowers and feathers flashes a broad toothy grin. The smiling dandified dame is La Calavera Catrina, a corpse with a lively aristocratic air and fashionable dress to match. Oblivious to the current state of her demise, she clutches nonchalantly to her long lost human existence. When artist, illustrator, and satirist José Guadalupe Posada (1852 – 1913) created this droll caricature, the Mexican revolution was in full swing. For Posada and his countless disenfranchised countrymen and women, champions of the rebellion, the humorous image of La Calavera Catrina symbolically, and derisively, served as an epitaph for the wealthy privileged classes. Her stylish appearance and amusing, naïve sensibility endeared her to the disgruntled masses, and she quickly became a satirical emblem of the sins of vanity and greed and the folly of government corruption that had long held sway over Mexico’s impoverished, hard-working citizens. Read more