Xipeh Toteuc: The Lord in Flayed Skin

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Teotihuacan Ceramic Figure

Xipeh Toteuc, 'Our Lord Bearing Flayed Skin,' was one of the most infamous yet important gods in Mesoamerican religion for his grisly imagery and worship. Standing over three and a half feet tall, this impressive ceramic sculpture includes many of the god's defining features, such as the fan headdress, heavy eyelids, and a coat of sacrificial human skin.
The National Museum of Anthropology explains that, though this ceramic sculpture was discovered at the Classic Period city of Teotihuacan, it dates to the Mazapa phase of 850-1000 AD, after the empire had already fallen. It was discovered in the Xolalpa precinct, south of the city's center.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Zapotec Ceramic Figure

Xipeh had a long history in southern Mexico, with ceramic sculptures discovered in Zapotec tombs in Oaxaca from as early as the year 500. This ceramic miniature comes from Monte Albán, where similar sculptures were also found in burial contexts. This figure is the most well-known of them, given the god's dramatic pose and grimace here. Long gashes run down the eyes and cheeks, similar to face painting designs that would be used in later traditions to depict the deity.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Huaxtec Stone Sculpture

Xipeh was also widely worshiped along the Gulf Coast, including the Huasteca, a wooded lowland region near the central coast. Sculpture in the Huasteca relied largely on local sandstone, which Aztec and Huaxtec artists formed into smoothly contoured and well-rounded figures. This small sculpture is broken from the thighs down. However, it brings explicit detail to how human skin would be worn. Notice the stitches across the breast and the knots along the back, which reflect the skin's actual fastening.

National Museum of Anthropology and History

Ceramic Figures from Puebla

Xipeh was so significant to many ancient civilizations because he was patron of spring, the season of growth. Just as the coat of skin would eventually decay off the body of a sculpture or priest, the coat of a seed would be cast off, to let the embryo sprout. Xipeh was profoundly related with the new growth of spring and the protection of nature.
These two ceramic figures come from the state of Puebla. Both emphasize the mask of skin with heavy eyelids and the god's actual mouth behind the pulled lips. Rust-colored bands also descend along the temples and cheeks.

Regional Museum of Puebla, Cholula Site Museum

Life-Size Ceramic Figure

This life-sized sculpture has a quite intriguing history. According to the site museum of the Aztec Great Temple, the sculpture's stylistic features suggest an original make by the Zapotec of Oaxaca around the year 700. When the Aztecs began demanding taxes from their subject provinces, the Zapotec must have offered this along with other material resources for the empire. Archaeologists discovered this magnificent piece at the site of San Mateo Tezoquipan, near the former Aztec city of Chalco, Mexico State. The nose ornament, collared shoulders, and heavy eyelids recall the Teotihuacan statue above.

Aztec Great Temple Museum

Isla de Sacrificios Plate

As seen with the bands running down this profile of the god, red was one of the most important colors for Xipeh Toteuc. Indeed, in Aztec theology he was one of the four aspects of the supreme god Tezcatlipoca, namely the red aspect of the west. Thus another name for Xipeh was Tlahtlauhtezcatl, the 'Red Mirror,' a reference to copper.
Xipeh was the patron of silver and goldsmithing, and with his connection to copper he could be seen as the god of metallurgy in general, which was becoming a growing industry across Mexico by the Postclassic Period.

Xalapa Museum of Anthropology