La Calavera Catrina

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by Linda Castillo

Jose Guadalupe Posada's original 'La Calavera Catrina,' circa 1910. Jose Guadalupe Posada's original "La Calavera Catrina," circa 1910. credit: Courtesy Mexican Museum Photo: Courtesy Mexican Museum / SF

 

As the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration approaches I wanted to find out more about the popular figure La Calavera Catrina (‘The Elegant Skull’) or today as we know her La Catrina. Have you ever seen La Catrina? If you don’t know of La Catrina chances are you may have seen her but not even realized it. La Catrina is a tall, beautifully dressed female skeleton with a plumed hat adorning a top her head. She can be seen in many of the Day of the Dead imagery.

La Calavera Catrina was a zinc etching originally created in 1910 by Mexican printmaker José Guadalupe Posada.  He was known for his images of political and social satire. She became a symbolic figure during the time of the Mexican Revolution.

“Posada’s illustrations brought the stories of the day to the illiterate majority of impoverished Mexicans, both expressing and spreading the prevailing disdain for Porfirio’s regime. The image now called “La Calavera Catrina” was published as a broadside in 1910, just as the revolution was picking up steam. Posada’s calaveras — La Catrina above all, caricaturizing a high-society lady as a skeleton wearing only a fancy French-style hat — became a sort of satirical obituary for the privileged class. But his Catrina cast a wider net: His original name for her, “La Calavera Garbancera,” used a term that in his day referred to native Mexicans who scorned their culture and tried to pass as European,” explained Christine Delsol.

Her notoriety increased after she became the focus one of Diego Rivera’s famous murals “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda.” The mural depicts a 400 year history of Mexico with important figures from all time periods. At the center of the mural is La Catrina next to her original creator Posada. La Catrina can be seen in the art of many notable Mexican artists.

To this day, La Catrina continues to a symbolic figure. She has become part of the imagery for Dia de los Muertos but also she can be found in books, cartoons, posters, figurines and art work spanning over 100 years.

Works cited:

  1. http://www.sfgate.com/mexico/mexicomix/article/La-Catrina-Mexico-s-grande-dame-of-death-2318009.php
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Calavera_Catrina

Linda Castillo is the Founder and Executive Editor of http://www.modernlatina.com/. She writes on topics that empower and inspire Latinas including art, motherhood, green living, culture, travel, and issues transforming the Latino community. Linda has earned a B.S. in Business and a M.S. in Mass Communications from San Jose State University.