Of all the arts flourishing in Mexico at the time the Spaniards arrived in the early sixteenth century, sculpture was the most highly developed. In their sculpture, often carved from basalt, wood, and even semi-precious stones, indigenous artists rendered concepts of their beliefs and rites in a powerful, expressive, and abstract style. With the arrival of the Catholic religion, new aesthetic traditions, and new technologies, artists had to learn new styles and imagery. Book illustrations were frequent models for their works, which may have been the case with the relief here. The fragment incorporates stylized floral motifs and creatures with human, bird, and fish features. The arrangement of the imagery suggests that the carving may have been part of a longer frieze on which a number of fantastic beings are separated by the same floral repeat motif.
Louis Petich Collection, New York, before 1893, on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1894–1900