La Calavera Catrina, also known as Catrina, la Calavera Garbancera, in English Dapper Skeleton, Elegant Skull, is an etching created in 1910-13 by José Guadalupe Posada, Mexican printmaker, cartoon illustrator and lithographer. It is a female figure who has more than 100 years of history. This character, in its beginnings, emerged as a mockery of the indigenous people who had become rich and despised their origins and customs.

La Calavera Catrina or Catrina, la Calavera Garbancera by J. G. Posada

La Catrina has become an icon of the Día de los Muertos, Mexican Day of the Dead. The original work by Posada introduced the character, but the popularity of Catrina, as well as her name, derived from a mural by Diego Rivera called Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Alameda (Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central). Rivera’s mural was painted between the years 1946-47 and is the principal main work of the Museo Mural Diego Rivera adjacent to Alameda Park; it measures 15m long and it stood at the end of the Alameda Park.

The Image and its importance in Mexican culture

Catrín means a man of a wealthy class, with a lot of money and fine clothes.

Rivera’s mural depicts a culmination of 400 years of Mexico’s major figures, which include Frida Kahlo, Posada, and himself. Taking inspiration from the original etching by Posada, Rivera gave to Catrina a body as well as more of an identity in her elegant outfit as she is poised between Posada and himself.

Detail of the mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon along Central Alameda by Diego Rivera (WikiArt)

The culture of Catrina has ties to political satire and is also a well-kept tradition as the original was inspired by the polarizing reign of the dictator Porfirio Díaz, who is lauded for modernising and bringing financial stability to Mexico. However, he also led his government in repression, corruption, excess, and was obsessed with European materialism and culture.

The Day of the Dead is one of the oldest festivals in Mexico, it is celebrated on November 1th and 2nd, people go to cemeteries to visit the deceased. During the celebrations, many women dress up as Catrinas.

Nowadays the Catrina is adorned with beautiful hats and flowers, is a source of inspiration at many costume parties, both inside and outside of Mexico. The Catrina can be found in her more traditional form in draw work, sculptures made out Oaxacan wood carvings or papier-mâché, majolica pottery, and black clay pottery. Sometimes she is also coupled with male skeletons.

Catrina’s dolls (wikipedia)

According to its creator: “La Catrina has become the referential image of Death in Mexico, it is common to see her embodied as part of the celebrations of Day of the Dead throughout the country; she has become a motive for the creation of handcrafts made from clay or other materials, her representations may vary, as well as the hat.”

Recently I found these beautiful versions by contemporary illustrator Maria Dimova.


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