Pre-Cuauhtémoc is a term that Carlos Tortolero, National Museum of Mexican Art President and Founder, began to use in the classroom as a Chicago Public Schools high school teacher (1975-1982).  Tortolero purposely sought to de-emphasize the Eurocentric view of Mexican history.  He regarded the popular terms - pre-Hispanic, pre-Colombian and pre-conquest used by academics and institutions as problematic since they placed emphasize on “Europe” to define a specific time period in the Americas. Given that the ancient cultures of Mesoamerica were more advanced than European cultures in the fifteenth century, regarding measuring time and creating an accurate calendar, Tortolero found this puzzling and inappropriate.

Since the 1992 exhibition, La Visión del Cosmos, our first exhibition of pre-Cuauhtémoc pieces, the Museum has adopted the use of the chronological term pre-Cuauhtémoc. Cuauhtémoc was the last Aztec ruler to preside over Tenochtitlan (present-day Mexico City and the seat of the Aztec empire), who was later tortured and executed by Hernán Cortés and fellow Spanish conquistadors.

The National Museum of Mexican Art’s permanent collection contains a small but significant sampling of pieces from ancient Mexico — dating back from the Proto through the late Classic eras — including fine ceramics, stone and shell items.

The collection contains 165 objects representing these regions and cultures:

Maya, a culture located in what is now southeast Mexico and parts of Central America.

Mezcala, a culture located in what is today the state of Guerrero.

Michoacan, artifacts from the western state of Michoacan.

Remojadas, the culture, archeological site and artistic style from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Teotihuacan, one of the most important cities of Mesoamerica and a World Heritage Site.

Toltec, a culture that flourished in what is now the state of Hidalgo.

Western Mexico, a region that gave rise to many cultures, including the Purépecha.



The Museum is currently seeking donations of ancient Mexican art with proven provenance. Learn more about donating art.