The editorial categories are research topics that have guided researchers during the recovery phase and continue to be the impetus behind the Documents Project’s digital archive and the Critical Documents book series. Developed by the project’s Editorial Board, each of the teams analyzed this framework and adapted it to their local contexts in developing their research objectives and work plans during the Recovery Phase. Learn more on the Editorial Framework page.
In this article, the painter Gabriel Fernández Ledesma traces the history of European funerary traditions during the colonial period. He explores “The Triumph of Death” and its portrayal on playing cards and in the theater, discussing its relevance in funeral pyres and toy stores, and its expression in current painting and printmaking. In the latter category, he reviews the genre known as “calaverismo;” that is, the depiction of skulls and skeletons in prints, a Mexican invention that dates back to the eighteenth century and is also expressed in political and satirical verse. In the following century, the concept evolved into a form of political lithograph that in turn led to the leaflets illustrated by José Guadalupe Posada, whose skeletons and skulls “defined, in terms of the visual arts, the true character of Mexico, free of any influence whatsoever.” Moreover, Posada’s example has been followed by a new generation of artists among whom the practice, according to Ledesma, “has revitalized the marrow in their bones;” it has dispelled the secretiveness of “The Triumph of Death” and led to a powerful range of expressions, as in the case of Leopoldo Méndez, whose skeletons were used to adorn contemporary costumes during his lifetime.
The printmaker, painter, and printer Gabriel Fernández Ledesma (1900-83) was a devoted student of Mexican funerary art, as well as a tireless promoter of traditional art. Sadly, death came for him before he was able to publish the results of his monumental research, a work of vast erudition with a wealth of images, which was to have had the same biblical title as this article, El triunfo de la muerte [The Triumph of Death, I Corinthians 15:55].