Moctezuma’s Crown

This Headdress the “Mona Lisa of anthropology” may be returning to Mexico for the first time in 500 years

Mexico and Austria may be nearing an agreement which would allow this stunning crown to be returned to Mexico. This feaethered headdress, or kopilli ketzalli currently sits in the Vienna Museum of Ethnology. It was sent there by Hernán Cortés in the mid 16th century as a gift to Charles V, the Kindg of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire. There are over 400 Quetzal feathers in the headdress. The gold helmet attached to the feathers was melted down. But there are obstacles to the return of the headdress:

Two issues need to be resolved before a loan can be arranged. The first hurdle is legal, since there is a long-standing Mexican law that forbids the re-export of any archaeological material from the country. Initially it was hoped that the headdress would not be regarded as archaeological, but the Vienna museum needs assurance that its return would not be blocked. A special presidential decree on the headdress was discussed, but this might not be legally binding on future presidents. The Mexican government is now considering a change in the law on the re-export of antiquities.
Austrian and Mexican conservators also need to agree to the loan. The headdress was remounted on a display board in 1992 and cannot be easily detached. Conservators are reluctant to do so until a decision has been made on a new backing. This will depend on whether it has to be fit to travel. The feather vanes are fragile so a vibration-free case would have to be devised.

  1. Martin Bailey, Heading back to Mexico a step at a time, The Art Newspaper, March 10, 2011, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Heading+back+to+Mexico+a+step+at+a+time+/23243 (last visited Mar 10, 2011).
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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