Friday, November 23, 2012

The Vienna "Penacho" Feather Headdress

The "Penacho", a feather headdress reputedly worn by Aztec emperor Moctezuma II (though it might be a priest's headgear instead), has gone on display again in a specially designed controlled-environment case in the Ethnology Museum in Vienna after a two-year period of study and  restoration. This has once again brought attention to the problem of where it should be kept. This 500-year old vibrant green-and-blue headpiece, one of the few surviving examples of ancient Mexican feather art, remains at the centre of a tug-of-war between Mexico, which wants to bring it home, and Austria, which argues it is too fragile to be transported. The object, the only one of its kind still in existence, is believed to have been brought to Europe by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, and it was first documented in 1596 in the collection of Tyrolean archduke Ferdinand II. The Penacho headdress, 1.5-metres wide consists of some 450 iridescent green tail feathers from the rare quetzal bird which were knotted together embellished with gold adornments and smaller turquoise, red and brown feathers.
This method of assembly means the headdress could easily fall apart during transportation or if exposed to vibrations, according to a new study by Vienna's University of Technology. And this is the "key issue" at the centre of any restitution or loan debate, Austria's foreign ministry says. "Everything depends on the question of whether it is transportable. If the answer is no, there is no second or third question" as to whether Austria would be willing to send the Penacho back to Mexico, ministry spokesman Martin Weiss told AFP.  

Alfonso de Maria y Campos, director of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), who wants to see the exhibition of this piece in Mexico remains undeterred.
"Mexico should be able to share the piece, granted that we find the best way to send it to Mexico fully protected of any harm," he told AFP.  "We don't dispute the property or the possession."But "if we worked together to restore and study it, we can find a way to send it to Mexico to be exhibited."  
Former Mexican President Vicente Fox had appealed informally to his Austrian counterpart Heinz Fischer to send the Penacho back during the latter's visit to Mexico in 2005, and indigenous Mexicans have repeatedly demanded the return of what they consider the "sacred crown of Moctezuma", though no official request was made for permanent restitution.
Sim Sim Wissgott, 'Moctezuma headdress stirs passions in Mexico, Austria', MSN news Sun, 18 Nov 2012

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