The calavera has become synonymous with Mexico’s Day of the Dead tradition. The English translation of calavera means skull. In Mexico the term has come to embrace the entire skeleton as a representation of the dead.
Art Unto Death
No one popularized the calavera in Mexico as much Jose Guadalupe Posada. The artist didn’t invent the art form, he’s just the one that people remember on Dia de los Muertos. Posada found inspiration in the ancient motifs of the prehistoric art of Mexico. His caricatures of cheerful skeletons provides a commentary on life’s absurdities – Posada’s art breathed life into Death.
Jose Guadalupe Posada was born in 1852 in the countryside of Aguascalientes and died in Mexico City in 1913. During his lifetime he created more than 15,000 illustrations. His lithographs were not just of the calavera. But his skeleton images are the ones that people identify with on the Day of the Dead. More than any other artist, Jose Guadalupe Posada, reminded us that in death all enjoy equality.
A Mentor for Diego Rivera
Posada’s work inspired Diego Rivera, Mexico’s most widely known artist of the 20th century. As a small boy Rivera would go to the print shop where Posada worked to watch him draw. In 1947 Rivera paid homage to Posada. He included his image in one of his best known murals, Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Centra. The mural is currently located in Mexico City at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera.