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Posada's Popular Mexican Prints
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Posada's Popular Mexican Prints

by José Posada

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José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) was Mexico's most illustrious graphic artist. For over forty years he worked tirelessly as an incorruptible and truly popular artist, illustrating cookbooks and fortune-telling books, collections of songs and riddles, periodicals and newspapers, children's books and novels, and most of all famous broadsides that were


José Guadalupe Posada (1852–1913) was Mexico's most illustrious graphic artist. For over forty years he worked tirelessly as an incorruptible and truly popular artist, illustrating cookbooks and fortune-telling books, collections of songs and riddles, periodicals and newspapers, children's books and novels, and most of all famous broadsides that were distributed throughout the country. After his death he was venerated by the artists of the new generation — Rivera, Orozco, and many others, who realized that he had both saved and renewed the art of engraving in Mexico, and incorporated much of Posada's imagery into their own work.
Here are close to 300 of Posada's best engravings, all done for the printer and publisher A. Vanegas Arroyo in Mexico City. Posada worked in two techniques — engraving on type metal with a many-pointed burin and, later, relief etching on zinc. The broadsides he illustrated commemorated all sorts of occasions — disasters, political events, crimes, and miracles — or they glorified great popular heroes like Zapata. Posada was known for his calaveras — skeletons that cavorted, ate and drank, rode bicycles and horses, wielded swords and daggers, or were revolutionaries, streetcleaners, dishwashers, and almost everything else. This was traditional art for All Souls' Day, the Mexican Day of the Dead, but in Posada's hands it became extremely versatile, sometimes an instrument of social and political satire, sometimes a sympathetic portrait of a revolutionary, sometimes a comic, cartoon-like memento mori. He did engravings of murders, suicides, catastrophes, robberies, and executions, as well as of snake-men, giant snails, and other grotesques and deformation. He pictured the daily pleasures and chagrins of the people from a proletarian point of view, and with overflowing imaginativeness. There is brutality and horror in his art, but there is also humor, political consciousness, and a sprawling, immediate vitality.
This edition includes explanatory notes and commentary, often giving precise topical meaning to what otherwise appears vague or allegorical. It presents all of Posada's various themes, and all of the many forms in which he worked in his maturity. It is hoped that through it he will gain the wider audience, especially in America, that he deserves.

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Posada's Popular Mexican Prints

By José Guadalupe Posada, Roberto Berdecio, STANLEY APPELBAUM

Dover Publications, Inc.

All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13387-4


The Illustrations

Additional commentary on many of the illustrations, with further identification of iconography, persons, events, etc., will be found immediately after the illustrations in a separate section beginning on page 147.

The Spanish titles and identifying phrases in the captions and commentary preserve all the misspellings and idiosyncrasies of the original broadsides and publications.

In the captions, "tm" indicates that the print in question is a type metal engraving, "z" that it is a zinc relief etching. See page xvii for further technical data.

Commentary on the Illustrations

This section offers additional explanations of many of the figures and indicates the sources of the identifications of the subjects. The short forms Ilustrador, Monografia and Printmaker are used here to designated items 9, 13 and 7, respectively, in the Bibliography on page 155. Unless otherwise stated, the identifications are from Ilustrador.

3.Ilustrador reproduces the entire broadside, which is headed by the verses "De este famoso hipódromo en la pista,/ no faltará ni un solo periodista/ La muerte inexorable no respeta/ ni a los que veis aqui en bicicleta" (In this famous race on the track not a single journalist will be missing; inexorable death respects not even those you see here on bicycles). The broadside also shows that the metal block as it now exists (as reproduced in the plate section) has been cut down at the left side, where there was originally another skeleton cyclist in monk's garb with a cowl, as well as another skeleton being run over. The wheels of the small bicycle at the lower right were originally square; another hand later made the "correction." Furthermore, in the complete broadside each skeleton is labeled with the name of the newspaper he represents: the monk is Voz de México (Voice of Mexico; a paper supporting the Church); the other skeleton no longer visible at the left is Raza Latina (Latin Race); the skeletons still visible in the top row are, from left to right, Patria (Homeland), Universal (with starry cap), Tiempo (Time; with hourglass headpiece and flowing beard), Partido Liberal (Liberal Party; with Phrygian cap, symbol of liberty), Gil Blas (with plumed Spanish cap) and Siglo XIX (Nineteenth Century; with top hat); those still visible in the bottom row are, from left to right, Siglo XX (Twentieth Century; this label is still legible), Quijote (on the ground with plumed helmet), Fandango (with sombrero) and Casera (Housekeeper; with skirt). This firm identification does away with the many fanciful interpretations the plate has inspired (and which have still been forthcoming even since the publication of Ilustrador). The importance of headgear in Posada's art is particularly striking here. The bicycle theme, which recurs in no. 239, was popular during the 1890's in Punch and in American humorous publications. This large broadside also contained 23 smaller cuts and many verses.

4. This plate has often been called "El jarabe en ultratumba" (The jarabe beyond the grave), jarabe being a major folk dance of Mexico (the jarabe tapatío, known in the United States as the "Mexican Hat Dance," is one of the varieties of the jarabe).

5. The entire broadside, reproduced in Ilustrador, shows that the block has been cut down slightly at both sides. The heading of the broadside reads: "Esta es la de don Quijote, la primera/ la sin par, la gigante calavera" (This is the calavera of Don Quijote, the first-class one, the matchless one, the gigantic one). The remaining verses say that the Don will spare no one, not even the most learned. Here the Don is shown wearing his barber basin helmet. This engraving is sometimes erroneously called the "calavera of Don Quijote and Sancho Panza."

7. Not in Ilustrador. Called Calavera: "El morrongo" in Monografía. Called "Calavera del gato morrón" in Printmaker. The term gato morrongo was also applied to butcher's helpers.

8. The hat depicted is of a type used in the state of Oaxaca.

10. Identification from Monografía. Again note the varied headgear appropriate to various social classes and callings.

13. Not only a monumental artistic achievement, but also a highly interesting historical document. When this broadside was issued (presumably on the occasion of All Souls' Day, 1910—the year is printed on the sheet), Madero had recently been imprisoned (this is alluded to in the verses) and the outbreak of the Revolution was only weeks away. The entire broadside is reproduced in Ilustrador. Its actual heading is "Calaveras del montón"; the title "Calavera de Madero" is merely for convenient reference. The lengthy verses are really about many types of tradesmen who will all end up as bones in a common pile—the allusions to Madero are clumsily interpolated. Yet the illustration clearly represents the liberal presidential candidate: the style of mustache and beard is his, and the words on the label of the bottle he carries should probably be completed as "Aguardiente de Parras," brandy from Parras—the latter being Madero's native city (in the northern state of Coahuila) and the site of the vineyards that constituted his family's wealth. His calavera is shown dressed in typical lower-class clothes, including sombrero, sarape and huaraches (because Posada thought of Madero as a friend of the people?). The political cartoonists had long used similarly dressed men to represent "el Pueblo" —the Mexican equivalent of John Q. Public.

14. The verses on the broadside (reproduced entire in Ilustrador) tell us that the male skeleton is asking for love beyond the tomb, while his inamorata is disdainful.

15-17. These were well-to-do fashionable people for whom love meant a lot.

18. Though a cleric, this skeleton was a glutton and a skirt-chaser.

20. Identification from a personal communication.

21. Rivera incorporated this calavera (converting it into a full-length figure arm in arm with Posada himself) in his 1947 Hotel del Prado mural (see Fig. 1 in Introduction). He had already portrayed Posada in his murals for the monumental stairway of the National Palace (1929-31).

22. Identification from Monografía.

23-26. Entire broadside reproduced in Ilustrador. No. 23 shows a well-dressed couple. In No. 24, the male skeleton, dressed in the traditional costume of a charro (horseman), is acting jealous. No. 25 wears a general's uniform.

27. The full title of the broadside is: "Aquí la calavera está, señores,/ de todititos los buenos valedores" (Here, gentlemen, is the calavera of all the good pals). In the picture reproduced here, a drunken quarrel has started.

28. Identification from Ilustrador and a personal communication.

29 & 30. The main title of the two-sided broadside (reproduced entire in Ilustrador) is: "Una calavera chusca Dedicada á las placeras, Tortilleras, verduleras y toda gente de lucha" (A merry calavera dedicated to market women, tortilla vendors, vegetable vendors and all contentious people). No. 29, from the recto side of the sheet, represents Agapita, the cheese vendor; No. 30, from the verso, depicts Doña Paz, the tamales seller.

31.Monografía calls this "Alegres con Doña Juanita." Doña Juanita is one of the terms used for marihuana.

32. Criminals convicted of minor offenses were used as streetcleaners: hence the police guard, and the variety of clothing the skeletons wear.

33 ff. According to Monografía, these fenómenos (freaks of nature) were illustrations of ejemplos (see Introduction, p.xviii).

35. The head resembles those of folk toys made in Toluca.

37. Part of a twin that failed to develop normally? A pregnant man as imagined by Posada?

39. Identification from Monografía.

40. The entire recto of the broadside is reproduced in Ilustrador and in Fig. F in the Introduction to the present volume. The main title is "La gran destrucción y terrible incendio de la plaza de toros de Puebla" (The great destruction and terrible fire in the Puebla bullring). The full picture, as preserved in the broadside, shows the great panic in the stands.

41. The entire recto of the broadside is reproduced in Ilustrador. The full title is: "¡Triste y lamentable acontecimiento, Que pasó en las Minas 'Las Esperanzas' en el Tiro 3 'La Conquista' el 25 de junio de 1903" (Sad and deplorable event which took place in the "Hope" Mines in Shaft No. 3, "The Conquest," on June 25, 1903).

42. Identification from Monografía.

43. Identification from a personal communication. As in 44, the water pump (here in the center of the plate, there at the right) has been mutilated.

44. Identification from Monografía. The Valenciana was a dry-goods establishment.

46. Various pieces illustrated by Posada about this time show that many people feared the world would come to an end along with the nineteenth century.

47. The entire recto of the broadside is reproduced in Ilustrador and in Fig. G in the Introduction. The full title is: "¡Terribles y espantosísimos estragos! habidos por la suma escasez de semillas y el terrible TIFO que ha causado gran sensación en la ciudad de México, Durango, Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Sinaloa, Matamoros, etc., etc., en el presente año de 1893" (Terrible and most frightful ravages occasioned by the extreme dearth of grain and the terrible typhus which has created a great stir in Mexico City, Durango, Zacatecas, Guadalajara, Sinaloa, Matamoros, etc., etc., in the present year of 1893). The (larger) left-hand side of the illustration, preserved in the broadside, shows a draped coffin being carried out of a doorway in which weeping figures stand.

48. Identification from a personal communication.

49. This major railroad accident, which took many lives, occurred in 1895, but was a subject for broadsides for long afterward. It is still spoken of in Mexico today.

50. Identification from Monografía.

52. Identification from Monografía. This actual occurrence has affinities to the old professor's dream in the film Wild Strawberries.

54. The full title is: "Sensacional Noticia/ La confesión de un esqueleto/ Una alma en pena/ Dentro del Templo del Carmen" (Sensational news; the confession of a skeleton; a suffering soul; in the Church of the Carmen).

55. Identification from Monografía.

56. Identification from [Monografía.

57.Ilustrador borrows the title from Monografía.

58.Ilustrador borrows the title from Monografía.

60.Monografía calls this "Milagro de la Virgen de Guadalupe" (Miracle of the Virgin of Guadalupe). If the Virgin is really appearing in person in order to save the situation, this picture might be better placed in the section on Religion and Miracles later on; but naturally, there is much overlapping of subjects in Posada's prints.

61. Identification from Monografía.

62. A separate newspaper article on the subject, reproduced in Ilustrador, offers some explanation: Pachita had been an odd, unsavory character in life. After her death she haunted her old rooms, souring the existence of the new tenant, a poor ice vendor, whom she (remaining invisible) would often tug about, possibly to show him the money she had hidden in the well outside. The Gaceta Callejera (Street Gazette), of which this was one issue—illustrations from other issues follow—was a broadside series published irregularly by Vanegas Arroyo to present highly sensational news items while they were fresh. One complete issue is reproduced in Fig. H in the Introduction.

64. Identification from Monografía. The designation "décimas" implies that the text of the broadside was in ten-line stanzas.

65. Entire broadside reproduced in Ilustrador. This girl, about 6, was constantly made miserable by her godmother, who was taking care of her during her mother's illness; finally the cruel woman, compared in the broadside to Bejarano (see Nos. 74 and 75), tied the girl to a cross because she had forgotten to cross herself.

66. Identification from Monografía.

67. Identification from Monografía. This child-torturer is being compared to Bejarano (see Nos. 74 and 75).

68. Identification from Monografía.

69. Identification from Monografía.

70. La Malagueña, whose real name was Esperanza Gutiérrez, was shot by Maria Villa, alias La Chiquita, on March 8, 1897, after a masked ball.

72. The original broadside contained another picture showing the young man dragging his aged father across the floor to the spot where the bodies of the two women are lying. The two pictures were printed far apart from each other in Monografía, with distinct titles.

73. Entire broadside reproduced in Ilustrador. The family name of the brother and sister, who had had a long-standing quarrel, was Garcia; she was the common-law wife of one Atenógenes Martinez. Manuel Garcia was executed by a firing squad. In Monografía, the victim is called the mother of the slayer.

74. Doña Guadalupe Martinez de Bejarano was sentenced to ten years and eight months in prison for causing the death of the girl Crescencia Pineda. Doña Guadalupe's son Aurelio, who turned state's evidence against her, got two years for his complicity. For some time after this, child-tormentors were dubbed "Bejaranos."

75. Identification from Monografía.

76.Illustrador borrows the title from Monografía.

77. Identification from Monografía.

78.Ilustrador borrows the title from Monografía.

79. Identification from Monografía.

80. Identification from Monografía.

81. Identification from Monografía.

82. Identification from Posada und die Mexikanische Druckgraphik, which reproduces the entire recto of the broadside. Sánchez was crazed by his parents' objection to the sale of land to cover gambling debts. The body at the left and the demon at the right are more complete in the broadside.

83. The broadside reproduced in Ilustrador shows the demon at the top left complete.

84. Entire broadside reproduced in Ilustrador and in Figure H in the Introduction. The headline continues: "Una señora asesinada.—Dos Gendarmes gravemente heridos.— Aprehensión del asesino por un valiente y arrojado ciudadano" (A woman murdered.— Two policemen seriously wounded.—Capture of the killer by a courageous and bold citizen). The killer was Leopoldo Cárdenas, who followed his mistress Teodora Piedras onto a trolley and shot her. She was traveling with a young girl she called her sister (both Teodora and the girl are visible in the picture). The broadside shows the picture completed at the left by the arrival of the two policemen, one of whom is being shot by Cárdenas. The metal plate containing the image of the killer was obviously reused, because his pistol has been removed, and the hand and knee of the nearer policeman have been weakened so that they look transparent. It is interesting to note that Posada has given Cárdenas a heavy mustache although the text of the broadside says that the young man's mustache "is just beginning to grow."

85. The broadside reproduced in Ilustrador shows the people's feet complete, and also reveals slight differences in shading and details.


Excerpted from Posada's Popular Mexican Prints by José Guadalupe Posada, Roberto Berdecio, STANLEY APPELBAUM. Copyright © 1972 DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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