About an José Guadalupe Posada's

Calavera Revolucionaria


REPRODUCTION: What can I learn about how this reproduction is different from the original artwork?

This image is digitized. It is the largest image printed in the center of a sheet of newsprint. On the full sheet this central image is surrounded by some text and by a series of smaller images. With original prints, signs of the printing process are usually evident, such as an indentation in the paper made by the block or variations in the consistency of the ink on the paper.

CONDITION: What can I determine about the condition of the artwork?

Calavera Revolucionaria is an image taken from a broadside. A broadside is a mass-produced flyer printed on a single sheet of newsprint. Many of these broadsides were sold throughout Mexico. The accessibility of José Guadalupe Posada's work allowed many individuals to collect these prints. The number of surviving prints has diminished due to the amount of time that has passed since the publication of Posada's works. For these reasons, the condition of the prints in different collections varies.

SUBJECT MATTER: What can I determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

The print shows a female calavera (skull/skeleton) riding a horse and swinging a lasso over her head with her right hand. She wears a black, scalloped sombrero and is dressed in a tucked-in sailor blouse with a dark collar. She wears a belt and her skirt flies up, exposing her button-up boots or leggings. The calavera is riding astride, not side saddle. She also wears a bullet belt with a gun slung around her waist.

Her horse is dark with a long white blaze down the middle of its face, from its forehead to its nose. The horse's nostrils are flared and its eyes are wide opened. The horse is in full gallop with its tail swooping up while it lunges forward. Three of the horse's feet are in the air and only one foot is on the ground. The horse has a medallion around its neck.

At the bottom of the print, under the horse's feet are the small figures of four campesinos (farm workers). On the far left is a "living" agricultural worker running with two other "living dead" male calaveras. All three wear sombreros. The female calavera on the right wears a ribbon on her head. These tiny calaveras are overwhelmed by the galloping horse and all are running with their hands in the air. The landscape is mountainous with some vegetation. There are four birds flying in the upper right corner. A decorative, linear, scroll-like design with notches frames the entire image.

Printmaking Lesson Index

TOOLS, MATERIALS, AND PROCESSES: What can I learn about how the artwork was made?

This print is the central image from a larger broadside. It was printed from a zinc plate etched by an acid bath. The image is first drawn onto the zinc plate using a pen with a greasy type of ink that protects the marks from the acid bath. The plate is then placed in a light acid solution. The acid erodes into the plate leaving the drawn lines standing in relief. After the acid is rinsed off, a roller is used to ink the plate. The ink rests on the raised surfaces protected from the acid. The plate is put in the press and the image is printed. The printed image is reversed, that is, the print image is a mirror image of the plate. This technique was developed in France in the mid-eighteenth century.

Sensory Lesson Index

SENSORY ELEMENTS: What visual elements do I see?

The image is created by printing black ink on light colored paper. The illusion of gray is created by the close proximity of lines. Due to the nature of some printing processes, areas that are printed black may have a few small white splotches because the paper may not be fully saturated with ink. In the foreground are the dark figures of the calavera and horse set against a light background. Line variations include thin, thick, scalloped, and curvilinear lines. Parallel lines create a tonal quality (shades of gray). Because there are only some very small areas that do not have any marks, an energetic quality defines the image.

FORMAL ORGANIZATION: How do the elements in the artwork work together?

The composition centers around the triangular shape of the calavera and her horse, the images with the highest contrasts in value (light and dark). The repeated lines in the background create a roughly gray effect. Because of this overall grayish tone of the background, viewers may miss details (like birds and mountains) if they do not focus on background areas.

The illusion of shadows, created by the hatched lines, forms rhythm. The main focal points are the heads of the calavera revolucionaria and her horse. Movement is created by the repetition of lines in her skirt and in the horse's tail. The large scale of the calavera and her horse emphasizes the importance of these central figures. With only one foot on the ground, the rider and horse illustrate a sense of instability, urgency, power, and speed. The smaller calaveras are dominated, trampled under foot, and are left behind in a swirling turbulence of lines.


José Guadalupe Posada Aguilar was born in Aguascalientes, Mexico in 1852. He was one of nine male children. As a child, he worked for his uncle, Manuel Posada, in his pottery shop and later assisted his brother who was a rural teacher. At the age of eighteen, Posada attended art school.

José Posada became an apprentice to José Trinidad Pedroza, a publisher, printer, and graphic artist. Pedroza taught Posada the printmaking techniques for lithography and engraving on wood and metal. It was at this print shop that Posada began political satire. The local government was not hospitable to Pedroza's and Posada's commentaries. The hostility finally forced them to move to the city León de las Aldamas, in the state of Guanajuato. Here they established a lithography and printing shop. Pedroza moved away and left Posada as the head of the shop, which Posada later bought. In 1888, a terrible flood struck León and Posada was forced to return to Aguascalientes. A few months after, he moved to Mexico City.

There in Mexico City in 1892, José Posada began work and soon became the chief artist with the publishing house of Don Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, the publisher of newspapers and periodicals. These broadsides and chapbooks were cheap and accessible to the general public, and were disseminated sometimes by the thousands. For the rest of his life, Posada would work closely with Vanegas Arroyo.

José Posada's imagery included natural disasters such as floods, storms, and earthquakes, satirical commentary concerning politics and the common people, ballads, heroes, assassins, tragedy, miracles, death, and revolution. Posada was Mexico's most prolific printmaker. The number of works produced is estimated at 20,000. José Posada died in 1913 at the age of 61 years.


FUNCTIONAL CONTEXT: What can I learn about how the artwork was used?

This print along with many other of José Guadalupe Posada's works is taken from a popular broadside. These were inexpensive prints distributed throughout Mexico and were read by many people. The illustrated publications of Vanegas Arroyo allowed those who were illiterate to understand the events of their times. Posada's images could be easily understood by all. They functioned as records, commentary, and satire of events of his time.

CULTURAL CONTEXT: What can I determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made?

José Guadalupe Posada made this print circa 1910. During this time Mexico was again entering a revolution. For thirty-five years Porfirio Díaz had been president of Mexico. He was the successor of the first democratic president of Mexico, Benito Juarez in 1876. Díaz began his career as a progressive and liberal leader. But soon his concerns turned towards the industrialization of Mexico and its elite class of landholders. The haciendas continued to be worked by the underprivileged lower classes. Porfirio Díaz' dictatorship lasted for 35 years. He was finally forced out of the presidency by Francisco Madero. Madero was a wealthy lawyer who opposed the Díaz regime. Madero was imprisoned by Díaz, but managed to escape north. The revolution began on November 20, 1910. Díaz was finally ousted from power in 1911. Madero returned and assumed the leadership. Because his administration was made up primarily of supporters of Díaz who plotted against him, in 1913 he was forced to resign and was later murdered, by one of his own generals, Victoriano Huerta.

José Posada was an artist during a time of great political and social revolution. Posada was an outspoken critic of the Díaz government. He was an artist for the common people of Mexico. Posada was also a political satirist. Many times local and state governments were the objects of political satire. In contrast, Emiliano Zapata, a popular hero of the Mexican Revolution, was often portrayed by Posada as noble, upright, and honorable.

ARTWORLD CONTEXT: What can I learn about the art ideas, beliefs, and activities that were important in the culture in which the artwork was made?

José Guadalupe Posada was not considered a "fine artist" by the established artworld of his lifetime. His subject matter pertained to the everyday life and tragedy of the common people. His art communicated the important (and trivial) facts that engaged his audience in history and in popular culture. His art reflects the events of his time.

Although José Posada was not considered a member of the established fine artworld in Mexico City, he was an important artist in the popular artworld of his time. He received his art training through apprenticeships rather than through education at an art academy. Posada was an apprentice to José Trinidad Pedroza, a publisher, printer, and graphic artist. Pedroza taught Posada the printmaking techniques for lithography and engraving on wood and metal. Posada later bought one of Pedroza's commercial shops. Eventually Posada moved to Mexico City and worked as the chief artist of broadsides for Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, the publisher of newspapers and periodicals. These broadsides and chapbooks cost only a few cents and were accessible to the common people.


MAKER'S INTENTION: What can I learn about why the maker wanted the artwork to look the way it does?

José Guadalupe Posada's prints vary greatly in subject matter. Many of his works are satirical depictions of people, politics, disasters, criminals, hero bandits, crimes of passion, and miracles. He was sympathetic to the revolutionary cause and opposed the oppressive Díaz dictactorship.

José Posada's art is visually accessible and easily understood. Posada focused on imagery that communicated to all people. He was an advocate for the oppressed. His art critiqued injustices of the time.

Viewer Lesson Index

ARTWORLD VIEWER UNDERSTANDING: What can I determine about how the viewer, patron, or user understood the artwork?

José Guadalupe Posada was not considered a fine artist by the Mexican artworld of the time. He did not paint nor did his art reflect 19th century romanticism. Neither did he try to further the glory of Mexico nor did he have wealthy patrons. His viewers was comprised of the working class, whose concerns he addressed.

CULTURAL IMPACT: What can I learn about how the artwork was understood within culture in which it was made?

José Guadalupe Posada created work for the common people. The publications were inexpensive and reflected the points of view of the oppressed. Posada created many images of calaveras (skeletons) performing many different human activities. These images were/are used for the Day of The Dead celebrations in Mexico. The prints reflect social and political commentaries of the time. The skeletal imagery is derived from both Native and Spanish/Catholic traditions.


STYLE: How does the artwork look like other artworks?

José Guadalupe Posada's artwork is similar to other Mexican graphic artists of the period. Sometimes it is difficult to discern between Posada's work and the work of Manuel Manilla, who also was a graphic artist for Vanegas Arroyo.

INFLUENCE: What can I learn about how earlier artworks influenced this artwork or about whether this artwork influenced later artworks?

José Guadalupe Posada may have been influenced by a variety of sources. First, symbols from past native civilizations such as shells, skulls, snakes, blood, and thunder, along with early Colonial religious prints influenced Posada. There were other accomplished graphic Mexican artists of the 19th century. Posada was surely familiar with their works. The photography of Casasola (known for his photographs of the Mexican Revolution of 1910) is said to have affected Posada. He read many different weeklies from the U.S. and Europe which contained graphic works. Mural paintings on the exterior of saloons, native folk art, and political cartoonists of the period played roles in shaping Posada's works.

Posada is recognized as a national artist in Mexico. He renewed interest in lithography. Both Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco cite their inspirations from watching Posada work in his shop when they were children. The Taller de Gráfica Popular (Workshop of the People's Graphics) founded by Leopoldo Méndez in 1937 with the help of Alfredo Zalce was also inspired by the works of Posada. Other artists inspired by Posada include Carlos Cortez and Eduardo Oropeza.

THEMES: What general ideas connect this artwork to other artworks?

Death has been a favorite theme for many artists of numerous cultures throughout the centuries. José Guadalupe Posada produced a considerable amount of work concerning this theme. The imagery of Posada's calaveras varies from day-to-day activities to political and social commentary. Posada's art combines both his Spanish and Native heritage to produce an art form that is Mexican. Posada produced the calaveras for Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). The powerful imagery is still prevalent among contemporary Día de los Muertos celebrations. Posada has also influenced recent artists such as Eduardo Oropeza. Other similar cultural traditions about death are found among ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Romans, and Celts.

The theme of revolution unites José Guadalupe Posada with the work of Diego Rivera, Carlos Cortez, Luis Guerra, and Alfredo Zalce.

Many works produced by José Guadalupe Posada would define him as a political and social satirist. Honoré Daumier and William Hogarth were European artists also known for their satire.

The scope and breath of José Posada's work evoke the work of Aubry Beardsley, who also produced a multitude of imagery. Both artists share simple, direct, narrative styles.