Museum Security Network

Mexico Negotiates the Temporary Return of Moctezuma Headdress

follow this link for formatted text plus images: Mexico Negotiates the Temporary Return of Moctezuma Headdress | Past Horizons.

Negotiations conducted for 3 years by the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) with the Austrian Government, are about to reach an historic agreement that would bring Moctezuma´s Headdress back to Mexico on a temporary basis later this year.


This collaboration project between museums will hopefully allow for a better understanding of the headdress and will also enable the Mexican people to see the piece first-hand. The once spectacular but now extremely fragile headdress is made up of 400 quetzal feathers and mounted in gold and studded with precious stones.

It is traditionally believed by Mexican people to have been the piece worn by Montezuma II when the Spanish arrived in 1519.

According to the Latin American Herald Tribune, Austrian experts contend that the feather-work crown did not in fact belong to Moctezuma but instead was an ornamental element used by priests, although they acknowledge the headdress’ significance in Mexican culture.

The headdress became part of the collection that Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria – nephew of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor – held at Schloss Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria at the end of the 16th century. It was only in the 19th century that that the headdress was determined to be of Aztec origin.

It was only in the 19th century that the headdress was determined to be of Aztec origin

In February 2010 scientific analysis was conducted on the piece to determine its physical state and identify the necessary restoration processes that would allow its eventual transport and exhibition in Mexico.

In order to secure the loan the Mexican government has stated that it acknowledges that the headdress is owned by the Austrian government and that ownership of the piece is not an issue.

In fact, there have been calls in the past by various Austrian politicians to repatriate the piece, which has been kept for over five years in a warehouse at the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna.

In exchange for the headdress, Austria would receive on loan the golden stagecoach used by Maximilian I of Mexico, emperor during the Second Mexican Empire from 1863 to 1867 and brother of Franz Joseph I of Austria.

The British Museum recently held an extremely successful exhibition entitled Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler. An extract from their 2009 press release contains this description of the Aztec leader:

‘Moctezuma (reigned 1502-1520) inherited and then consolidated Aztec control over a politically complex empire that by the early 16th century stretched from the shores of Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico.

Moctezuma was regarded as a semi- divine figure by his subjects charged with the task of interceding with the gods. As a battle-hardened general he was appointed supreme military commander and headed the two most prestigious warriors orders: the eagle and jaguar warriors.

He was elected as Ruling Lord (huey tlatoani) in 1502, built a new palace in the heart of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City) and restructured the court. The arrival of the Spanish, during Moctezuma’s reign, witnessed the collapse of the native world order and the imposition of a new civilization that gave birth to modern Mexico.’

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