Standard-Bearer, 1200–1519 AD
Igneous rock
Overall: 47 7/16 × 16 × 13 1/4 in., 221lb. (120.5 × 40.6 × 33.7 cm)
Gift of D. and J. de Menil

Habits of Mind

  • OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect

A Three-Dimensional World - Art

Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking, and be careful about making assumptions.

Curriculum Objectives

•  Describe sculpture as art with the three dimensions of height, width, and depth.

•  Recognize and describe realism and abstraction in art.

•  Make one abstract and one realistic sculpture.






Observe Details

Connecting to the Work of Art


This sculpture is a standard-bearer, a guardian figure the Aztecs borrowed from the Toltecs, their predecessors in the Valley of Mexico.  Standard-bearers are seated or standing male figures carved fully in the round, meaning the figure has been carved from all points of view.  They originally flanked entrances and stairways and carried banners or standards in their hands.  This figure’s clothing and accessories are minimal: a loincloth tied in a stylized knot in front; large plaque-like ear ornaments; and a crescent nose ornament, representing the moon, which also covers the mouth.  This nose ornament, associated with the gods of pulque, a kind of beer, gives the standard-bearer the authority of the gods as well as of men.


This figure shows the formal simplicity of Aztec stone sculpture.  He stands rigidly frontal with his legs closely spaced and his arms held next to his torso, a block-like pose that recalls the shape of the stone from which he was carved.  A geometric solidity dominates the sculpture; there is no hint of movement.  This hardened, austere appearance is heightened further by the blank facial expression and the squat proportions of the figure, with his oversized feet and barely visible neck.  The figure was meant to keep his distance while asserting his presence, just as a proper guardian should.


This freestanding sculpture was carved from a single block of volcanic stone, a material common in the central highlands of Mexico that was often used for Aztec sculpture.  The stone was quarried, then transported by human labor over land and water.


The Aztecs were latecomers to the rich cultural heritage of central Mexico.  Formerly desert nomads, they settled in the Valley of Mexico by the early fourteenth century and assimilated most aspects, including artistic traditions, of the cultures they encountered.  When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan had more than 250,000 residents and was larger, grander, and in many respects more sophisticated than most European capitals of the time.

Conversation Starters

•  Discuss sculpture as having three dimensions: height, width, and depth.

•  Have students describe the subject, materials, textures, and shapes of the sculpture.

•  Is this sculpture abstract?  Is it realistic?  Why?


•  Teach students two simple methods of creating sculpture.

•  Divide students into cooperative groups.  Have each group develop two small sculptures, one that is abstract and one that is realistic.

•  Compare and contrast finished works.


Resources Available to Order

The Art-To-Go lending library features materials that may easily be integrated across the K–12 curriculum. Resources include DVDs, music CDs, children’s books, study guides, poster sets, and collection-based interpretive materials produced by the KFEC. Educators, community leaders, and docents from throughout Texas are welcome to borrow Art-To-Go resources. To place your order, search the online catalogue and add the selected items to your basket. After you have reviewed your basket, submit the order electronically.

The Learning Through Art program at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is underwritten by:

Mercantil Commercebank

The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.