The Hon. Dorothy Brett
Ceremonial Indian Dance: The Matachinas 1948

Artwork details

Ceremonial Indian Dance: The Matachinas
Date 1948
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Frame: 1388 x 1135 x 70 mm
support: 1270 x 1016 mm
Acquisition Presented by the artist 1959
Not on display

Catalogue entry

Inscr. ‘D. E. Brett 1948’ b.r.
Canvas, 50×40 (127×101·5).
Presented by the artist 1959.
Exh: (?) Taos Modern Group, Santa Fé Museum, U.S.A., 1956–7.

The artist wrote (17 September 1959) that the dance is almost entirely Spanish in costume, music, etc.: ‘A variation of the old Spanish Folk Dance “Los Christianos y Tor Moros” celebrating the battle which recovered Spain from the Moors in the 15th Century. Brought to Mexico soon after the Conquest, it added “Matinche” (Cortez' Mistress and Interpreter) as a character, but retained the Spanish El Toro (the bull). It was then brought up into New Mexico where it took on Indian characteristics. The three-pronged stick is still a symbol of its Christian origin. The Trinity Dance is not an Indian Ceremonial, though treated as such in the refusal to have photographs taken of it, or drawings or paintings on the spot.’ She added (10 October 1959): ‘The ball in the other hand is a rattle, made out of a dried pumpkin, filled with fine stones. The head-dress is made of cardboard in the shape of a Bishop's mitre, the mask is a heavy fringe of silk, attached to the lower border of the head-dress. Lower down a coloured silk handkerchief is tied across the lower part of the face.... I have been all this time trying to find out the meaning of the word Matachinas. Nobody really knows, the only thing we can disentangle is that Mata means Kill and Chinas means Chinese. Therefore the idea is that in Spain it meant kill the Moors, in old Mexico it meant kill the Chinese, probably because they had never heard of the Moors but had heard of the Chinese.’

Published in:
Mary Chamot, Dennis Farr and Martin Butlin, The Modern British Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, London 1964, I

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