Created by Diego Rivera, who in turn was inspired by the characters of the Posada, this mysterious, sensual figure is here to stay in the third millennium.
The Mexican Catrina (or Katrina) is a skeletal female figure dressed in luxurious garments with flowing hair, an ostrich feather boa and all manner of elegant accessories. In tattoo art she remains one of the most popular subjects of the third millennium as a symbol and in terms of mere visual impact.
Catrina, who must not be confused with the symbol of Santa Morte (which we will discuss on another occasion), owes her fame to the Mexican painter Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the husband of Frida Kahlo, who immortalised her in a famous mural of his as far back as 1947.
The first to draw her was a comic artist, another Mexican, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) who became famous in his homeland for his illustrations connected with skulls, the celebrated “Calaveras”.
Catrina became increasingly popular at the turn of the twentieth century during the Mexican revolution during the rule of Benito Juarez, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada and Porfirio Diaz as an anti-govrenment symbol which appeared on clandestine leaflets – called “de combate” – which were full of drawings of skeletons and skulls intended as criticism of the wealthy.
It was here that Posada’s illustration first made a sensation. He wanted to use these creatures to portray an aristocracy (and political class) which he deemed corrupt. Elegantly dressed, but “dead” inside.
Posada’s drawings, known as “La Calavera Garbancera”, symbolised and ridiculed those Mexicans who gave themselves the airs of European nobles even though they had Indios blood, thus disowning their true native culture.
Later on, Diego Rivera brought Posada’s figure up to date, adding dappert clothing to his catrin (in the sense of well-dressed men) and inventing a female counterpart (Catrina) in his much admired mural painted in 1947 “Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central” (Dream of a Sunday afternoon in the Alameda Central).
Perhaps today Catrina has lost her sarcastic, politicised component, but she remains rooted in Mexican culture with her playful, ironic, irreverent image. You might even say sensual, in certain masterful representations in skin art.
A figure which is celebrated every year during the Festival de las Calaveras (the festival of skulls) which falls between the end of October and early November, right after the Fiera di San Marco. The location is the pueblo of Aguascalientes and during the event, there are plenty of references to the work of José Guadalupe Posada in the various processions of skulls as well as illustration competitions. And all the tattoos proudly on display dedicated to beloved Catrina.
The same tattoos which you can now see here in our gallery dedicated to one of the ultimate Mexican symbols! Enjoy!