Montezuma's headdress

Moctezuma's headdress is a featherwork crown (Nahuatl languages: quetzalāpanecayōtl [ketsalaːpaneˈkajoːtɬ]) which tradition holds belonged to Moctezuma II, the Aztec emperor at the time of the Spanish Conquest. However, its provenance is uncertain,[1] and even its identity as a headdress has been questioned.[2] It is made of quetzal and other feathers with sewn-on gold detailing. It is now in the Museum of Ethnology, Vienna, and is a source of dispute between Austria and Mexico, as no similar pieces remain in Mexico. Restoration efforts reignited this dispute in 2012.[3]

Modern reproduction of Moctezuma's headdress, in the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City
Moctezuma's headdress
MaterialFeathers of quetzal, Lovely cotinga, Roseate spoonbill, Piaya cayana, gold
Size116 cm high, 175 cm diameter
Present locationMuseum of Ethnology, Vienna, Austria
A portrayal of Moctezuma II, with a slightly different headdress


The feathers of the piece have deteriorated over the centuries. It is 116 cm (46 in) high and 175 cm (69 in) across and has the form of concentric layers of different colored feathers arranged in a semicircle. The smallest is made from blue feathers of the Cotinga amabilis (xiuhtōtōtl) with small plates of gold in the shapes of half moons. Behind this is a layer of Roseate spoonbill (tlāuhquechōlli) feathers, then small quetzal feathers, then a layer of white-tipped red-brown feathers of the squirrel cuckoo, Piaya cayana, with three bands of small gold plates, and finally two of 400 closely spaced quetzal tail feathers, some 55 cm (22 in) long. The quetzal feathers in the center of the headdress are raised relative to the sides. Leather straps attach the crown to the head of the wearer.


Although attributed to Moctezuma and the Spanish conquest, the provenance of the piece is unattested, and it does not match Aztec illustrations of the headdress of their nobility. It became an object of interest to European researchers such as Ferdinand von Hochstetter and Eduard Seler at the end of the 19th century, and its identification as a quetzalapanecayotl is attributed to American anthropologist Zelia Nuttall.[4] It was restored in 1878, while still thought to be a mantle rather than a headdress. It is attested since 1575 in the collections of Archduke Ferdinand[3] in Ambras near Innsbruck, Austria. At the beginning of the 19th century it was deposited in the Museum of Ethnology (inventory number 10402VO) in Vienna along with other liturgical artifacts of Quetzalcoatl and Ehecatl.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ González de Alba, Luis. "El penacho de un pobre diablo", en el periódico La Jornada, versión electrónica.
  2. ^ Rodríguez, Ana Mónica. "El penacho de Moctezuma es una capa de sacerdote, afirma un investigador", La Jornada, versión electrónica Archived 2009-06-08 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ a b "Mexico and Austria in dispute over Aztec headdress". 22 November 2012. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 24 November 2012.
  4. ^ Zelia Nuttall:Sur le quetzal-apanecaiotl ou coiffure Mexicaine en plumes conservée à Vienne. En: Congrès International des Américanistes, Paris 1890. Paris 1892. S. 453-459

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