José Guadalupe Posada (b. Aguascalientes, February 2, 1852; d. Mexico City, January 20, 1913) was a prolific printmaker of exceptional technique, range, and originality. By the time of his death, his images had become a staple of Mexico City popular culture, appearing regularly in theatrical posters, advertisements, book illustrations, broadsides, and the penny press. Despite his popularity with impresarios, advertisers, publishers, editors, and readers, Posada received scant formal recognition during his lifetime. That changed in the 1920s with his “discovery” by prominent artists and art critics including internationally renowned muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. By the 1940s, exhibitions of his work had begun to appear in major galleries and museums in the United States and Europe, promoted as evidence of a unique visual aesthetic rooted in traditional Mexican culture and committed to exposing the long-standing oppression of the Mexican people at the hands of corrupt politicians, greedy bourgeoisie, cruel caciques (local party bosses), and foreign interlopers. Although scholars have disputed the genealogy and political nature of Posada’s vision, the revolutionary nationalist interpretation of Rivera, Orozco, and others has provided inspiration and a sense of cultural legitimacy for succeeding generations of artists in Mexico and throughout the Mexican diaspora. Posada is best known for his striking calaveras, notably Calavera Catrina, a fashionable female skull with bows and a fancy hat; and La Calavera Oaxaqueña, a machete-wielding male skeleton dressed in a charro outfit. Published in conjunction with the annual celebrations for Day of the Dead (October 31–November 2) and accompanied by satiric verses, Posada’s calaveras poke fun at the pretentions of the living in the face of their inevitable mortality.
Robert M. Buffington and Jesus Osciel Salazar
The Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Preußischer Kulturbesitz (IAI; Ibero-American Institute at the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) owns a collection of some 750 works of Mexican popular culture, the majority of which were illustrated by the printmaker and engraver José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) and printed by Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (1850–1917), whose company operated from the 1880s to the 1940s. The collection is comprised of a broad range of media, from chapbooks and magazines to Hojas sueltas (broadsheets). The texts of the published works cover a broad range of topics, on the one hand drawing on themes from Ibero-American—and especially Mexican—oral traditions and popular piety; and on the other hand, covering current affairs in Mexico and, to a lesser extent, abroad. The majority of the texts are in prose. Various forms of poetry, above all corridos (ballads), are also featured. The Posada Collection continues to be systematically enlarged and forms part of the Ibero-American Institute’s exceptionally rich collections of popular culture around 1900 from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. Completely in open access, it is one of the IAI’s most consulted digital collections.