José María Velasco (1840–1912), Mexico
Ahuehuete, c. 1875
Oil on board
Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros
Velasco created many images of the ahuehuete, or Mexican cypress tree. The name, which comes from words in the Aztec language Nahuatl that mean “upright drum in water” or “old man of the water,” refers to the tree’s longevity and to the great amounts of water it requires to survive. In 1520 an ahuehuete was said to have sheltered the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés on the “noche triste” (sad night) when he was defeated by the Mexica. In addition to being sacred to indigenous Mexicans, the tree’s association with this history of the Conquest is immediately recognizable to Mexican viewers.