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Posada and Day of the Dead


Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos) Calavera Images and José Guadalupe Posada 

Author: Jim Nikas, San Francisco, California

General Foundation 

Mexican graphic artists José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) and Manuel Manilla (1830- 1895?) created dozens of calavera (skeleton) images while employed (collectively, 1882-1913) by the Mexico City based printing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (1852-1917). The images appeared in a variety of publications called broadsides (Figure 1). Also known as hojas volantes, literally “flying leaves”. The broadsides were an inexpensive form of publication (usually one to two pages) containing a variety of news, commentaries and entertainment popular in the time. During October and November, Vanegas Arroyo issued broadsides containing images of calaveras to coincide with the early November observance of the Day of the Dead. The calavera was not the invention of Vanegas Arroyo, Manilla or Posada, but there can be little doubt that they were the foundation of its popularization in the current century. 

The promotion of calavera imagery was very clearly in part due to the success of the aforementioned publishing house of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo. Without the combination of the art from Posada (mainly Posada) and Manilla, marketed by the savvy business skills of the founder, Antonio Vanegas Arroyo, it is arguable that the calaveras might not enjoy the widespread popularity that they have today. 

Essay Summary

This essay examines briefly the early use of the calavera in North and Central America, the imagery of calaveras in Europe, the origin of Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), aspects of Posada’s relationship with Vanegas Arroyo, and finally reviews and speculation on how the calavera (and to some extent Day of the Dead) moved from the broadsides of the19th and 20th Centuries in Mexico toward an increasing popularity and into mainstream status well beyond Mexico in the 21st Century. 

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