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Who Is La Calavera Catrina?!

By José Guadalupe Posada -, Public Domain,

If you're even slightly familiar with the Day of the Dead tradition, then surely you have seen the skeleton known as La Calavera Catrina in various mediums - be it paintings, sculptures, face paintings or even dolls. La Calavera Catrina has a face everybody can recognize, but what is the story behind La Calavera Catrina?!

Otherwise known as the "Elegant Skull" or "Dapper Skeleton" or even by its original name, La Calavera Garbancera, the infamous skeleton woman has taken on a life of its own through decades of different art. The original La Calavera Catrina is an etching done in zinc by famous artist José Guadalupe Posada. Posada was an engraver and cartoonist who often used skeletons and bones to make cultural and political critiques. He was born in 1852, and passed away in 1913, but not before creating etching the famous La Calavera Catrina.

The original image of La Calavera Catrina is that of a skeleton woman with a large hat that is reminiscent of an upper class European outfit. She was etched by Posada to attempt to show - as a satirical portrait - Mexicans who were beginning to adopt and be inspired by European aristocratic traditions. Because of her deathly appearance, she has become synonymous with the Día de los muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead (October 31 - November 2). But Posada was interested in addressing the Mexicans who were seemingly ashamed of their heritage and who insisted on imitating the French in the way that they dressed and looked. But Posada's concern for his fellow people went deeper than just how people dressed - he was also concerned with the indigenous people who were using make up to make their skin appear whiter, in an attempt to look more European.

By momo from Hong Kong - The Kid - Diego Rivera, CC BY 2.0,

While Posada may have created the character La Calavera Catrina, it was 34 years later when an artist named Diego Rivera created a mural known as Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda), in which La Calavera Catrina makes a grand appearance front and center of the artwork; big hat,European clothing and all. It was from Rivera's mural that La Calavera Catrina began to grow in popularity to where it is today, as a notable icon of the Day of the Dead festivals throughout Mexico.

Chances are, you probably see various versions of La Calavera Catrina more often than you think! She has become a cultural icon of her own, and has become a celebrated part of Mexican history and culture. So next time you see a skeleton adorned with an elegant hat and clothing, now you'll know her name: La Calavera Catrina, the Dapper Skeleton.


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