The image of La Calavera Catrina, or "the elegant skull," has a long history in the arts. It originated sometime between 1910 and 1913, when famous Mexican illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada, produced the first image of this stylish skeleton. Here is an image of the original zinc etching that has now inspired other artists to create their own renditions in various mediums, including tattoos, or course.
La Calavera Catrina has a very specific political message behind it. At the time of its creation, Mexico was being heavily influenced by European trends in fashion, a cultural phenomenon to which Posada was opposed. By illustrating this accessorized skull, he was communicating a deep message about how Mexican culture was being destroyed by Europe's influence. Because of the image's powerful political undertones, it has since then been taken up as one of the most provocative depictions of death in Mexican Culture, appearing prominently around the holiday of Dia de Muertos — Day of the Dead.
Though this image appears in mediums such as sculpture, sugar, etc., its most interesting manifestation arguably comes in the art of tattoos. The image has evolved right alongside the bodily art form as it has grown over the last century. Contemporary takes on La Catrina borrow from the neo-traditional and hyperrealist traditions in tattooing, typically depicting portraits of women in skeletal face paint as opposed to the original skull. To get a sense of how this iconic image has been imported and expounded on in tattoos, check out these astounding examples.
Illustrations of La Catrina look fantastic in black and grey realism. The tradition of portraiture in tattooing has enabled La Catrina to take on new dimensions of meaning, marrying the ideals of feminine beauty with the idea of death to bring nuance to the classic Mexican iconography.
As exemplified by the preceding tattoos by our very own tattoo ambassador, Megan Massacre, La Catrina's modern appearance takes on new life in color. Furthermore, the use of chroma invites artists to incorporate motifs from other styles of tattooing in their depictions of this lethal female figure. In these pieces, we see the cross-border intersectionality between Mexican folk art and traditional American tattoos.
If you enjoyed gazing into the foreboding eyes of these stunning tattoos of La Catrina, you can check out more of them from our previous posts. Also, make sure to visit some of the artists' Instagrams listed in each of the photos' captions, and remember Day of the Dead is just around the corner, so consider getting your own gorgeous tattoo of our lady of death just in time for the holiday.