In 2020, Mexican officials made impassioned requests for the loan of a storied Aztec headdress held by Austria’s Weltmuseum Wien. This week, the Vienna institution officially denied those requests, ensuring that the headdress will not return to Mexico this year to tie in with the 500th anniversary of Spain’s conquest of the Aztec empire in 1521.
The German press agency dpa reported on Monday that the Weltmuseum Wien told Mexican leaders that it could not travel the headdress, claiming that the object was too fragile to make the journey. “Due to the considerable risk of possible damage during transport, the request for a loan cannot be granted,” Austria’s State Secretariat for Culture told dpa in a statement.
It is neither the first time that Mexico has made such a request nor the first time that Austria has denied it. Widely considered to be an important object, the headdress has been held in Austria since the 16th century.
How the headdress arrived in Europe remains unclear. Many believe that it may have once belonged to the Aztec emperor Montezuma, who ruled when the Spanish made its first contact with the empire in 1519. Known as a penacho, the headdress was mentioned in an inventory of the estate of Archduke Ferdinand II of the Tyrol, an avid collector, in 1596. During the late 19th century, it was transported to Vienna, where it remains a major attraction.
In 1991, Mexico submitted an official request for the headdress’ return. Austria subsequently claimed that sending the work back risked damaging it. In order to safely bring it back, Austrian experts said, a plane nearly the size of three football fields was required.
Mexican officials have reiterated calls for the headdress’ return in the years since. Last year, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has called for a new understanding of the Spanish conquest in Mexico since taking office in 2018, said the headdress is a “piece of ours, of Mexico” and launched a campaign to get it back as a loan in time for 2021. He later claimed that Austrians “completely appropriated” the object, which appears set to remain in Vienna.