Presented in this painting is the formidable statue of the Aztec/Mexica earth mother-goddess, Coatlicue, standing at the gates of hell. Translated from her Nahuatl name as Snakes-Her-Skirt, she was a deity who was dualistic in nature, being both respected and feared for her nurturing qualities that enable life and her ability to bring destruction upon that same existence. She is represented here in this 15th or 16th century sculpture, unearthed at the site of Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City), with features that indicate a morbidity associated with evil and hellishness in Western belief systems, however, her symbolic features had and continue to have significantly distinct interpretations for the Mexica people and their descendants.
Sveva has chosen to enhance the scale of Coatlicue in proportion to the figures, seemingly as a reminder of the natural power of creation and destruction that we are all bound to. The presence of Coatlicue at the gates of hell forebodes not only the travellers’ sinister journey through human evil in the underworld but, also, in considering her dualistic nature involved in both birth and death, offers a consideration on life cycles and the inescapability of death.