The Calaveras of José Guadalupe Posada

José Guadalupe Posada (1851–1913) was a Mexican illustrator known for his satirical and politically acute calaveras. Deriving from the Spanish word for ‘skulls’, these calaveras were illustrations featuring skeletons which would, after Posada’s death, become closely associated with the mexican holiday Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. Most of these calaveras were published by the press of Antonio Vanegas Arroyo which produced inexpensive literature for the lower classes, including thousands of satirical broadsides which Posada illustrated. Through this focus on mortality Vanegas Arroyo and Posada satirised many poignant issues of the day, in particular the details of bourgeois life and the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. On January 20th 1913, 3 years after the start of the Mexican Revolution, José Guadalupe Posada died at his home in obscurity. He was penniless and buried in an unmarked grave. It was only years later in the 1920s that his work became recognised on a national and international level after it was championed by the French ex-patriot artist Jean Charlot who described Posada as “printmaker to the Mexican people”.

(Would you like one on your wall? We are selling Fine Art Prints of a selection of Posada’s “calavera” broadsides in our brand new prints shop! See them here.)

We also recommend checking out the wonderful Posada: A Century of Skeletons (2014).


Broadside shows a male skeleton dressed in a charro outfit wielding a machete in a graveyard, apparently in the process of creating more skeletons–a crowd of skeletons surround him and skulls lie at his feet. The text block is decorated with four small skulls. (1910) – Source


Broadside showing a large skeleton hypnotizing a group of skulls and a sitting skeleton; an electric car with skeletons riding in it is in the background. The text is a calavera in verse conveying the fascination with the modern wonder of electricity as used in Mexico City’s trolleys (1907) – Source

“The calavera of the morbid cholera” – a broadside showing a man with the body of a snake in the center of a group of skulls, representing the disease cholera, his arms are outstretched and tongue out, flying insects surround him. The skulls that surround him are depicted with worldy objects. The image is accompanied by a sarcastic and ironic ballad describing how cholera has afflicted the various social classes of Mexican society. Death kills everyone, regardless of the their place in society (1910) – Source

“Coyotes (conmen) and waitress calaveras” – broadside showing a cat, with a skull for a face, standing on its hind legs holding two skulls. The text, in calavera verse, conveys how waitresses are out to get customers once they are drunk, and also how conmen go for any man’s money (1919) – Source

“The artistic purgatory, where the calaveras of artists and craftsmen lie” – broadside showing the second level of hell, in which the calaveras of artists and artisans hold objects relating to their profession, including musical instruments, a palette, and paper. Below the main image, the text block consists of eight skulls with objects relating to their profession and short verses that provide attributes (ca.1890-1910) – Source

“Calaveras from the heap, number 2” – broadside showing the skeleton of a drunken peon wearing a sombrero, serape, and sandals, holding a bottle of Aguardiente de Parras, a reference to Madero’s family’s maguey plantation and distillery operation. The distinctive mustache and beard further identify the calavera as Madero (1910) – Source

“Drainage Calavera. Those who retired exactly on the Day of the Dead due to the drainage” (ca.1890-1913) – Source

“From this famous hippodrome on the racetrack, not even a single journalist is missing. Death is inexorable and doesn’t even respect those that you see here on bicycle” – broadside showing showing calaveras bicycling, with identifying labels, “Voz de México,” “Patria,” “Universal,” “Tiempo,” “Partido Liberal,” “Gil Blas,” names of popular newspapers, and “Siglo XIX,” and “Siglo XX.” They trample additional calaveras, labeled “Razalatin” and “Quijote.” (ca.1898-1902) – Source

“Because of the end of the world everyone will certainly now become calaveras; farewell to all the living, this is for real” – detail from a broadside showing skeletons in pandemonium because of cataclysmic natural events around them. The text, a calavera in verse (epitaph), predicts an apocalypse as the year 1899 ends (1899) – Source

“The calavera of popular editor Antonio Vanegas Arroyo” – broadside showing the skeleton of publisher Antonio Vanegas Arroyo (who published many of Posada’ Calaveros) dressed in a bowler hat, dark glasses and a suit and sporting a long beard and mustache, standing in his print shop. Small skeletons work at aspects of publishing at his feet: printing, engraving, and proofreading (1917) – Source

The Bullfighter of Seville – a broadside showing a skull decorated with the implements and costume of bullfighting. The text in calavera verse conveys a listing of the better known bullfighters in Mexico which Cuatro Dedos (Four Fingers) is presenting – Source

“This is Don Quixote the first, the giant calavera without equal” – broadside depicting a calavera of Don Quixote riding an equally skeletal horse. A second image below that of Don Quixote shows calaveras outside a cemetery pursuing a group of young men and women (ca.1910-13)- SourceSource

Would you like one on your wall? We are selling Fine Art Prints of a selection of Posada’s works in our brand new prints shop! See them here.