La Catrina Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

La Catrina Tattoos: History, Meanings & Designs

You may recognize her as “Dame of the Dead“, but do you really know what the popular La Catrina tattoo means?

Basically, La Calavera Catrina is the most common referential image of death in Mexico. Her name translates to ‘Dapper Skeleton’ coming from the Spanish word ‘catrín’, and she represents the afterlife, unity, respect for the ancestors, and showing your true self.

Her original name is La Calavera Garbancera, a name which would refer to Mexicans who tried to look like Europeans. They would whiten their skin and hold their native heritage in contempt – and a young man called José Guadalupe Posada was sick of it.

From there, imagery and symbolism of La Catrina changed drastically, and now you will see her all over Mexico, especially during Día de Muertos. 

Within this article, will talk about La Catrina tattoos, their history, meanings, ; designs. We will cover: 

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What is the History of La Catrina Tattoos?  

The first imagery of La Catrina dates back to around 1910-1913, where Mexican artist and printmaker José Guadalupe Possda created a zinc etching. This would later become the icon of Día de Muertos in Mexico, known as Day of the Dead. 

However, La Catrina didn’t gain cultural significance – or even a name – until another artist called Diego Rivera painted a mural in 1947 titled, in English, ‘Dream of a Sunday afternoon along Central Alameda’. Showcasing around four centuries of Mexican history, this mural displays the most notorious and iconic figures in the country. For example, Rivera, Posada, Frida Kahlo, and La Catrina. He changed up the first etching, creating an identity for La Catrina that others could relate to and see themselves in.

Nowadays, representations of La Catrina vary greatly, having evolved drastically since the first cartoon-style image. You will see more modern adaptations of her in Día de Muertos costumes, Oaxacan wood carvings, pottery, and handcrafts.

And, of course, the best of all: tattoos!

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What Do La Catrina Tattoos Symbolize?  

Originally, La Catrina was admired as a political message. This is because when Posada first created it, Mexican culture was being heavily influenced – and in some parts, destroyed – by European influence.

The strong political undertones resulted in popularity, and then the almost re-branding, of La Catrina.

Now, La Catrina is one of the most provocative displays of death in Mexican culture, especially around Día de Muertos.

She symbolizes many different things for many different people, but the overriding theme is that we are not immortal. At the end of it all, every single one of us will return to the earth as a skeleton; our time is not infinite.

With the original meaning also considered, La Catrina represents how we should not dress up to appear like something we are not – especially as beneath it all, we are all the same.

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What Do La Catrina Tattoos Mean? 

The make-up that you see the La Catrina tattoos don’t actually comes from Calaveras, also known as sugar skulls.

Hundreds of years ago, there were small decorated skull figurines created and displayed by indigenous peoples to remember the dead and honour their ancestors. However, in the 17th century, Spain began making sculptures out of a sugar paste called alfeñique, and this technique quickly spread to its colonies.

Skulls would be made of this sugar paste and then decorated with brightly coloured icing, with shiny colored paper to represent the forehead and eyes. They would then either be used as gifts or treats for children, or placed on top of the Ofrenda (altar) in Día de Muertos as a symbol of remembrance.

Over the years, the sugar skull imagery was then added to La Catrina. With all of the imagery, symbolism, and history mixed together, La Catrina is now one of the major Mexican representations of the inevitability of death, the passion we have for our ancestors, and pride for Mexican culture.

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Characteristics and Styles of La Catrina Tattoos 

Traditionally, tattoos of La Catrina show the character as a skull – sometimes with a skeleton – wearing an embroidered bonnet which is decorated with flowers.

However, you will now find that most La Catrina tattoos show a young, beautiful woman, perhaps with exposed parts of the skull, showcasing sugar skull paint. There will often be an oversized flower on her head.

The majority of La Catrina tattoos are usually black-and-white and tattooed in the realistic art style. However, you will also find them in color, usually with a lot of shading, in the traditional style.

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Where Do La Catrina Tattoos Usually Go? 

The majority of La Catrina tattoos are on the upper-arm or thigh, due to the fact that these are large areas with a lot of room to fully capture the details.

However, some also popular spots include:

  • The back (these usually show both the face and body of La Catrina, rather than just the face, neck, and sometimes chest)
  • The rib cage
  • The chest (especially popular with men)
  • The forearm (as a wrap)
  • The side of the buttocks (mostly for women)
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Final Thoughts 

La Catrina is a popular motif for death, honoring the ancestors, and showing your true self to the world. She also represents the fact that we are all the same beneath the masks that we have created.

The La Catrina tattoo is poignant, historical, interesting, and aesthetically pleasing, and is a great option for when you are looking at a larger-scale tattoo.

Usually in black-and-white with a realistic style, this tattoo can also show your appreciation for Mexican culture and unity.

One thing’s for sure – with Día de Muertos just around the corner, now is a good time to show your love for La Catrina by getting her inked!

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