Feather headdress, c. 1520

Both the provenance and original use of this Aztec feather headdress are unclear. For a long time it was thought to be an object that had arrived in Europe at the court of Charles V as a result of the Spanish conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés in 1519. The headdress became famous as the ‘feather crown of Montezuma’, as it was assumed that it had been part of the royal insignia of Moctezuma, ruler of the Aztec empire from 1502 to 1520. The first secure mention of this object dates to 1596, when it was recorded in an inventory of Archduke Ferdinand of Tyrol’s collection of curiosities at Schloss Ambras. Today the ‘feather crown’ is one of the most popular exhibits in the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna. The subject of its restitution to Mexico has been raised more than once, being debated by the Austrian parliament as recently as November 2009.