This beautiful Arbol de Vida~Tree of Life was a gift. While the shape of the cross is a bit out of the ordinary for the Tree of Life, it is popular in Southern Mexico & is actually Mayan in origin. I think they are beautiful with each one a little different & themes widely varying. There are even Dia de los Muertos trees I have seen with the macabre little skeletons decorating the entire piece.
The Tree of Life is often compared to the construction of Mayan temples, which was also a vertical structure representing the passage from subterranean to the heavens & afterlife.
~Many years ago, Mexican Godparents would give a candlestick to newly weds as a wedding gift. If the couple didn't receive one they had misfortune in everything they did. Their land, crops & even ability to have children would fail & therefore their marriage would fail. However, if they had a candlestick or Tree of Life, it was said they would live in abundance, have many children & a very happy life together.
So it is that the simple candlestick became a symbol of life, and people began to call the candlestick 'Arbol de la vida,' tree of life, since it offers a miracle of a healthy, rich and happy life. And so the story goes...
The original versions of the Tree of Life consisted of a clay tree with its branches ending in candleholders. On the tree are leaves, molded flowers and round "fruit" balls and often religious figures of some sort. Sometime in the 1940s Diego Rivera showed a Metepec family how to use aniline paints to create a bright polychrome effect. The same polychromics decorate many church interiors throughout Mexico. Rivera promoted production of the ceramic trees in Mexico City & both he & his wife Frida Kahlo collected them. The Tree of Life theme is carried out in several of her paintings but most notably in her "Tree of Life", "Tree of Hope" & "Frame" portrait of herself. It is one of my favorites since it has use of such bold colors & reminds me of a the small tissue paper banners & painted tin decorations used at fiestas in Mexico.
There is a Wonderful book published about these beautiful works of art called:
Ceramic Trees of Life: Popular Art from Mexico by Lenore Hoag Mulryan
Frida Kahlo, "The Frame"