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Drawing From the Past
Maya Antiquity Through the Eyes of Frederick Catherwood

Plate 12, Ornament Over the Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal

Plate 12, Ornament Over the Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal

Plate 12, Ornament Over the Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal
(on stone, by W. Parrott)

In the study of ancient civilizations, myths often evoke a sense of mystery and encourage further exploration into unknown aspects of a culture. When John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood journeyed to Uxmal in 1840, the indigenous people told them the legend of the House of the Dwarf.

As related by Stephens, an old woman hatched a dwarf son from an egg. The dwarf and the ruler of Uxmal challenged each other to feats of strength, one of which was to build a house in one night that was higher than any other. Although the dwarf despaired at this challenge, his mother told him not to worry, and the next day the dwarf awoke in what is now called the House of the Dwarf. The legends of the House of the Dwarf, and the building itself, captured European imaginations, and Catherwood drew several scenes of the building. Stephens and Catherwood referred to the House of the Dwarf as the Great Teocallis, teocalli being a pre-Hispanic temple.

This image depicts the façade of the superstructure of the House of the Dwarf. The wall is distinctive for its elegant stonework. The passage of time (since the ancients worshipped at the temple) is evident in this image, as the once-painted façade is now bare and the middle section of the wall has caved away, revealing an entrance to the inner temple. In the fore-ground is an example of Catherwood’s depiction of the indigenous workers reposing, a theme that extends to many other prints in this collection. [Spanish version].

ANNA NEWMAN

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