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

Plate 18, Well and Building at Sabactsche

Plate 18, Well and Building at Sabactsche

Plate 18, Well and Building at Sabactsche
(on stone, by H. Warren)

In this print Catherwood highlights quaint and exotic aspects of 19th-century Maya culture against the backdrop of their glorified ancestors. Yet there is an underlying sense of the superiority of the latter. The print shows workers from a ranch in Sabactsche, a small village on the Yucatán peninsula. A well provides access for the workers to the essential commodity of water, and appears to have created a social gathering place. Rich colors and activity in the foreground reflect the vibrant and productive nature of this group.

As depicted here, contemporary (19th-century) Maya are in possession of their own fully functional and ambitiously organized society. Yet the building at the rear is illuminated in such a way that it overshadows the action in front of it. Through this manipulation of light Catherwood reinforces the idea of an ancient society too strong and beautiful for its descendants to live up to. This conflict between old and new is a common theme in this series of images, raising the question of whether the culture of one era is more valuable than that of another. [Spanish version].

JESSICA DEBRUIN and ALYSSA RANKER

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