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

Plate 19, Gateway at Labnah

Plate 19, Gateway at Labnah

Plate 19, Gateway at Labnah
(on stone, by J. C. Bourne)

In this image, indigenous people draw the viewer’s attention to the spectacle of the Maya ruins. Notice that the human subjects have focused their attention on the edifice at the background. Two men seen working atop the building also lead the eye backwards. The nearly-lounging posture of the contemporary Maya workers reinforces their role as accessories to the spectacle of the ancient ruins.

Yet the ruins themselves are not to be ignored. Close inspection reveals images such as the carved face at the far left and the zigzagging pattern along the front of the façade. However the most noteworthy architectural feature here is the corbel vault, also present in Plates 7 and 17. This type of archway is characterized by a flat peak, differing from the rounded arches of Roman antiquity. Its location at the center of the lithograph draws the eye inward.

In Incidents of Travel, Catherwood’s companion John Stephens speaks of Labnah, a place unknown even to many of the native people of the area. This structure emphasizes Labnah as a place of “…decaying but still proud memorials of a mysterious people.” The print reinforces the idea of Labnah as an enigmatic place built by people of equal intrigue. [Spanish version].

JESSICA DEBRUIN

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