In this image of Izamal’s great pyramid, Kinich Kak Mo,
the colossal head of a Maya figure looms high above the expedition’s
naturalist, Dr. Samuel Cabot, Jr., and an unnamed Maya attendant.
Catherwood’s palate of dark, mysterious colors, in contrast
to his daylight prints, generates a lingering image. Catherwood
carefully depicts the moon looking over the scene, as the colossal
head of a Maya figure gapes at the intruders hunting a jaguar,
an animal that represented several forms of ancient Maya gods.
Catherwood’s highly romanticized illustration is one of
the only Western records of the colossal head before it dropped
to the ground.
It may not be coincidental that Catherwood draws upon the importance
of the moon and jaguars in this image. The moon’s phases
formed one basis for the Maya calendar; and in Mesoamerica, the
jaguar was one of the most feared yet respected animals, denoting
power and authority. Moreover, Kinich Ahua, the sun god to whom
this pyramid was dedicated, may have been linked to the jaguar
when he made his nightly journey through the underworld. The Maya
believed that four bacabs (sky-bearers) supported the thirteen
layers of sky, but the jaguar was commonly associated with the
underworld. [Spanish version].