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

Plate 14, Portion of a Building, Las Monjas, Uxmal

Plate 14, Portion of a Building, Las Monjas, Uxmal

Plate 14, Portion of a Building, Las Monjas, Uxmal
(on stone, by A. Picken)

Uxmal is the home to several Maya ruins documented by Catherwood and Stephens, including the structure presented here. The brightly-lit façade attracts the eye with its depiction of two entwined feathered serpents, one with a human head in its opened mouth. Catherwood, awed by these, described the latter serpent’s “monstrous jaws” and chronicled the iconography of the ruin in great detail.

The architecture of the ruin is striking, especially since decay has set in, and the far right end of the façade is missing. The exposed foundation provides insight into the way the structure was built. The building style in which the doorway frames the natural environment is typical of the Maya, and Catherwood uses it to emphasize the wildness of his surroundings. The contemporary Maya pictured show the height of the structure. Catherwood makes them look peaceful and submissive, and he also chastens the small naked child with the use of a strategically-placed piece of a ruin. He appears to want to westernize the indigenous people so that they can accompany the monuments he so reveres. This is apparent in their leisurely appearance and even in their clothing, which is white in contrast with their dark skin. While this clothing suggests something of 19th-century Maya dress, it also covers Maya bodies appropriately according to western standards. Catherwood is not alone in his desire to westernize indigenous peoples for the sake of art, but this tendency is particularly prominent here. [Spanish version].


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