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

Plate 5: Idol and Altar at Copán

Plate 5, Idol and Altar at Copán

Plate 5, Idol and Altar at Copán
(on stone, by W. Parrott)

Hiking through Copán and coming across this stele and altar, one might be taken aback. The face on the altar, on which the Mayas made sacrifices, seems frightening to us today. The stele represents the 13th ruler of Copán, King Waxaklajun Ub’aah K’awiil (in English, Lord 18 Rabbit), with a mask of an aged god.

What gives life to these stone structures is the way Catherwood manipu-lated the light in his drawings. The stele is illuminated such that the source of light must have come from the bottom, as the shadows of the hands are above rather than below. The altar, however, appears under the light, as the shadows cast by the brows fall below them. Catherwood’s control of the scene gives the altar a darker attitude and portrays the stele as super-iorly fierce, giving it an aged identity as opposed to the tranquil curiosity that the other lithographs in Copán present, such as plates 1 and 3. [Spanish version].


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