Untitled (Tav. 1; Pyramid at El Tajín)
The pyramid at El Tajín is shown in three-quarter view. It is a step-pyramid with six levels and a staircase leading from the ground to the top platform. The sky is blank over a completely flat horizon. The ground is represented by a continuous series of receding vertical lines.
Copyright 2009, Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
G95 D85 Cutter
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Printing ContextThis illustration is one of four untitled plates reproduced in Due Antichi Monumenti di Architettura Messicana (1804), by Pedro José Marquez. Each plate presents a view of a structure at El Tajín or Xochicalco.
Associated EventsSuppression of the Jesuits
On June 25, 1767, Pope Clement XIV issued a decree suppressing the Jesuits from practicing in the Catholic Church. The order was largely ignored in non-Catholic countries, but taken quite seriously in loyal Catholic nations, particularly the Spanish Empire. As a result, all Jesuits in New Spain, the Viceroyalty of Peru, Spain, France, Portugal, and the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies were suppressed. The reasons for the suppression are a matter of debate, but it is generally agreed that it originated not in theological dispute but in political conflict, specifically the conflict arising between older trade routes and means of knowledge production—historically dominated by Jesuits—and emerging secular, Enlightenment-era nation-states. For Pedro José Marquez, the ironic result was that he was forced to flee Mexico to Rome, where he was then able to publish his re-interpretations of Alzate’s work (exposing his own writing to European audiences for the first time).
Associated PlacesEl Tajín
El Tajín is the largest and best-preserved city of the Classic Veracruz civilization in what is now Mexico. The modern-day archaeological site of El Tajín is located about 150 miles north of Veracruz, Veracruz, Mexico. Construction at El Tajín began around the first century CE, and reached its height 600-900 CE. It was completely abandoned at the time of the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century. In New Spain, the site was first described in detail by José Antonio Alzate in 1791; his findings were later re-published in Europe by Pedro Marquez in Rome (1804). The Pyramid of the Niches, the largest structure at El Tajín, was the focus of a number of travel accounts and archaeological illustrations during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, most notably in Marquez's Due antichi monumenti di architettura messicana (1804) and in Alexander von Humboldt's Vues des Cordillères: et monumens des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique (1816). The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.
Associated TextsMarquez’s Untitled (Pyramid at El Tajín) is based directly off of José Antonio Alzate’s illustration of the same pyramid, originally published in the magazine Gacetas de literatura in 1791.
SubjectPedro Marquez' s 1804 book contains the first scientific illustrations of Mexican archaeology to be produced in Europe. By depicting the Pyramid at El Tajin with sharp, clean angles and a lack of geographic context, Marquez sought to visually tie it to Greek and Roman temples, thus showing the technological advancement and social sophistication of native Mexican peoples.
SignificanceThis illustration, along with the others in Marquez’s book, were the first published images of Mexican archaeology to be produced in Europe (Keen 300). Consequently, Marquez’s illustrations are the progenitors of European interest in Mexican archaeology, from which stems the increased interest in Mexican travel during the Romantic period after Mexican independence (circa 1821-1850). It is important to note that this image, with its total lack of concern for surrounding landscape, larger geographic context, or cultural specificity, was published in Europe at precisely the same time Alexander von Humboldt was in Mexico drawing his Pyramide de Cholula for publication in Vues des Cordillères: et monumens des peuples indigènes de l’Amérique (1810). Marquez, recently expelled from Mexico, made it a personal goal to show the technological advancement and social sophistication of native Mexican peoples (of which he was one); the subtle connection he draws between El Tajín and Greek or Roman temples may push toward such a reading. In any event, the tension between Marquez’s representational style and Humboldt’s marriage of enlightenment science with Romantic depictions of landscape would continue to inform visual representations of Mexican sites throughout the early nineteenth century.
FunctionMarquez produced this image, and the others in Due Antichi Monumenti di Architettura Messicana, with the express purpose of showing European audiences the technological advancement and social sophistication of native Mexican civilizations. This was the first image of a Mexican archaeological site to be published in Europe (Keen 300).
BibliographyCañizares-Esguerra, Jorge. How to Write the History of the New World: Histories, Epistemologies, and Identities in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2001. Print. Cultural Sitings.
Herbermann, Charles G., et al, ed. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Encyclopedia P, 1913. Print.
Humboldt, Alexander von. Vues Des Cordillères: Et Monumens Des Peuples Indigènes De L'amérique. 2 vols. Paris, 1816. Print.
Humboldt, Alexander von, et al. Vistas De Las Cordilleras Y Monumentos De Los Pueblos Indígenas De América. 2 vols. México, D.F.: Smurfit Cartón y Papel, 1995. Print. Hombre y sus obras. Biblioteca Humboldt.
Keen, Benjamin. The Aztec Image in Western Thought. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 1971. Print.
Marquez, Pedro. Due Antichi Monumenti Di Architettura Messicana. Roma: Presso il Salomoni, 1804. Print.
Wilson, James Grant, and John Fiske, ed. Appleton's Cyclopædia of America Biography. Vol. 4. New York: Appleton, 1888. Print.
Long TitleDue antichi Monumenti di Architectura Messicana
Preso il Salomoni