Uxmal: House of the Dwarf and House of the Nuns


A view of the ruins of Uxmal depicts the House of the Nuns (on the left) and the House of the Dwarf (on the right). The House of the Nuns is a short, wide, one-story building with a series of small windows and an arched entryway, while the House of the Dwarf is a large, pyramid temple structure. Two figures stand between the two buildings. Trees and small bushes grow over the buildings, the House of the Dwarf in particular, which also has a portion of its side broken away to reveal the interior structure.

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F 1432 S883 1841 Vol. 2

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House of the Dwarf and House of the Nuns is one of many illustrations of Uxmal’s monuments produced by Catherwood, all of which are reproduced in John Lloyd Stephens's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841).
Stephens and Catherwood’s Journey to Uxmal

Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens arrived at Uxmal in 1841, on the final leg of their first Mesoamerican expedition (Bourdon 148). While previous cities they encountered (Copán and Palenque in particular) were overrun with vegetation, Uxmal’s location on a high bluff left it relatively exposed, facilitating the pair’s documentation and survey of the site.

Uxmal is a pre-Columbian Maya city located in the modern Mexican state of Yucatán, approximately fifty miles south of the state capital, Mérida. The city was founded around 500 CE; modern archaeologists speculate that during its height (700-1100 CE) the city was home to at least 25,000 people. The earliest detailed accounts of the city were published by Jean-Frédéric Waldeck (Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d'Yucatan pendant les années 1834 et 1836; Paris, 1838), John Lloyd Stephens (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán; New York, 1841), and Benjamin Moore Norman (Rambles in Yucatan: Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabah, Zayi, Uxmal, &c.; New York, 1843). The city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
While all of Catherwood’s Uxmal drawings are reproduced in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, Volume I eight of the twenty-five color lithographs that make up his Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1844) were of Uxmal (Plates VIII-XV, in order): General View of Las Monjas, at Uxmal; Ornament Over the Principal Doorway, House of the Governor, at Uxmal; Archway, House of the Governor, Uxmal; Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal; Ornament over the Gateway of the Great Teocallis,Uxmal; General View of Uxmal, Taken from the Archway of Las Monjas, Looking South; Portion of the Building Las Monjas, Uxmal; and Portion of the House of Las Monjas, Uxmal (Stephens, Central America 421-35). Benjamin Moore Norman, during his Mexican journey in 1844, mentions Catherwood and Stephens’s expedition specifically as the inspiration for his own visit to Uxmal. In Rambles in Yucatán, he published a number of drawings of buildings and monuments at Uxmal, among them Governor’s House, Uxmal Ruins; The Pyramid, Uxmal Ruins; and Moonlight, Uxmal Ruins, the book’s frontispiece (Norman 154-65).
This image—rendered using a camera lucida—depicts ruins of the city of Uxmal in Mexico.
Catherwood’s views of Uxmal, along with a number of his other illustrations of Maya sites, constitute the first systematic attempt at a realistic representation of Mexican archaeological sites, as well as the first time the camera lucida had been used to depict such ruins (Evans 53). Catherwood’s drawings blend Enlightenment notions of faithful, scientific representations with nascent, Romantic-era visual technologies, and are particularly bound up with Romantic notions of landscape: Catherwood’s rendering of Uxmal clearly invoke notions of the picturesque as formed during the Romantic period. Consequently, these images rely on both a concern with scientific accuracy, resulting in the use of the camera lucida, as well as an interest in the aesthetic vision espoused by Romantic ideals.
Catherwood’s illustrations of archaeological sites, such as those from Uxmal, serve a dual function. First, they accurately illustrate the size, proportion, and visual decoration of ancient Maya cities, data which was important to potential collectors of Maya artifacts, museum exhibitors, and investors in future expeditions to the region. Secondly, while some of the sites Catherwood depicts were already known to Americans and Europeans, these were the first illustrations of Mexico in which the artist was personally concerned with the faithful re-creation of the correct size, proportion, and landscape of the city. This concern was particularly important for Catherwood, who made use of a camera lucida—relying on an assumption of its faithful, visual re-creation of reality—to assist in his rendering of Maya cityscapes.
Bourbon, Fabio. The Lost Cities of the Mayas: The Life, Art, and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood. New York: Abbeville P, 2000. Print.

Catherwood, Frederick. Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Barre: Barre, 1965. Print.

Evans, R. Tripp. Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.

Norman, Benjamin Moore. Rambles in Yucatan: Or, Notes of Travel through the Peninsula, Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabak, Zayi, and Uxmal. 2d ed. New York, 1843. Print.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Vol. 2. New York: Harper, 1841. Print. 2 vols.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1843. Print.

Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. F. Catherwood, Architect-Explorer of Two Worlds. Barre: Barre, 1968. Print.

Waldeck, Frédéric de, and Hernán Menéndez Rodríguez. Viaje Pintoresco Y Arqueológico a La Provincia De Yucatán, 1834-1836. México: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1996. Print.
Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, Vol. 2.



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Harper and Brothers

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