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Structure 33

 

 

 

Structure 33 at Yaxchilan is instructive. Superficially it looks geometric and angular, like the familiar buildings far away at Uxmal or Kabah. But what you are seeing here, in this picture, is the substructure of a stucco facade that is mostly gone. This grid of stone would have been covered in a sculptural billboard of fluid, curvilinear detail executed in the much more malleable medium of stucco. Look closely and you will see a central seated figure, who would have been dressed in an elaborate costume, whose huge flaring headdress would have been spread across the upper, missing portion of the armature. Flanking this central character are ranks of other figures standing or seated, hard to tell. The lower roof where we see all that checkerboardy business would have been covered in more sensual sculptural imagery. The two corners of the lower roof would have had huge sculpted faces of the witz creature, often mistaken for Chac, with his long droopy nose. This would all have been painted, and while many reconstructions depict these elements painted a single color like red or green, I think these colors are undercoats, all that would remain after a thousand years. The fine linework and delicate detail has likely washed away. People who paint elaborate murals like those at Bonampak and Calakmul don't just paint things red and walk away. When picturing the ancient world of the Maya, one shouldn't be imagining a zigzaggy tequila-label world of chunky souvenir-serape patterns, but a lavish, baroque world, comparable to India or China. I think this is important, because this world is lost. We should know what we lost.

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