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date: 14 December 2019


  • Mary Ellen Miller


Site of a Maya ceremonial centre in the tropical rain-forest of the Chiapas, Mexico, that flourished around the end of the 8th century ad. Bonampak is best known for its colourful and complex wall paintings, which are the most complete indigenous examples in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. The paintings, brought to modern attention by Giles Healey in 1946, are preserved in situ on the walls of a fragile three-room building known as Structure 1. There are colour copies of the paintings in the Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City. The rest of the site is still largely unexcavated, but several fine sculptures have also been found.

The paintings in Structure 1 were commissioned between ad 790 and 800 to celebrate various events—particularly the selection of a child as heir—in the reign of the last known Bonampak king, Chaan-muan (regad 775–?792). Bright pigments were applied to damp stucco on walls, vaults, benches, and doorjambs by a team of painters following the programme of a single master. Black-and-white pigments were used last, for outlines, highlights, and hieroglyphic writing. The positions of such architectural features as benches partly determine the reading order of the scenes. The text and image work together, neither subordinate to the other. In no other work of Maya art do so many individuals appear; they are painted throughout at about two-thirds life-size....

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