The Murals of Cacaxtla

9780292760899: Hardback
Release Date: 15th February 2015

271 color and 15 b&w photos, 43 line drawings, 6 maps

Dimensions: 216 x 279

Number of Pages: 315

Series Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

University of Texas Press

The Murals of Cacaxtla

The Power of Painting in Ancient Central Mexico

Hardback / £60.00

Honorable Mention, ALAA Book Award, Association for Latin American Art/Arvey Foundation, 2016

Between AD 650 and 950, artists at the small Central Mexican city-state of Cacaxtla covered the walls of their most important sacred and public spaces with dazzling murals of gods, historical figures, and supernatural creatures. Testimonies of a richly interconnected ancient world, the Cacaxtla paintings present an unexpectedly deep knowledge of the art and religion of the Maya, Zapotec, and other distant Mesoamerican peoples. Painted during a period of war and shifting alliances after the fall of Teotihuacan, the murals' distinctive fusion of cosmopolitan styles and subjects claimed a powerful identity for the beleaguered city-state.

Presenting the first cohesive, art historical study of the entire painting corpus, The Murals of Cacaxtla demonstrates that these magnificent works of art constitute a sustained and local painting tradition, treasured by generations of patrons and painters. Exhaustive chapters on each of the mural programs make it possible to see how the Cacaxtla painting tradition developed over time, responding to political and artistic challenges. Lavishly illustrated, The Murals of Cacaxtla illuminates the agency of ancient artists and the dynamics of artistic synthesis in a Mesoamerican context, offering a valuable counterpoint to studies of colonial and modern art operating at the intersection of cultural traditions.

List of Illustrations and Tables




1. Cacaxtla in Context

The Acropolis and Its Paintings
Greater Cacaxtla-Xochitécatl
Diego Muñoz Camargo's Description of Cacaxtla
Problems of Evidence
Between Powerful Neighbors
Cacaxtla among the Epiclassic City-States
Art and Identity
Chaos Again

2. The Murals

Materials and Techniques

3. The Feathered Serpent and the Captive Stair: Polemics of Style

The Serpent Corridor

Feathered Serpents
Aquatic Borders
Feathered Serpents and Aquatic Borders
The Afterlife of the Feathered Serpent

The Captive Stair

Text and Image
A Foreign Style?
Reconsidering Captive Art

Polemics of Style

4. The Temple of Venus: Astral Bodies

Venus/Star Symbolism
Bilingualism and Polyvalence

5. The Battle Mural: Violence in the Plaza

Time and Inevitability
Patterns of Naming
The Dangers of Difference
The Battle Mural in Mesoamerican Context

6. The Red Temple: Maize in the Underworld

A Merchant God and His Wares

Painting Luxury

Of Maize, Cacao, and Men
Supernatural Landscape

7. Structure A: The Mountain of Sustenance

The Portico and Jamb Murals: A Portrait of the Altepetl

Guardians and Antecedents
Names and Dates
Duality and Difrasismo
Sustenance Mountain

Continuity and Change

Painted Earth: The Inner Mural
Later Interventions: Blood and Clay

Buried Paintings


Appendix: Radiocarbon Dates for the Cacaxtla Murals

A Review of Radiocarbon Dating and Reporting
Early Classic Radiocarbon Dates at Cacaxtla
Radiocarbon Dates Associated with Mural Painting
Chronology of the Cacaxtla Paintings



Claudia Lozoff Brittenham is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is the coauthor, with Mary Miller, of The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court: Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak and the coauthor, with Stephen Houston and colleagues, of Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color.

"This book will make a major and lasting contribution to the study of Mesoamerican art. . . . I am confident it will be consulted and referred to widely and will be regarded as a methodological benchmark. Although it focuses on a particular set of questions and accompanying answers that reveal the complex links between the [Cacaxtla] paintings, their patrons, artists, and meanings and a wide range of other Mesoamerican sites, imagery, styles, and cultural themes, the breadth of knowledge and intellectual inquisitiveness and sophistication it displays support rating it favorably with, and perhaps higher than, some other key monographs in the field."

Jeff Karl Kowalski, Professor of Art History and Distinguished Research Professor, Northern Illinois University

"An important addition to the scholarship on pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica. The meticulously researched, elegantly written, and richly illustrated study offers a detailed description and astute analysis of the Epiclassic Period murals at Cacaxtla, discovered accidentally by local workers in 1975."


ALAA Book Award, Association for Latin American Art/Arvey Foundation - 2016