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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Cacaxtla painting tradition: Art and identity in epiclassic Mexico
by Brittenham, Claudia Lozoff, Ph.D., Yale University, 2008, 537; 3317260
Abstract (Summary)

During the tumultuous period between A.D. 650 and 950, artists at the Central Mexican city of Cacaxtla produced a series of murals that bear striking stylistic and technical similarities to the paintings of Maya city-states over 400 miles to the south. Life-sized images of gods, historical figures, and supernatural creatures lined the walls of the city's most important sacred and public spaces, structuring civic experience and articulating a vision of the Cacaxtla polity. Although these works have often been attributed to imported Maya artists, this dissertation argues that the Cacaxtla murals constitute a sustained and distinctive painting tradition, which departed from Maya origins in response to profoundly local concerns.

The Cacaxtla paintings commemorate a transitional moment in Central Mexican art and history. Following the collapse of the Teotihuacan empire, patrons and painters at Cacaxtla mobilized a discourse of style and ethnicity to distance themselves from their former imperial allies, actively associating themselves with the alternative political model of the exotic and wealthy Maya city-states to the south. Artists at Cacaxtla combined themes familiar from Teotihuacan and forms from the Maya area to create an innovative synthesis which in many elements anticipates Aztec art of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

While the Cacaxtla paintings appear strikingly Maya at first glance, both their style and their content diverge in significant ways from the Maya paintings that they so closely resemble. A substantial number of artists worked in this distinctive style over the course of generations of dramatic architectural change at the city. The surviving Cacaxtla paintings were carefully buried when covered by new construction, a testament to their centrality to Cacaxtla civic and ritual life. The Cacaxtla painting tradition may have begun as something foreign and exotic, but it became the dominant form of monumental art at the city and was transformed into a symbol of local identity through the agency of its citizens. Thus, the art of Cacaxtla challenges the elision of style and ethnicity that has frequently characterized Mesoamerican studies, demonstrating how choices about style can be active and political.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Miller, Mary Ellen
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 69/06, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Archaeology, Latin American history, Art history
Keywords: Cacaxtla, Civic identity, Epiclassic, Mexico, Mural painting, Painting, Precolumbian, Style
Publication Number: 3317260
ISBN: 978-0-549-65289-2
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