pre hispanic art

José María Obregón [Mexican. 1832–1902]
The Discovery of Pulque 1869

A taste for pre-Hispanic topics sprang up in the National Fine Arts School after the restoration of the Republic in 1867 and constituted the way in which the said institution played its part in the changes set in motion by the liberals, who promoted cultural manifestations based on the recounting of history, with stress being placed on certain aspects of the pre-Hispanic civilizations.

In 1869, José María Obregón, one of the students in the schools painting department, decided, under his teachers’ guidance, to depict a legendary scene from Mexican history, in the form of an incident said to have taken place around 900 A.C., when the Toltec culture, centered on what is now the city of Tula, was in its heyday. Obregón peoples his oblong-shaped composition with idealized indigenous figures, dressed in exotic garb, inside a palace-like building with Toltec features.

The story concerns a young woman called Xóchitl who, led forward by her parents, is offering Tecpancaltzin, the King of Tula, a gourd filled with the drink, called pulque, that she has discovered. Struck by her beauty, the King marries her. In 1880, the historian, Manuel Orozco y Berra, questioned this version, asserting that the account had erroneously arisen from a misreading of a neo-Hispanic documentary source, the drink in question really being a mead-like beverage obtained from honey by decanting it until only a sugary residue is left. The alcoholic drink called pulque (sometimes also referred to as octli) has been known in Mesoamerica for over 2,500 years. This work was shown at the XIVth Exhibition of the National Fine Arts School in 1869.


Cueva de las Manos (Spanish for Cave of Hands) is a cave or a series of caves located in the province of Santa Cruz, Argentina, 163 km (101 mi) south of the town of Perito Moreno. It is famous for (and gets its name from) the paintings of hands. The art in the cave dates from 13,000 to 9,000 years ago. Several waves of people occupied the cave, and early artwork has been carbon-dated to ca. 9300 BP (about 7300 BC).The age of the paintings was calculated from the remains of bone-made pipes used for spraying the paint on the wall of the cave to create silhouettes of hands. The site was last inhabited around 700 AD, possibly by ancestors of the Tehuelche people.


Plazuelas (600-900 CE)  is a prehispanic archaeological site located just north of San Juan el Alto, some 2.7 kilometers (1.57 mi.) north of federal highway 90 (Pénjamo-Guadalajara), and about 11 kilometers (6.8 mi.) west of the city of Pénjamo in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico.  The original settlement was considerably larger, with a large, circular structure called El Cajete marking its eastern extent. According to INAH, site remains and evidence confirms the influence of many cultures merging on this site, although it is not certainly known who constructed this city, INAH believes the hunter-gatherer Chichimecas inhabited the Bajio region at the end of the postclassical period, and that many other sedentary cultures lived here before, but these cultures are not mentioned nor identified.

Click pictures for captions.


Sayil, Yucatan, Mexico

Se cree que Sayil y los otros sitios en la región Puuc ocuparon un espacio histórico importante, en la transición del periodo clásico tardío, cuando sobrevino el colapso maya, que despobló la región de las tierras bajas mayas, en el Petén guatemalteco, al periodo posclásico. La breve ocupación del sitio de Sayil, permite inferir que la ciudad se desarrolló a partir de otro yacimiento menor, llamado Chaac II, que había sido ocupado antes, hacia el siglo V d. C.16 Pruebas de Radiocarbono y otras técnicas que permiten la datación de los sitios, como la llamada de hidratación de la obsidiana, ubican a Sayil relativamente temprano, en el clásico tardío. Vestigios de cerámica, por otro lado, recuperados del palacio de Sayil, indican intercambios con la región del Petén, precismante en esa época. Lo mismo ocurre con los artefactos de obsidiana encontrados, que señalan la dominancia de las rutas comerciales hacia el sur de la región Puuc, cuando Sayil estaba siendo construido.

Sayil and other Puuc sites are thought to occupy an important place in the transition from Classic Period Maya culture to Postclassic society, experiencing a brief cultural florescence during the Terminal Classic, shortly after the Classic Maya abandonment had depopulated the Maya lowlands. The brief occupational history of the site has raised the possibility that Sayil developed from an earlier settlement known as Chac II, a small archaeological site in the same valley that was occupied as early as the fifth century AD. Radiocarbon and obsidian hydration dating place Sayil relatively early in the Terminal Classic. Ceramic remains recovered from the Palace indicate trade with the Petén region of Guatemala during the Late Classic, and the Guatemalan origin of obsidian artifacts suggest that Classic-period trade routes were dominant when the monumental architecture at Sayil was built. Although Sayil’s origins lie in the Late Classic, the Terminal Classic saw the period of most rapid expansion.

Photos taken by me


Polychrome vessel

Central coast, Peru. Chancay. 1000 AD to 1470 AD

The Chancay art style dominated Peru’s Central Coast during the Late Intermediate Period, although there was no centralized, overarching state authority ruling the region. Textiles and pottery were the primary artistic media, the former being among the most colorful, visually complex, and technically excellent weavings ever produced in Peru. Chancay pottery, on the other hand, is often rather casually or carelessly painted, its slip characterized by a matte surface finish and a palette restricted to white and black (with the infrequent addition of red or beige). The low-fired Chancay ceramics make them susceptible to surface damage, unlike the earlier pottery of the Moche, Nasca, and Waricultures. On the other hand, Chancay painting can be as lively as that of any Andean tradition. The acute difference in quality between Chancay ceramics and textiles reflects sociopolitical divisions in Chancay culture. Burial patterns indicate that the painted ceramics were consumed by all levels of Chancay society, whereas fine textiles and precious metal objects were restricted to members of higher status. As elsewhere in the Andean world, artistic quality and materials conveyed messages of hierarchy and power. This tall, narrow vessel features the frontal rendering of a male figure. He grasps a puma-headed staff in each hand, and two serpent-headed rays emanate from his head. These pan-Andean features link the figure to traditional depictions of supernatural beings or deities and shamans. The bird painted at the top of the vessel reflects this theme in its crescent-shaped head adornment, which distinguishes the “Sicán Deity” or “Sicán Lord,” who may be a culture hero or a deity among cultures to the north. The “Sicán Lord” is associated primarily with the Sicán and later Chimú societies of the North Coast, although the Chimú extended their influence over the Chancay people at the end of the Late Intermediate Period. It is not improbable that this symbol of divinity and/or sacred ancestry was adopted by the Chancay. The painter of this tall vessel animated the scene by filling the background with black avian footprints, which, at the least, lend motion to the bird if not implying its ritual performance.

The Walters