I know how much you guys love my posts about art lectures, so here’s another one!
Last night I went to a lecture at my place of employment–The DePaul Art Museum–for a lecture by Dr. Claudia Brittenham of the University of Chicago on the subject of her forthcoming book on the Cacaxtla Murals from the 8th to 10th century. Her argument focused on the use of varying pigments (down to the different materials that make all the reds and green-blues, etc.) as a fundamental conveyor of symbolic meaning. However, the material difference of these pigments would be virtually undetectable by anyone without this set of technical knowledge. Even though Dr. Brittenham offered up other examples of the “invisible” image of Meso-American art (like the most intricate details of a piece appearing on the bottle of a vase) this limited access to the murals bugged me. The vase or bottle is a personal object that not that many people have access to originally anyway. However at least one of the murals, the battle scene, was in a very public space (the Acropolis) and so the vast majority of those interacting with the mural would be the general public. It seems contradictory to the fundamental role of murals to place so much emphasis on an aspect that so few of the Cacaxtalans would be able to read.
Regardless, it was an interesting, thorough presentation on pre-modern murals in Mexico. Plus the murals, despite their unfortunate condition today, are pretty wicked, with battle and harvest scenes full of beautiful imagery alluding to both the Mayans to the south and the defeated Teotihuacan.