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Picturing Place: Terminal Classic Mural Painting in the Northern Maya Lowlands

Victoria Lyall, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Summer Fellow 2009

My 2009 Dumbarton Oaks Summer Fellowship afforded me the opportunity to complete the first two chapters of my dissertation, which explores Terminal Classic period mural painting (850–1050 AD) from several Pre-Columbian sites in the Yucatan peninsula. This period, following the demise of the southern Maya urban centers, witnessed the dramatic upheaval of established political and social structures, but the florescence of the Northern Lowlands during the Terminal Classic speaks to the singular history of this area. The dearth of local hieroglyphic texts, however, has prevented accurate reconstructions of regional history for this epoch. The explosion of mural painting during this period, executed in a new visual language, offers an alternative avenue to examine and will shed light on the region's development during a two hundred year period. My project's objectives include documenting and drawing the remains of ninth and tenth century mural programs throughout the peninsula. On-site visual analysis and comparative archival research has allowed me to examine the aesthetic shift in Maya artistic practice during this period. Although sites such as Ichmac, Chelemi, Chacmultun, Dzula, and Mulchic have been the subject of individual studies (Thompson 1904; Staines Cicero 1994; Walters and Kowalski 2000), no investigation has addressed these paintings collectively as a corpus produced in the same area within a discrete period. Moreover, the paucity of inscriptions in the northern lowlands has prevented scholars from piecing together local histories as has been done for the southern lowlands. These murals depict scenes of sacrifice, moments of tribute, battles, and military processions, events firmly rooted in lived history and open a window into this historical moment. Little information on these sites and their murals is available in the published record and much of what can be found is out of date or incomplete. I hope that this project will make available new avenues for understanding the history of the region during the Terminal Classic period.