On commission from Charles IV, Guillermo Dupaix (ca. 1748–1817), a captain in the army, was sent on three voyages across Mexico in the years 1805, 1806, and 1807 to explore and document the antiquities of New Spain. Accompanying him was an artist, José Luciano Castañeda. No doubt the voyages were spurred by the extraordinary archeological findings in the ancient Maya city of Palenque by Antonio del Rio in 1787. During his three voyages, Dupaix visited many sites, the most notable of them being the Zapotec city of Monte Alban (fl. 1st–9th c.) and Palenque (fl. 7th–9th c); an engraving from the latter city is included in Vistas. Dupaix's richly illustrated work, eventually published in both English and French, shed light on an overshadowed pre–Hispanic past of New Spain, and on cultures other than the well–known Aztecs of Central Mexico.
Visual Culture
Guillermo Dupaix's work on antiquities is marked by a sympathetic curiosity. He was a self–taught archeologist and his explorations were largely superficial ones—he spent only a brief amount of time in each site, and never conducted extensive digging in any. Nonetheless, he was quick to appreciate the achievements of ancient architects and artists at the pre–Hispanic sites he visited. This excerpt comes from his expedition into Oaxaca, where he encountered the architecture and artifacts of the great Zapotec civilization whose ancient center was Monte Alban. At the time he wrote, neither the independence of the Zapotec center from Maya ones (which overlapped in time) and the Aztecs (whose empire was born centuries after the collapse of Monte Alban) was understood, nor was its antiquity. Faced with works from a dimly understood culture, Dupaix's appreciation had its limits, as this excerpt reveals. A man of his time, he held naturalistic figures to be the highest aim of sculpture, and the dramatic and abstracted forms of an ancient Oaxacan urn were clearly antithetical to his tastes.

Making Sense of the Pre-Columbian > Surveying Pre-Columbian    > Images    > Texts    > Bibliography