Getty Acquires 45 Prints of Ancient Maya Sites

Ruines américaines, Désiré Charnay, (French, 1828-1915) [photographed between 1858 and 1860] printed in 1862. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles

Thomas Gaehtgens, director of the Getty Research Institute said “these visual records of Mesoamerican architecture are an invaluable resource for scholars investigating the history of Maya sites and the manner in which they were documented by 19th-century Europeans using the then new technology of photograph.”

In 1857, Charnay arrived in Southern Mexico amid a civil war and set out to document the culture of the Maya civilization. He photographed the principal sites of Uxmal, Mitla, Izamel, Chichen Itza, and Palenque. His images of palace façades, bas reliefs, gates, and interiors provide detailed accounts of the condition of Maya monuments at the time. Charnay was among the first to use photography to document pre-Columbian architecture. He is primarily known for two bodies of work resulting from his travels—Voyage au Mexique (1857–1860) and Cités et ruines américaines (1862). The album was acquired in a private sale.

Likely a private presentation copy given by Charnay to a close associate, the Getty’s folio album contains 45 albumen prints from these travels, including some of the earliest photographs from Charnay’s Ruines américaines series. The photographs include detailed captions written in pencil that provide information on the dimensions of certain monuments.

The album is a notable addition to the  Getty’s materials concerning Mesoamerican architecture and art. “Photography from and of Mexico is a cornerstone of the GRI’s Latin American collections which already house a number of Charnay’s photographs printed in Mexico City,” said Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute.

In addition to being made available to scholars, the Charnay album has been digitized and available online through the Getty Research Library website.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics