I want to be able to 'read' the buildings, sculptures and wall paintings that are the subject of my painting collection of Unesco World Heritage Sites. I research thoroughly. This makes for a slow process but it's so worth it. I discover so much more than I could have imagined. I am particularly interested in how the artists made their paints. Where did they find the pigments, what plants or minerals dit they use?
For my "Uxmal, Payramid of the Magician" painting I researched the particular Maya blue that was used. The composition of Maya blue, which is almost impervious to age, weather and even modern solvents, remained a mystery until the 1960s, when chemists deciphered its components: the dye indigo and a clay mineral known as palygorskite, which when mixed together and then heated produces the pigment.
Researchers found samples of high-purity palygorskite clay in several locations on the Yucatan Peninsula, in a 40 km radius of Uxmal, a Maya archaeological site. Maya Blue can be found in sculptures, fresco paintings, codices and pre-Columbian decorations across Mesoamerica, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.
There is also a morbid side to Maya blue..... if you don't have a strong stomach please don't read any further!
Maya blue was also the color of Chaak, the rain god, and of human sacrifice. When the skies looked too much like Maya blue — cloudless and dry — the Maya sometimes selected an unlucky victim(s) to be painted this color and sacrificed to Chaak in hopes that the rains would follow. An account by a 16th-century Spanish priest described rituals where victims were stripped, painted and thrown onto a stone altar where their hearts, still beating, were cut out. I recently saw the movie "Apocalypto". which shows the sacrificial offerings in full detail. Suffice it to say, I wish I had never watched it. Don't say I didn't warn you!
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