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The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court

The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court
Reflections on the Murals of Bonampak

Lavishly produced with foldout images of a major new full-color scale reconstruction of the Bonampak murals, as well as hundreds of photographs and infrared images, many never before published, this landmark in book publishing is the most thorough and thought-provoking study of one of the masterpieces of New World art.

Series: William and Bettye Nowlin Endowment

Published in cooperation with the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico
May 2013
Out of stock indefinitely
285 pages | 11 x 13 | color and b&w illus. |

Located within the deep tropical rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico, the Maya site of Bonampak is home to the most complete and magnificent mural program of the ancient Americas. In three rooms, a pageant of rulership opens up, scene by scene, like pages of an ancient Maya book. Painted c. AD 800, the murals of Bonampak reveal a complex and multifaceted view of the ancient Maya at the end of their splendor during the last days of the Classic era. Members of the royal court engage in rituals and perform human sacrifice, dance in extravagant costumes and strip the clothing from fallen captives, acknowledge foreign nobles, and receive abundant tribute. The murals are a powerful and sophisticated reflection on the spectacle of courtly life and the nature of artistic practice, a window onto a world that could not know its doomed future.

This major new study of the paintings of Bonampak incorporates insights from decades of art historical, epigraphic, and technical investigation of the murals, framing questions about artistic conception, facture, narrative, performance, and politics. Lavishly illustrated, this book assembles thorough documentation of the Bonampak mural program, from historical photographs of the paintings—some never before published—to new full-color reconstructions by artist Heather Hurst, recipient of a MacArthur award, and Leonard Ashby. The book also includes a catalog of photographs, infrared images, and line drawings of the murals, as well as images of all the glyphic texts, which are published in their entirety for the first time. Written in an engaging style that invites both specialists and general readers alike, this book will stand as the definitive presentation of the paintings for years to come.


View the full insert here.

  • List of Tables
  • List of Illustrations
  • Preface, by Mary Miller
  • Chapter 1. Introduction
  • Chapter 2. Artistic Conception
    • Principles
    • Program
    • Planning and Execution
  • Chapter 3. The Story in the Murals
    • Sequence
    • Text and Image
    • Crowded Courts, Absent Kings
  • Chapter 4. Time, Motion, and Performance
    • Performing Victory in Room 2
    • The Performative Now in Room 1
    • Dance, Performance, and Death in Room 3
  • Chapter 5. Art and Politics
    • Art and Collapse
    • The Disintegrating Usumacinta
    • After the Fall
  • Chapter 6. Conclusion
  • Catalog
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Mary Miller is Dean of Yale College and Sterling Professor of the History of Art at Yale University. One of the world’s foremost experts on Maya art, she is the author of Art of Meosamerica and coauthor of Blood of Kings (with Linda Schele) and The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya (with Simon Martin). In 2010 she delivered the 59th A. W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art. Miller is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the recipient of many national awards and fellowships.

Claudia Brittenham is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago. She is a coauthor of Veiled Brightness: A History of Ancient Maya Color and the author of a forthcoming book on the murals of Cacaxtla, Mexico.


“The book is lavishly illustrated, and the photographic record within is invaluable. The latter part of the book consists of an extensive catalogue of color and infrared images as well as large-scale color reproductions of the reconstruction paintings, presented as inserts. Summing Up: Highly recommended.”
Choice magazine

“The Spectacle of the Late Maya Court is a comprehensive study of a single artistic program that greatly advances our understanding of the potential for images to picture noble power amid the turbulence of the southern lowland Maya collapse. ...Miller and Brittenham’s volume provides a vital opportunity for scholars and advanced students to be enveloped by Bonampak’s twelve walls and carefully examine a summative artistic program that vividly illustrates why depictions of courtly spectacle mattered for assertions of royal power in the Late Classic Maya world.”
CAA Reviews

“I can say without reservation that this book is destined to become a standard reference for future scholarship on the pivotal role of images in the highly charged political atmosphere of the Late Classic Maya realm. Just as the authors praise the Bonampak murals as ‘summary works’ of their era, the book is itself a kind of masterful culmination of over thirty years of engagement with these paintings, certainly on the part of Mary Miller. This comes across in the intimate, close reading of the murals written in eloquent, at times passionate, prose, obviously the result of deep familiarity and intellectual fermentation. . . . The book offers a number of theoretical discussions about Maya art, concerning, for instance, the construction of narrative and political rhetoric and artistic decision-making that are highly original and will establish benchmarks in the field. The publication of hundreds of illustrations will serve as a source of new data for future work on Maya art.”
Andrea Stone, Professor of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and author of Images from the Underworld: Naj Tunich and the Tradition of Maya Cave Painting