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Art and Architecture

pulley system, European exploration, Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian Art, wagon wheel

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Pre-Columbian Art and Architecture, the art and architecture of the indigenous civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes and of neighboring cultures before the 16th century ad.

For 3000 years before the European exploration and colonization of the western hemisphere, the Native Americans of Latin America developed civilizations that rivaled the artistic and intellectual accomplishments of ancient China, India, Mesopotamia, and the Mediterranean world. The quality of these accomplishments is even more impressive because much of the essential technology of eastern hemisphere civilizations was unknown to the Native American. The wheel, for instance, was used in Mesoamerica only for toys and was never developed into the potter's wheel, wagon wheel, or pulley system. Metal tools were rarely used, and then only in the last stages of pre-Columbian history. The elaborate sculptures and intricate jade ornaments of the Maya, therefore, were accomplished by carving stone with stone.

Pre-Columbian and post-Columbian Native American art and architecture evince a concern with the relation both of the structure to its environment and of the object to its material. This regard for nature resulted in an aesthetic rooted in an awareness of natural dualities—day and night, sun and moon, land and water, life and death. The tension in most Native American art, therefore, is derived from the contrast of opposing design elements such as light and dark, open and closed compositions, the static form and the mobile form, the realistic and the abstract, and the plain and the ornate.


Pre-Columbian art and architecture

Baudez, Claude F. Maya Sculpture of Copan: The Iconography. University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. Highly detailed and well-illustrated study of Classic Maya sculptural programs.

Benson, Elizabeth P., and others, eds. Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico. Abrams, 1996. Catalog of a comprehensive exhibition of Olmec art.

Bercht, Fatima, and Estrellita Brodsky, eds. Taino: Pre-Columbian Art and Culture from the Caribbean. Monacelli, 1997. Catalog of a landmark exhibition held at El Museo del Barrio in New York City.

Berrin, Kathleen, and Esther Pasztory, eds. Teotihuacan: Art from the City of the Gods. Thames & Hudson, 1993. Beautifully illustrated catalog of more than 200 objects from the ancient city-state.

Burger, Richard L. Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. Thames & Hudson, 1992. Scholarly investigations into an early Peruvian art tradition.

Carrasco, David, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma. Moctezuma's Mexico: Visions of the Aztec World. University Press of Colorado, 1992. Beautifully illustrated overview of Aztec art.

Covarrubias, Miguel. Indian Art of Mexico and Central America. Knopf, 1957. Superbly illustrated description of pre-Hispanic art.

Gasparini, Graziano, and Luise Margolies. Inca Architecture. University of Indiana Press, 1980. Illustrated survey of urban settlements, homes, and religious buildings.

Kubler, George. The Art and Architecture of Ancient America. 3rd ed. Penguin, 1992. Mexican, Maya, Inca, Central American, Colombian, and Ecuadorian art.

Markman, Peter T., and Roberta H. Markman. Masks of the Spirit: Image and Metaphor in Mesoamerica. University of California Press, 1989, 1994. Thorough study of Mexican ritual masks.

Miller, Mary Ellen. The Art of Mesoamerica: From Olmec to Aztec. Rev. ed. Thames & Hudson, 1996. Well-illustrated survey.

Moseley, Michael Edward. The Incas and their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. Thames & Hudson, 1992. An archaeological investigation into ancient Peruvian cultures.

Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Kimbell Art Museum, 1986. Braziller, 1992. Illustrated examination of Maya art and society.

Stone-Miller, Rebecca. Art of the Andes: From Chavin to Inca. Thames & Hudson, 1996. Thorough review of Andean cultures.


Loescher, Robert J., Ph.D. Professor and Chair, Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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Article key phrases:

pulley system, European exploration, Mesoamerica, Pre-Columbian Art, wagon wheel, Mesopotamia, Andes, western hemisphere, colonization, Pre-Columbian, Metal tools, Maya, sun, India, moon, toys, water, architecture, light, century, death, life, potter, concern, relation, land, stone, structure, instance, environment, night, object, quality, day, open, years

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