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The Lost Cities of the Maya: The Life, Art, and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood

The Lost Cities of the Maya: The Life, Art, and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood

by Fabio Bourbon
In 1839, British artist Frederick Catherwood and his American companion, John Lloyd Stephans, were the first Westerners to view the immense terraces, fabulous temples, and elaborate palaces of the Mayans' lost cities. Through their published journals, enhanced by extensive research, Fabio Bourbon has pieced together Catherwood's fascinating and mysterious


In 1839, British artist Frederick Catherwood and his American companion, John Lloyd Stephans, were the first Westerners to view the immense terraces, fabulous temples, and elaborate palaces of the Mayans' lost cities. Through their published journals, enhanced by extensive research, Fabio Bourbon has pieced together Catherwood's fascinating and mysterious life—including his other expeditions to Egypt, Central America, and California. More than 200 reproductions of Catherwood's original drawings appear throughout, including a rare color portfolio considered his finest work.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Frederick Catherwood was an adventurer and artist with extraordinary talent in both fields. Catherwood, an Englishman, and his American partner, John Lloyd Stephens, were responsible for discovering the ruins of the Maya in Central America. This almost unparalleled archeological adventure was chronicled by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood. Their journals were published in 1841 and 1843. This volume includes biographical information about the mysterious and elusive Catherwood, and more than 200 engravings made from his drawings. The artwork is a fascinating, exotic, and detailed study of Mayan buildings, bas-relief sculpture, stelae and the jungle. Many of the illustrations include the laborers clearing the archeological sites. This stunning book gives a feel for the enormous challenges the jungle presented and the absolute wonder of the great discoveries of this ancient civilization. The ultimate coffee table book for the archaeologically inclined. 1999, Abbeville Press,
Library Journal
Part adventure story, part archaeological study, part travel sketchbook, this handsomely illustrated book chronicles the discoveries of respected London artist Frederick Catherwood. In 1839, Catherwood and his American companion, John Lloyd Stephens, were the first Westerners to view the "lost" Mayan cities of the Yucatan Peninsula. Stephens's lively travel diaries, superbly illustrated by Catherwood, were then published in 1841 and 1843. Based on these journals and extensive research, Bourbon (coauthor of Ancient Rome: History of a Civilization That Ruled the World) has pieced together Catherwood's fascinating biography. Illustrated with more than 200 engravings, taken from Catherwood's original drawings, this work also reproduces Catherwood's Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan--a rare color portfolio considered to be his best work. Catherwood's other adventures are detailed, including his trips to Europe and Egypt, as well as what is known of his personal life. Very few books have been written about Catherwood, and this one is reasonably priced, especially for its quality and size. It will appeal to anyone interested in exploration, architecture, or archaeology and is recommended for larger public libraries, academic libraries, and specialized collections.--Sylvia Andrews, Indiana State Lib., Indianapolis Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\

Product Details

White Star Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
10.40(w) x 14.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt


One day in 1839, two intrepid explorers—one English, Frederick Catherwood, and the other American, John Lloyd Stephens—climbed the crumbling steps of the pyramids in the Mayan city of Copán. The pyramids had been overgrown by the jungle and their origins forgotten by the inhabitants of the region. The two were the first westerners to be aware of what was before them as they explored the immense terraces, the magnificent temples and the palaces that had been mysteriously abandoned centuries earlier. The city had been ignored by the Spanish conquistadors and had fallen into oblivion as it was slowly swallowed up by the luxuriant vegetation of the tropical forest. Human footsteps echoed once more between the crumbling walls of those extraordinary buildings as, filled with excitement, the pair studied inscriptions in an incomprehensible language, ran their hands over stone carvings and stuccoes created with superb workmanship and explored darkened rooms with the help of flickering oil lamps.

That episode in 1839 changed the lives of the two men and meant that the history of the civilizations of Central America had to be rewritten, for on that day, among the stelae raised by the ancient lords of Copán, the Maya came back to life.

Later, Stephens and Catherwood also discovered the ruins of Palenque, Uxmal, Chichen Itzá, Kabah, Sayil and many other cities overgrown by the forest. They brought to light the magnificent remains of a refined civilization that had inexplicably disappeared. Theirs was one of the most extraordinary archaeological adventures of all times and we shall journey through it with them thanks to the talent of FrederickCatherwood, the superb illustrator of the two travel diaries written by Stephens published in 1841 and 1843. For the first time, a selection of the more than two hundred engravings taken from the original drawings of the English artist have been collected in one volume and have been coloured by hand paying absolute faith to the text. In addition there is the reproduction of the whole of the very rare colour version of Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, the portfolio of twenty-six lithographs considered to be Catherwood's masterpiece.

The following pages describe the life of a man who was not just unusual in many ways but downright mysterious. As the reader will soon realize from this biography—which owes a great debt to the work of Victor Wolfgang von Hagen—the figure of Frederick Catherwood remains an enigma to this day. First of all, we do not know what the man looked like: not a single picture of Catherwood exists today. William Brockedon, an artist who portrayed a great number of distinguished men at that time, ignored him completely and even his friends did not oblige us with a description of him. Secondly, it is almost impossible to discover any personal details about the man or his personality. Even his most intimate friends have not left us a line about his character, his interests or his good and bad points. He was the friend of great poets and artists but he was not referred to by any of them unless fleetingly. And yet Catherwood was an architect, an artist worthy of being a member of the Royal Academy and, above all, an archaeologist and explorer who made extraordinary discoveries. Even more disconcerting is the fact that of his enormous graphical, pictorial and cartographic output—hundreds of examples from views of Rome and Jerusalem to the ruins of ancient Egypt and classical Greece—only a fraction has survived, which deals almost exclusively with the Maya ruins of Central America. Much of this diverse material has been destroyed by accident, more has been lost for various reasons and who knows how much may still be hidden in the immense collections of the British Museum and never systematically studied. Modest to excess, Catherwood did very little to bring himself to public notice or to recognize the value of his work (which, objectively speaking, was of great documentary importance); however, it is also true that several of his contemporaries may have been able to benefit from his pathological reserve. For example, unscrupulous editors almost certainly published numerous views taken from Catherwood's works which he sold for little money or lent to deceitful engravers who left off his name. The academic world of the time, as we shall see when discussing James Fergusson, was at least in part responsible for this calamitous diaspora: for reasons of envy, for fear of new ideas or for obtuse partisanship to the then current theories. It is also to be expected that his drawings came into the hands of private collectors who would have had no desire to publicize their purchases.

What has remained, however, is enough to show incontrovertibly that Frederick Catherwood was an exceptional documenter and an extraordinary artist. He had a spirit in which the flame of curiosity, knowledge and culture burnt bright. Despite its limitations, this book is a tribute to one of the major figures of the 19th century who inexplicably remained in the shadow until recent times and whose splendid work is almost unknown to the general public.

Meet the Author

Fabio Bourbon writes and edits books about art and ancient civilizations. He lives in Italy.

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