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Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History Essays

Monte Albán: Stone Sculpture

The stone sculpture of Monte Albán is worked primarily in low relief on slabs that were used as architectural elements such as wall facings, stair treads, and door jambs, the latter frequently on tombs. A tradition for warrior imagery, particularly images of defeated captives as in the so-called Danzante sculptures, began early in the region and had a long history at the hilltop urban center. Depictions of rulers in various ceremonial and/or costumed guises include references to their exploits as warriors and conquerors. Many rulers are named in the hieroglyphic inscriptions that appear on the carvings; the inscriptions too detail the very competitive nature of Oaxaca society at the time. A number of monuments feature a ruler named 12 Jaguar, who inaugurated his reign—perhaps in the third century—with the dedication of the great South Platform. His carved stones were placed into the facing of the pyramid and included scenes of visitors from the powerful central Mexico city of Teotihuacan. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on the sculptures refer to 12 Jaguar’s right to rule, among other topics. The stones themselves could be reused by the carving of alternate faces, and by moving them to different locations. At one time or another, some of the carved reliefs may have been grouped to form a kind of narrative scene.

Mortuary practices at Monte Albán were complex, with much attention directed to the embellishment of the tombs themselves. Walls were elaborated with stucco and stone sculpture, and decorated with murals. Paired door jambs, facing out from the tomb, had well-carved reliefs that were particularly significant.