Frederick Catherwood's Travels to central America are best relished in two volumes of published travel diaries (1841 and 1843) , detailing his archaeological investigations at Copan, then Uxmal and Chichen Itzaq (among other discoveries). The 26 lithographs within Views of Ancient Monuments are vivid, even lurid accounts of the Mayan civilisation. What the plates miss in terms of exactitude, they compensate for with rich, steamy landscapes and dramatically lit monuments.


The Idol and Altar at Copan (no.3 top row) has a dramatic source of light from underneath as if still illuminated by the intensity of past sacrifices and unspeakable and mysterious practices lost in antiquity. Catherwood indulges in dramatic and looming clouds and sudden shafts of sunlight. Several of the images above are derived from wood engravings to the published diaries - see the Lightning Bolt.