REPORT ON THE COLUMNS IN THE TEMPLE OF THE WARRIORS[1]

Jean Charlot

This report concerns itself only with the columns of the two rooms of the upper temple, since only those columns were studied this season.  Those twenty columns and four door jambs were copied in pen and ink and in color.  The first room contains twelve of them, the second room, eight.  The arches in the first room run parallel to the facade and in the second room at right angle to them.  They are numbered in this order.  The four sides of each column are called according to direction, N.E.S.W. 

MATERIAL.  These columns are made of a relatively soft white stone, each column being composed of an arbitrary number of square drums, whose height varies from twenty centimeters to one meter.  These drums are joined by lime mortar, and the space between them is filled with stucco, modeled to follow the faces sculptured in stone, some of it being still in place.  The stone was worked with a tool little harder than the stone itself, if one can judge so by the irregularity of the carved lines and a visible concern to avoid deep carving and spheric modeling.  The drums were put in place before carving.  The lines were sketched on the flattened face of the stone, and the silhouette of the figure was relieved by cutting down the background some few centimeters.  The inside lines were traced by diagonal incision and the lightest ones by scratching .  This apparent primitiveness must not be judged as a sign of incapacity of the worker, who had skill enough to carve in full volume the atlantean figures of the altar and the beautiful seated figures of the facade. 

The sculpture on the columns was considered only as a sort of skeleton to be clothed entirely by painting.  The suggestion of volume, the correct drawing, and the details were to be worked out with paint, so much so that in the darker parts of the temple, the sculpture was limited to a few rough lines scratched on a stucco preparation.

The painter worked with two different kinds of colors––one opaque and solid enough to be applied directly on the surface of the stone and used sometimes only as the ground for finer color; the other was applied al fresco on a preparation of white which showed through the transparent finer color, the same effects being obtained here as in the wall murals.  The line is elegant, tapering from broad to narrow by imperceptible nuances.  This and the boldness of the curves show that the brushes must have been of carefully chosen long hairs pointed when wet like a Japanese watercolor brush.  The colors used, listed according to quantity: an opaque, dull red near the Indian red made of a decoction of an indigenous wood, which is still used in wall painting; this red forms all the backgrounds, and since it is one of the most permanent colors, still retains in many places its brilliancy.  A blue––when opaque a sort of dark Prussian blue, when transparent nearer the cerulean––was used for all the frames around the pictures.  This blue was the dominant note in the ensemble and was especially associated with the sacrificial ceremonies.  A green, a yellow, and black.  These colors were given variety[2] by mixing, so that in practice, the number of colors is unlimited. 

The colors were not laid in outlined flat tones, but irregularly distributed, the brushstrokes suggesting movement and volume.  Black or red lines drawn freely on that colored background described such minute details as the feathers or the stones in a mosaic, the strings and the polychrome patterns of the sandals, the nails, the hair and eyebrows.  Different layers of color can be distinguished, each different from the other, the last being especially prodigal of contrasted black and white. 

The diversity of that decoration was enriched by incrustations of white mother-of-pearl, black obsidian, and very probably of colored beads whose place is shown now only by an empty hole in the stone surface.  If polychrome added diversity, it also added clarity, for each object was traditionally a certain color, and this and the line reinforced the idea of the object.  Feathers were green or blue, jewels blue when turquoise, green when malachite or jade.  The metals were[3] yellow when gold or copper.  The greatest variety is to be noted in the colors of the skin, which run from a sort of grayish yellow to pure black, through all shades of red.  Even bodies striped blue or red and white can be found.  Such differences would be hard to explain ethnologically, and to understand them one must remember the war-paints and tattoos of which all Spanish writers give full descriptions.  

SUBJECT MATTER: Each side of the columns is divided into three parts, the middle one being by far the most important.  The lower part, practically a square, contains the well known composite representation of Quetzalcoatl as a human face in the serpent jaws of an animal with bird’s claws and quetzal head-dress.  The human face wears nose and ear plugs, and the eyes are sometimes circular like those of Tlaloc.  The serpent part wears nose plugs, and the bird part, jade bracelets.  The skin is red, the jewels green, the necklace one strand green, one red, and one of black and white feathers, which form also the top of the nose plug.  The head-dress is of long green feathers waving out of shorter yellow ones.  All those figures (ninety-two, counting the twelve on the door jamb), though identical[4] in subject, present an extraordinary variety in line and proportion.  Such an insistence on carrying everywhere the Quetzalcoatl motif suggests strongly that the whole temple was consecrated to him.  

The upper part, also practically square, contains a representation of the god seen in profile “diving” from a Toltec-like solar disk seen in perspective as a half circle from which pyramidal rays go out.  The god holds his atlatl (or spear-thrower) in one hand and in the other two weapons.  He is dressed in a skirt tied fast by a wide belt, wears bracelets on his wrists and sometimes a breast shield.  His complicated head-dress, different in each case, is sometimes made of long trimmed feathers and at others presents a chiseled human face, very much in the style of one of the head-dresses of the Santa Rita painting.  One of those gods carries a round basket containing probably some magic preparation.  The skin is red or yellow; the jewels green or blue; the atlatl is of black and white feather work; the solid disk is formed in three zones, from inside out, green, red, and yellow; the pyramidal rays are painted red.  The evident meaning of that figure is a supernatural protection brought down upon the human figure below.  

The middle zone is in the shape of a quite elongated rectangle.  It contain one human figure with legs and face and profile, the torso and arms being in different positions.  The drawing is remarkably sure, and the perspective exact.  The figures are placed in such a way as to form processions going from the sides to the center of the temple and from the back to the front, while the four figures on the same column present also some affinity: some columns being devoted to the representation of people wearing ceremonial masks, others to priests in long robes, etc.  Though the majority of figures carry the spear-thrower and a handful of spears, the whole attitude is more religious than bellicose.  Perhaps the spear-thrower is used only as a ceremonial object.  They wear feather rings on their ankles and around their knees, turquoise bracelets, and necklaces with metal “repoussés”; the breast and right arm are bare, the left arm is covered with a kind of voluminous protective sleeve, probably one of those cotton shields that they were still wearing at the time of the conquest.  There are nose- and ear-plugs of all shapes.  The hair is long and braided, hanging on the shoulders under voluminous head-dresses of feathers or flowers, many of them presenting the sacred bluebird on the forehead.  Some are disguised as birds, with birds’ claws and bird masks, one being of an owl and the others possibly eagle and quetzal.  One has the Mexican tiger head-dress with a face inside the jaws; another wears a skull mask with fleshless teeth and flint in the hollow nose.  Priests offer bread-like objects, very probably copal, to be burned, or act as the god himself, with face concealed under the god’s mask with its long ornamental yellow nose.  An old medicine woman with naked breasts and wrinkled face carries a basket of magic concoction in the same way as do the modern yerbateras.  On the door-jambs bearded atlanteans raise their arms.  Faces of all ages and races with Jewish and Roman noses are found, so characteristic that they must be mostly actual portraits, such as an old tattooed chief, with leg cut off at the knee.  

ART STYLE.  Though the sculptured line is about the only thing left of those works of art that were essentially paintings, this is enough to enable one to get an idea of the style.  If all art evolution passes through a period called primitive, where strong convention rules representation, then through a period of classicism, where nature and style are fairly equilibriated, and at last through a  period of eclecticism, where the artist works freely with full knowledge of the past, the columns of the Temple of Warriors are certainly of that third period.  No special convention rules them; the sculpture represents with the same mastery the beauty of a young warrior and the ugliness of the old woman, which is characteristic of a late period.  Furthermore, the pseudo-primitivism of the line, which conceals under an apparent carelessness a perfect knowledge of perspective, and the extremely elongated proportions point to a late period.  This is confirmed by the fact that the columns of the buried temple,[5] evidently earlier, are of a style much nearer that of the Castillo or of the Tigers.  The Temple of the Warriors is then certainly later than the others.  

 

 



[1] This typescript was quoted in part in Sylvanus G. Morley: “Archaeology,” Carnegie Institution of Washington Year Book No. 25, July 1, 1925, to June 30, 1926, Carnegie Institution of Washington, Washington D.C., pp. 259–286: pp. 262 f.  Jean Charlot wrote “Rapport 1926” in the top left corner of the first page.  The section “MATERIAL” is marked “ą employer” ‘to use’ and “réemployer” ‘reuse.’  Lightly edited by John Charlot.

[2] Original: varied. 

[3] Original: are.

[4] Original: identically. 

[5] Editor: the temple discovered inside the Temple of the Warriors.