Painting the Skin
328 pages, 7 x 10
85 b&w illustrations, 6 maps, 32-page color insert, 8 tables
Release Date:11 Jun 2019

Painting the Skin

Pigments on Bodies and Codices in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

The University of Arizona Press
Mesoamerican communities past and present are characterized by their strong inclination toward color and their expert use of the natural environment to create dyes and paints. In pre-Hispanic times, skin was among the preferred surfaces on which to apply coloring materials. Archaeological research and historical and iconographic evidence show that, in Mesoamerica, the human body—alive or dead—received various treatments and procedures for coloring it.

Painting the Skin brings together exciting research on painted skins in Mesoamerica. Chapters explore the materiality, uses, and cultural meanings of the colors applied to a multitude of skins, including bodies, codices made of hide and vegetal paper, and even building “skins.” Contributors offer physicochemical analysis and compare compositions, manufactures, and attached meanings of pigments and colorants across various social and symbolic contexts and registers. They also compare these Mesoamerican colors with those used in other ancient cultures from both the Old and New Worlds. This cross-cultural perspective reveals crucial similarities and differences in the way cultures have painted on skins of all types.

Examining color in Mesoamerica broadens understandings of Native religious systems and world views. Tracing the path of color use and meaning from pre-Columbian times to the present allows for the study of the preparation, meanings, social uses, and thousand-year origins of the coloring materials used by today’s Indigenous peoples.


María Isabel Álvarez Icaza Longoria
Christine Andraud
Bruno Giovanni Brunetti
David Buti
Davide Domenici
Élodie Dupey García
Tatiana Falcón Álvarez
Anne Genachte-Le Bail
Fabrice Goubard
Aymeric Histace
Patricia Horcajada Campos
Stephen Houston
Olivia Kindl
Bertrand Lavédrine
Linda R. Manzanilla Naim
Anne Michelin
Costanza Miliani
Virgina E. Miller
Sélim Natahi
Fabien Pottier
Patricia Quintana Owen
Franco D. Rossi
Antonio Sgamellotti
Vera Tiesler
Aurélie Tournié
María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual
Cristina Vidal Lorenzo

‘The contributors present cutting-edge research using materials sciences to deepen our understanding of cultural practices associated with painting various types of skin, including human bodies and the surfaces of screenfold books. Each of the well-written chapters adds another layer of depth to the discussion.’—Gabrielle Vail, co-author of Re-Creating Primordial Time: Foundation Rituals and Mythology in the Postclassic Maya Codices
Élodie Dupey García serves as a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas at UNAM in Mexico City. She is a co-editor of De olfato. Aproximaciones a los olores en la historia de México.

María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual is a researcher and professor at the University of Valencia in Spain. Her research focuses on cultural studies and physicochemical analysis of body paint, drugs, and aromatics in antiquity.
Foreword: Skin-Deep
Stephen Houston


Introduction: Colors and the Skin in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica
Élodie Dupey García and María Luisa Vázquez de ágredos Pascual

Part I. Coloring Alive and Dead Bodies: Materiality and Significance of Mesoamerican Corporal Painting
1. Painting the Skin in Ancient Mesoamericat
María Luisa Vázquez de ágredos Pascual
2. Materiality and Meaning of Medicinal Body Colors in Teotihuacan
María Luisa Vázquez de ágredos Pascual, Sélim Natahi,Véronique Darras, and Linda R. Manzanilla Naim
3. Painting the Dead in the Northern Maya Lowlands
Vera Tiesler, Kadwin Pérez López, and Patricia Quintana Owen
4. Body Colors and Aromatics in Maya Funerary Rites
María Luisa Vázquez de ágredos Pascual, Cristina Vidal Lorenzo,Patricia Horcajada Campos, and Vera Tiesler
5. Body Color and Body Adornment at Chichén Itzá
Virginia E. Miller
6. The Yellow Women: Naked Skin, Everyday Cosmetics, and Ritual Body Painting in Postclassic Nahua Society
Élodie Dupey García
7. The Colors of the Desert: Ritual and Aesthetic Uses of Pigments and Colorants by the Guachichil of Northern Mexico
Olivia Kindl

Part II. Illuminating Animal and Vegetal Skins: Chromatic Palettes and Meaning in Pre-Columbian Codices
8. Coloring Materials, Technological Practices, and Painting Traditions: Cultural and Historical Implications of Nondestructive Chemical Analyses of Pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican Codices
Davide Domenici, Costanza Miliani, David Buti,Brunetto Giovanni Brunetti, and Antonio Sgamellotti
9. The Study of Color in the Colombino Codex: An Experimental Approach
Tatiana Falcón
10. Preliminary Investigation on the Codex Borbonicus: Macroscopic Examination and Coloring Materials Characterization
Fabien Pottier, Anne Michelin, Anne Genachte–Le Bail,Aurélie Tournié, Christine Andraud, Fabrice Goubard, Aymeric Histace, and Bertrand Lavédrine
11. Convergence and Difference in the Borgia Group Chromatic Palettes
Élodie Dupey García and María Isabel Álvarez Icaza Longoria
12. Making and Using Colors in the Manufacture of Nahua Codices: Aesthetic Standards, Symbolic Purposes
Élodie Dupey García
13. Skin of Walls: Plaster Practices Across Maya Books, Buildings, and People
Franco D. Rossi

Epilogue: The Painted Skin, a Cultural and Sensorial Legacy
María Luisa Vázquez de ágredos Pascual and Élodie Dupey García

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