Painting the Skin

Pigments on Bodies and Codices in Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

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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
Painting the Skin
328 Pages 7 x 10
Published: June 2019Hardcover ISBN: 9780816538447
Published: June 2019Ebook ISBN: 9780816539093

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