Bas Relief of Teisheba

Bas Relief of Teisheba

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Bas Reliefs of Highlights of Philippine History

Luisito Ac-ac of Paete, Laguna, Philippines is a well known Filipino sculptor for his carvings of children playing traditional games, rural families at work, angelic religious relics, tableaus taken from native folklore and old Manila characters in refine pose.

Added to his many works is the bust of Dr. Jose Rizal and the 15 bas reliefs depicting highlights in Philippine history from early Filipinos to the People Power Revolution all carved in baticuling wood commissioned by the Philippine Folklife Museum Foundation.

This work of arts can be viewed at the Philippine Folklife Museum at the Philippine Center Building, 447 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California, 94108, 5th floor, Social Hall/Museum.

/> Tabon Caves /> Chinese Traders /> Arrival of Islam
/> First Holy Mass in the Philippines /> Sikatuna-Legaspi Blood Compact /> Gomburza
/> Katipunan Initiation Rites /> Flames of the Revolution /> Proclamation of Independence from Spain
/> The Malolos Congress /> The Thomasites /> The Hero of Tirad Pass
/> The Return of General MacArthur /> The People Power Revolution /> Malacañang Palace

History of Bas-Relief

Bas-relief is a technique as old as humankind’s artistic explorations and is closely related to high relief. Some of the earliest known bas-reliefs are on the walls of caves, perhaps 30,000 years ago. Petroglyphs—images pecked into the walls of caves or other rock surfaces—were treated with color, as well, which helped to accentuate the reliefs.

Later, bas-reliefs were added to the surfaces of stone buildings constructed by ancient Egyptians and Assyrians. Relief sculptures can also be found in ancient Greek and Roman sculpture a famous example is the Parthenon frieze featuring relief sculptures of Poseidon, Apollo, and Artemis. Major works of bas-relief were created around the world important examples include the temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Greek Elgin Marbles, and images of the elephant, horse, bull, and lion at the Lion Capital of Ashoka in India (ca 250 BCE).

During the Middle Ages, relief sculpture was popular in churches, with some of the most remarkable examples decorating Romanesque churches in Europe. By the time of the Renaissance, artists were experimenting with combining high and low relief. By sculpting foreground figures in high relief and backgrounds in bas-relief, artists like Donatello (1386–1466) were able to suggest perspective. Desiderio da Settignano (ca 1430–1464) and Mino da Fiesole (1429–1484) executed bas-reliefs in materials such as terracotta and marble, while Michelangelo (1475–1564) created higher-relief works in stone.

During the 19th century, bas-relief sculpture was used to create dramatic works such as the sculpture on the Parisian Arc de Triomphe. Later, in the 20th century, reliefs were created by abstract artists.

American relief sculptors drew inspiration from Italian works. During the first half of the 19th century, Americans began creating relief works on federal government buildings. Perhaps the best known U.S. bas-relief sculptor was Erastus Dow Palmer (1817–1904), from Albany, New York. Palmer had been trained as a cameo-cutter, and later created a great many relief sculptures of people and landscapes.

Relief Sculpture

Gothic Ivory Relief sculpture
of the Passion of Christ (1350-65)
depicting the Washing of the Feet,
and the Last Supper. A masterpiece
of Biblical art of the 14th century.
Walters Art Museum.

For a list of the world's top 100
3-D artworks, by the best sculptors
in the history of art, see:
Greatest Sculptures Ever.

See: Art of Sculpture.

What is Relief Sculpture? Definition and Meaning

In plastic art, relief sculpture is any work which projects from but which belongs to the wall, or other type of background surface, on which it is carved. Reliefs are traditionally classified according to how high the figures project from the background. Also known as relievo, relief sculpture is a combination of the two-dimensional pictorial arts and the three-dimensional sculptural arts. Thus a relief, like a picture, is dependent on a background surface and its composition must be extended in a plane in order to be visible. Yet at the same time a relief also has a degree of real three-dimensionality, just like a proper sculpture.

Reliefs tend to be more common than freestanding sculpture for a number of reasons. First, a relief sculpture can portray a far wider range of subjects than a statue because of its economy of resources. For instance, a battle scene, that, if sculpted in the round, would require a huge amount of space and material, can be rendered much more easily in relief. Second, because a relief is attached to its background surface, problems of weight and physical balance do not arise - unlike in statues and other freestanding sculptures where weight and balance can be critical. Third, because reliefs are carved directly onto walls, portals, ceilings, floors and other flat surfaces, they are ideally suited to architectural projects - typically the greatest source of sculptural commissions - for which they can provide both decorative and narrative functions.

Detail of high relief sculpture
from the Arch of Constantine (c.315).
Close-up of a scene from the
military campaigns of Constantine I,
from the triumphal arch situated
between the Colosseum and the
Palatine Hill in Rome.

For a list of the world's most
talented 3-D artists, see:
Greatest Sculptors.

For details of the origins and
development of the plastic arts
see: History of Sculpture.

Stone Sculpture
Granite, limestone, sandstone.
Marble Sculpture
Pentelic, Carrara, Parian marbles.
Bronze Sculpture
Lost-wax casting/sandcasting.
Wood Carving
Softwoods and hardwoods.

Types of Relief Sculpture

There are three basic types of relief sculpture: (1) low relief (basso-relievo, or bas-relief), where the sculpture projects only slightly from the background surface (2) high relief (alto-relievo, or alto-relief), where the sculpture projects at least half or more of its natural circumference from the background, and may in parts be wholly disengaged from the ground, thus approximating sculpture in the round. [Sculptors may also employ middle-relief (mezzo-relievo), a style which falls roughly between the high and low forms] (3) sunken relief, (incised, coelanaglyphic or intaglio relief), where the carving is sunk below the level of the surrounding surface and is contained within a sharpely incised contour line that frames it with a powerful line of shadow. The surrounding surface remains untouched, with no projections. Sunken relief carving is found almost exclusively in ancient Egyptian art, although it has also been used in some beautiful small-scale ivory reliefs from India.

In addition to the basic types listed above, there is an extremely subtle type of flat low relief carving, known as Statiacciato relief (rilievo schiacciato), that is particularly associated with the 15th century sculptor Donatello. This statiacciato design is partly rendered with finely engraved chiselled lines and partly carved in relief. It depends for its effect on the way in which pale-coloured materials, like white marble, react to light and show up the most delicate lines and changes of texture.

Reliefs may be abstract in style as well as representational or figurative. Abstract reliefs, both geometric and curvilinear, have been found in many different cultures, including those of Ancient Greece, the Celts, Mexico, the Vikings, and Islam. Representational and figurative relief sculpture is strongly associated with the Greeks, the Romans, Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and European sculpture from the Renaissance onwards.

History of Relief Sculpture

In simple terms, the development of relief sculpture was marked by swings between pictorial and sculptural dominance. For instance in Greek art, reliefs are more like contracted sculpture than expanded pictures. Figures inhabit a space which is defined by the solid forms of the figures themselves and is limited by the background plane. This background plane is not used to create a receding perspective but rather as a finite impenetrable barrier in front of which the figures exist. By comparison, Renaissance relief sculpture makes full use of perspective, which is a pictorial method of representing 3-D spatial relationships on a 2-D surface, and thus has much in common with fine art painting.

Prehistoric Relief Sculpture

The earliest reliefs date back to the cave art of the Upper Paleolithic, around 25,000 BCE. The oldest relief sculptures in France are: the Venus of Laussel (23,000 BCE), a limestone bas-relief of a female figure, found in the Dordogne the rare Abri du Poisson Cave Salmon Carving (23,000 BCE) at Les Eyzies de Tayac, Perigord the Solutrean Roc-de-Sers Cave Frieze (17,200 BCE) in the Charente the Magdalenian era Cap Blanc Frieze (15,000 BCE) the Tuc d'Audoubert Bison (13,500 BCE) and the outstanding limestone frieze at Roc-aux-Sorciers (12,000 BCE) found in the Vienne. Outside France there are the badly preserved clay reliefs in the Kapova Cave in Russia. Other reliefs have been found incised on numerous megaliths from the Neolithic era.

Note About Sculpture Appreciation
To learn how to evaluate high-relief and low-relief sculpture, see: How to Appreciate Sculpture. For later works, please see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture.

Ancient Relief Sculpture

During the civilizations of the Ancient World (c.3,500-600 BCE), reliefs were commonly seen on the surfaces of stone buildings in ancient Egypt, Assyria and other Middle Eastern cultures. An example of Mesopotamian sculpture is the set of lions and dragons from the Ishtar Gate, Babylon, executed in low relief. See also the alabaster carvings of lion-hunts featuring Ashurnasirpal II and Ashurbanipal, a typical example of Assyrian art (c.1500-612 BCE). Egyptian sculptors tended to employ sunken relief. Figures are depicted standing sideways and are contained within a sharply insized outline: see for instance the many sunken reliefs at the Temple of Karnak in Egypt. Low reliefs were especially common in Chinese sculpture. For a guide to the principles behind Oriental arts, see: Traditional Chinese Art: Characteristics.

High reliefs did not become common until Classical Antiquity (c.500 BCE onwards), when Ancient Greek sculptors began to explore the genre more thoroughly. Attic tomb relief sculpture dating from the 4th century BCE are notable examples, as are the sculptured friezes used in the decoration of the Parthenon and other classical temples. For details of Hellenistic reliefs, like the Altar of Zeus, see: Pergamene School of Hellenistic Sculpture (241-133 BCE).

Relief sculptures were prominent in early Christian sculpture - notably in the sarcophagi of wealthy Christians during the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE (see also Relief Sculpture of Ancient Rome). See also: early Christian art (150 onwards).

During the period 600-1100, abstract reliefs appeared in numerous cultures around the world, as disparate as the Mixtec culture in Mexico, the Norse/Viking culture and Islamic environments across the Middle East.

Medieval Relief Sculpture

In Europe during the period 1000-1200, Christian art mostly took the form of architecture, notably the building program of cathedrals, abbeys and churches financed by the Christian Church of Rome. Although statuary was a feature of this religious art, the main emphasis was on relief sculpture, as exemplified by the wonderful reliefs which decorate the portals (tympana) of Romanesque cathedrals in France, Germany, England and other countries. (See also Romanesque Sculpture.) The Gothic period maintained this tradition though Gothic sculptors typically preferred a higher relief, in accordance with the renewed interest in statuary that characterized the fourteenth century. (See also Gothic sculpture.)

NOTE: One of the most extensive displays of erotic relief sculpture in the world can be seen at the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple complex at Khajuraho, in Madhya Pradesh, India. The temple was built in the Middle Ages, between 1017 and 1029.

The Renaissance Onwards

The Italian Renaissance (c.1400-1600) brought a noticeable change, as illustrated by the famous bronze doors that Lorenzo Ghiberti made for the Baptistry of Florence Cathedral. In order to exploit the full potential for perspective, figures in the foreground of the composition were done in high relief, making them appear close at hand, while background features were done in low relief, thus depicting distance. In his sculpture, Donatello further developed this approach by adding textural contrasts between rough and smooth surfaces. Thus in general Renaissance relief sculptors tended to make maximum use of the pictorial possibilities of the 2-D background, although there were exceptions. Two such trends were: the delicate and low reliefs in marble and terracotta of Desiderio da Settignano, and the more robust and sculptural relief style employed by Michelangelo. (For more information, see Renaissance sculptors.)

The first Fontainebleau School (c.1530-70), a style of French Mannerist art named after the royal palace of the French King Francis I (1494-1547), was famous for its intricate relief sculpture in stucco, in which the stucco was cut into strips, rolled at the ends then intertwined to form fantastic shapes. Key artists at Fontainebleau included Francesco Primaticcio (1504-70) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540).

Baroque relief sculptors further developed the pictorial approach used in Renaissance art, often on a very large scale. Sometimes their large relief compositions actually became a kind of painting in marble, as exemplified by Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, which included figures carved almost fully in the round but encased in a marble altar. (See also Baroque sculptors and Neoclassical sculptors.) A few exponents of Neoclassical sculpture, like Antonio Canova and Bertel Thorvaldsen, temporarily revived the use of low reliefs in pursuit of what they saw as classical rigour and purity, but on the whole the Renaissance concept of "pictorial-style" relief prevailed, reaching a high point in the work of nineteenth century sculptors such as Francois Rude (Arc de Triomph) and Auguste Rodin (Gates of Hell).

The greatest and most famous relief sculpture of the 20th century is the Mount Rushmore National Memorial (1927-41), produced under Gutzon Borglum. This unique work features high relief granite portraits of American Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. (See also 20th Century sculptors.)

Famous Relief Sculptures

Venus of Laussel (c.23,000 BCE) Dordogne (low relief)
• Salmon of the Abri du Poisson Cave (c.23,000 BCE) Dordogne (low relief)
Tuc d'Audoubert Bison (c.13,500 BCE) Ariege, France (low relief)
Gobekli Tepe Animal reliefs and other megalithic art (c.9000 BCE)
Parthenon Reliefs (c.446-430 BCE), Acropolis Museum (high relief)
Temple of Apollo Epikourios, East Frieze (c.420 BCE) (high relief)
Mausoleum of Harlicarnassus, Amazon Frieze (c.350 BCE) (high relief)
Pergamon Altar of Zeus (c.180 BCE) Pergamon Museum Berlin (high relief)
Ara Pacis Augustae (c.10 BCE) (Tellus Relief Panel) (high relief)
Trajan's Column, Rome (106-113 CE) (spiral/helical relief)
Arch of Constantine, Rome (315 CE) (high relief)
The Last Judgment, Saint-Lazare Cathedral (1145) Gislebertus (high relief)
Angkor Wat Khmer Temple, Cambodia (c.1150) (low relief)
Feast of Herod Baptismal Font (1425) Donatello (high relief)
Doors of Paradise, Baptistery, Florence (1452) Ghiberti (high/low relief)
Ecstasy of St Teresa, Cornaro Chapel (1652) Bernini (high relief)
St Cecilia (1600) Stefano Maderno, Rome (high relief)
St Veronica (1639) St Peter's Basilica, by Francesco Mochi (high relief)
La Marseillaise (1836) by Francois Rude, Nice (high relief)
Gates of Hell (1880-1917) by Auguste Rodin: Rodin Museum Philadelphia
Mount Rushmore National Memorial (1927-41) South Dakota (high relief)
Confederacy Monument Stone Mountain (1958-70) WK Hancock (high relief)

• For more about bas-reliefs and high-reliefs, see: Visual Arts Encyclopedia.

What is relief sculpture?

The term relief is from the Latin verb relevo, meaning to raise. The ancient relief sculptural technique involves creating 3D elements that remain attached to a 2D background of the same material, resulting in sculpted motifs that are raised from the surface.

There are 3 basic types of relief sculpture: low relief (or bas-relief), whereby the motifs are only slightly raised above the surface high relief (or alto-relief), whereby the sculpture projects at least half or more of its natural circumference from the background and sunken relief (incised, coelanaglyphic, or intaglio relief), whereby the carving is sunk below the level of the flat surface.

About Relief Portrait Plaques of Lawgivers

The 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol depict historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law. They were installed when the chamber was remodeled in 1949-1950. Created in bas relief of white Vermont marble by seven different sculptors, the plaques each measure 28 inches in diameter.

The 11 profiles in the eastern half of the chamber face left and the eleven in the western half face right, so that all look towards the full-face relief of Moses in the center of the north wall.

The subjects of the reliefs were chosen by scholars from the University of Pennsylvania and the Columbia Historical Society of Washington, D.C., in consultation with authoritative staff members of the Library of Congress. The selection was approved by a special committee of five Members of the House of Representatives and the Architect of the Capitol.

The plaster models for these reliefs are on display on the walls in the Rayburn House Office Building subway terminal.


The distinction between high and low relief is somewhat subjective, and the two are very often combined in a single work. In particular, most later "high reliefs" contain sections in low relief, usually in the background. From the Parthenon Frieze onwards, many single figures in large monumental sculpture have heads in high relief, but their lower legs are in low relief. The slightly projecting figures created in this way work well in reliefs that are seen from below, and reflect that the heads of figures are usually of more interest to both artist and viewer than the legs or feet. As unfinished examples from various periods show, raised reliefs, whether high or low, were normally "blocked out" by marking the outline of the figure and reducing the background areas to the new background level, work no doubt performed by apprentices (see gallery).

Low relief or bas-relief Edit

A low relief is a projecting image with a shallow overall depth, for example used on coins, on which all images are in low relief. In the lowest reliefs the relative depth of the elements shown is completely distorted, and if seen from the side the image makes no sense, but from the front the small variations in depth register as a three-dimensional image. Other versions distort depth much less. The term comes from the Italian basso rilievo via the French bas-relief (French pronunciation: ​ [baʁəljɛf] ), both meaning "low relief". The former is now a very old-fashioned term in English, and the latter is becoming so.

It is a technique which requires less work, and is therefore cheaper to produce, as less of the background needs to be removed in a carving, or less modelling is required. In the art of Ancient Egypt, Assyrian palace reliefs, and other ancient Near Eastern and Asian cultures, a consistent very low relief was commonly used for the whole composition. These images would usually be painted after carving, which helped define the forms today the paint has worn off in the great majority of surviving examples, but minute, invisible remains of paint can usually be discovered through chemical means.

The Ishtar Gate of Babylon, now in Berlin, has low reliefs of large animals formed from moulded bricks, glazed in colour. Plaster, which made the technique far easier, was widely used in Egypt and the Near East from antiquity into Islamic times (latterly for architectural decoration, as at the Alhambra), Rome, and Europe from at least the Renaissance, as well as probably elsewhere. However, it needs very good conditions to survive long in unmaintained buildings – Roman decorative plasterwork is mainly known from Pompeii and other sites buried by ash from Mount Vesuvius. Low relief was relatively rare in Western medieval art, but may be found, for example in wooden figures or scenes on the insides of the folding wings of multi-panel altarpieces.

The revival of low relief, which was seen as a classical style, begins early in the Renaissance the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, a pioneering classicist building, designed by Leon Battista Alberti around 1450, uses low reliefs by Agostino di Duccio inside and on the external walls. Since the Renaissance plaster has been very widely used for indoor ornamental work such as cornices and ceilings, but in the 16th century it was used for large figures (many also using high relief) at the Chateau of Fontainebleau, which were imitated more crudely elsewhere, for example in the Elizabethan Hardwick Hall.

Shallow-relief, in Italian rilievo stiacciato or rilievo schicciato ("squashed relief"), is a very shallow relief, which merges into engraving in places, and can be hard to read in photographs. It is often used for the background areas of compositions with the main elements in low-relief, but its use over a whole (usually rather small) piece was perfected by the Italian Renaissance sculptor Donatello. [6]

In later Western art, until a 20th-century revival, low relief was used mostly for smaller works or combined with higher relief to convey a sense of distance, or to give depth to the composition, especially for scenes with many figures and a landscape or architectural background, in the same way that lighter colours are used for the same purpose in painting. Thus figures in the foreground are sculpted in high-relief, those in the background in low-relief. Low relief may use any medium or technique of sculpture, stone carving and metal casting being most common. Large architectural compositions all in low relief saw a revival in the 20th century, being popular on buildings in Art Deco and related styles, which borrowed from the ancient low reliefs now available in museums. [7] Some sculptors, including Eric Gill, have adopted the "squashed" depth of low relief in works that are actually free-standing.

"Blocked-out" unfinished low relief of Ahkenaten and Nefertiti unfinished Greek and Persian high-reliefs show the same method of beginning a work.


Mythological beings using a variety of emblem glyphs in their titles suggests a complex early history. For instance, Kʼukʼ Bahlam I, the supposed founder of the Palenque dynasty, is called a Toktan Ajaw in the text of the Temple of the Foliated Cross.

The famous structures that we know today probably represent a rebuilding effort in response to the attacks by the city of Calakmul and its client states in 599 and 611. [3] One of the main figures responsible for rebuilding Palenque and for a renaissance in the city's art and architecture is also one of the best-known Maya Ajaw, Kʼinich Janaabʼ Pakal (Pacal the Great), who ruled from 615 to 683. He is known through his funerary monument dubbed the Temple of Inscriptions, after the lengthy text preserved in the temple's superstructure. At the time Alberto Ruz Lhuillier excavated Pakal's tomb, it was the richest and best preserved of any scientifically excavated burial then known from the ancient Americas. It held this position until the discovery of the rich Moche burials at Sipan, Peru and the recent discoveries at Copan and Calakmul.

Beside the attention that K'inich Janaab' Pakal's tomb brought to Palenque, the city is historically significant for its extensive hieroglyphic corpus composed during the reigns of Janaab' Pakal, his son Kʼinich Kan Bahlam II, and his grandson K'inich Akal Mo' Naab', and for being the location where Heinrich Berlin [4] and later Linda Schele and Peter Mathews outlined the first dynastic list for any Maya city. [5] The work of Tatiana Proskouriakoff as well as that of Berlin, Schele, Mathews, and others, initiated the intense historical investigations that characterized much of the scholarship on the ancient Maya from the 1960s to the present. [6] The extensive iconography and textual corpus has also allowed for study of Classic period Maya mythology [7] and ritual practice. [8]

Rulers Edit

A list of possible and known Maya rulers [9] [10] of the city, with dates of their reigns:

    431–c.435 AD
  • "Casper" 435–c.487 AD 487–c.501 AD 501–524 AD 529–565 AD 565–570 AD 572–583 AD 583–604 AD (female) 605–612 AD
  • Janahb Pakal c.612 AD (position uncertain) 612–615 AD (female) 615–683 AD 684–702 AD 702–711 AD 721–c.736 AD c.742 AD c.751 AD 764–c.783 AD 799–? AD

Early Classic period Edit

The first ajaw, or king, of B'aakal that we know of was K'uk Balam (Quetzal Jaguar), who governed for four years starting in the year 431. After him, a king came to power, nicknamed "Casper" by archaeologists. The next two kings were probably Casper's sons. Little was known about the first of these, B'utz Aj Sak Chiik, until 1994, when a tablet was found describing a ritual for the king. The first tablet mentioned his successor Ahkal Mo' Naab I as a teenage prince, and therefore it is believed that there was a family relation between them. For unknown reasons, Akhal Mo' Naab I had great prestige, so the kings who succeeded him were proud to be his descendants.

When Ahkal Mo' Naab I died in 524, there was an interregnum of four years, before the following king was crowned at Toktán in 529. K'an Joy Chitam I governed for 36 years. His sons Ahkal Mo' Naab II and K'an B'alam I were the first kings who used the title Kinich, which means "the great sun". This word was used also by later kings. B'alam was succeeded in 583 by Yohl Ik'nal, who was supposedly his daughter. The inscriptions found in Palenque document a battle that occurred under her government in which troops from Calakmul invaded and sacked Palenque, a military feat without known precedents. These events took place in 599.

A second victory by Calakmul occurred some twelve years later, in 611, under the government of Aj Ne' Yohl Mat, son of Yohl Iknal. In this occasion, the king of Calakmul entered Palenque in person, consolidating a significant military disaster, which was followed by an epoch of political disorder. Aj Ne' Yohl Mat was to die in 612.

Late Classic period Edit

B'aakal began the Late Classic period in the throes of the disorder created by the defeats before Calakmul. The glyphic panels at the Temple of Inscriptions, which records the events at this time, relates that some fundamental annual religious ceremonies were not performed in 613, and at this point states: "Lost is the divine lady, lost is the king." [11] Mentions of the government at the time have not been found.

It is believed that after the death of Aj Ne' Yohl Mat, Janaab Pakal, also called Pakal I, took power thanks to a political agreement. Janaab Pakal assumed the functions of the ajaw (king) but never was crowned. He was succeeded in 612 by his daughter, the queen Sak K'uk', who governed for only three years until her son was old enough to rule. It is considered that the dynasty was reestablished from then on, so B'aakal retook the path of glory and splendor.

The grandson of Janaab Pakal is the most famous of the Mayan kings, K'inich Janaab' Pakal, also known as Pakal the Great. He began rule at the age of 12 years after his mother Sak Kuk resigned as queen after three years, thus passing power on to him. Pakal the Great reigned in Palenque from 615 to 683, and his mother remained an important force for the first 25 years of his rule. She may have ruled jointly with him. Known as the favorite of the gods, he carried Palenque to new levels of splendor, in spite of having come to power when the city was at a low point. Pakal married the princess of Oktán, Lady Tzakbu Ajaw (also known as Ahpo-Hel) in 624 and had at least three children.

Most of the palaces and temples of Palenque were constructed during his government the city flourished as never before, eclipsing Tikal. The central complex, known as The Palace, was enlarged and remodeled on various occasions, notably in the years 654, 661, and 668. In this structure, is a text describing how in that epoch Palenque was newly allied with Tikal, and also with Yaxchilan, and that they were able to capture the six enemy kings of the alliance. Not much more had been translated from the text.

After the death of Pakal in 683, his older son K'inich Kan B'alam assumed the kingship of B'aakal, who in turn was succeeded in 702 by his brother K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II. The first continued the architectural and sculptural works that were begun by his father, as well as finishing the construction of the famous tomb of Pakal. Pakal's sarcophagus, built for a very tall man, held the richest collection of jade seen in a Mayan tomb. A jade mosaic mask was placed over his face, and a suit made of jade adorned his body, with each piece hand-carved and held together by gold wire. [1]

Furthermore, K'inich Kan B'alam I began ambitious projects, including the Group of the Crosses. Thanks to numerous works begun during his government, now we have portraits of this king, found in various sculptures. His brother succeeded him continuing with the same enthusiasm of construction and art, reconstructing and enlarging the north side of the Palace. Thanks to the reign of these three kings, B'aakal had a century of growing and splendor.

In 711, Palenque was sacked by the realm of Toniná, and the old king K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II was taken prisoner. It is not known what the final fate of the king was, and it is presumed that he was executed in Toniná. For 10 years there was no king. Finally, K'inich Ahkal Mo' Nab' III was crowned in 722. Although the new king belonged to the royalty, there is no evidence that he was the direct inheritor direct of K'inich K'an Joy Chitam II. It is believed, therefore, that this coronation was a break in the dynastic line, and probably K'inich Ahkal Nab' arrived to power after years of maneuvering and forging political alliances. This king, his son, and grandson governed until the end of the 8th century. Little is known about this period, except that, among other events, the war with Toniná continued, where there are hieroglyphics that record a new defeat of Palenque.

Occasionally city-state lords were women. Lady Sak Kuk ruled at Palenque for at least three years starting in 612 CE, before she passed her title to her son. However, these female rulers were accorded male attributes. Thus, these women became more masculine as they assumed roles that were typically male roles. [12]

Abandonment Edit

During the 8th century, B'aakal came under increasing stress, in concert with most other Classic Mayan city-states, and there was no new elite construction in the ceremonial center sometime after 800. An agricultural population continued to live here for a few generations, then the site was abandoned and was slowly grown over by the forest. The district was very sparsely populated when the Spanish first arrived in the 1520s.

Important structures at Palenque include:

Temple of the Inscriptions Edit

The Temple of Inscriptions had begun perhaps as early as 675 [13] as the funerary monument of Hanab-Pakal. The temple superstructure houses the second longest glyphic text known from the Maya world (the longest is the Hieroglyphic Stairway at Copan). The Temple of the Inscriptions records approximately 180 years of the city's history from the 4th through 12th K'atun. The focal point of the narrative records K'inich Janaab' Pakal's K'atun period-ending rituals focused on the icons of the city's patron deities prosaically known collectively as the Palenque Triad or individually as GI, GII, and GIII. [14]

The Pyramid measures 60 meters wide, 42.5 meters deep and 27.2 meters high. The Summit temple measures 25.5 meters wide, 10.5 meters deep and 11.4 meters high. The largest stones weigh 12 to 15 tons. These were on top of the Pyramid. The Total volume of pyramid and temple is 32,500 cu. meters. [15]

In 1952 Alberto Ruz Lhuillier removed a stone slab in the floor of the back room of the temple superstructure to reveal a passageway (filled in shortly before the city's abandonment and reopened by archeologists) leading through a long stairway to Pakal's tomb. The tomb itself is remarkable for its large carved sarcophagus, the rich ornaments accompanying Pakal, and for the stucco sculpture decorating the walls of the tomb. Unique to Pakal's tomb is the psychoduct, which leads from the tomb itself, up the stairway and through a hole in the stone covering the entrance to the burial. This psychoduct is perhaps a physical reference to concepts about the departure of the soul at the time of death in Maya eschatology where in the inscriptions the phrase ochb'ihaj sak ik'il (the white breath road-entered) is used to refer to the leaving of the soul. A find such as this is greatly important because it demonstrated for the first time the temple usage as being multifaceted. These pyramids were, for the first time, identified as temples and also funerary structures.

The much-discussed iconography of the sarcophagus lid depicts Pakal in the guise of one of the manifestations of the Maya maize god emerging from the maws of the underworld. [16]

The temple also has a duct structure that still is not completely understood by archaeologists. It has been suggested that the duct aligns with the winter solstice and that the sun shines down on Pakal's tomb.

Temples of the Cross group Edit

The Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross are a set of graceful temples atop step pyramids, each with an elaborately carved relief in the inner chamber depicting two figures presenting ritual objects and effigies to a central icon. Earlier interpretations had argued that the smaller figure was that of K'inich Janaab' Pakal while the larger figure was K'inich Kan B'ahlam. However, it is now known based on a better understanding of the iconography and epigraphy that the central tablet depicts two images of Kan B'ahlam. The smaller figure shows K'inich Kan B'ahlam during a rite of passage ritual at the age of six ( 9 Akbal 6 Xul) while the larger is of his accession to kingship at the age of 48. [17] These temples were named by early explorers the cross-like images in two of the reliefs actually depict the tree of creation at the center of the world in Maya mythology.

Palace Edit

The Palace, a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards, was built by several generations on a wide artificial terrace during four century period. The Palace was used by the Mayan aristocracy for bureaucratic functions, entertainment, and ritualistic ceremonies. The Palace is located in the center of the ancient city.

Within the Palace there are numerous sculptures and bas-relief carvings that have been conserved. The Palace most unusual and recognizable feature is the four-story tower known as The Observation Tower. The Observation Tower like many other buildings at the site exhibit a mansard-like roof. The A-shaped Corbel arch is an architectural motif observed throughout the complex. The Corbel arches require a large amount of masonry mass and are limited to a small dimensional ratio of width to height providing the characteristic high ceilings and narrow passageways. The Palace was equipped with numerous large baths and saunas which were supplied with fresh water by an intricate water system. An aqueduct, constructed of great stone blocks with a three-meter-high vault, diverts the Otulum River to flow underneath the main plaza. The Palace is the largest building complex in Palenque measuring 97 meters by 73 meters at its base.

Other notable buildings Edit

  • The Temple of the Skull has a skull on one of the pillars.
  • Temple XIII contained the Tomb of the Red Queen, an unknown noble woman, possibly the wife of Pakal, discovered in 1994. The remains in the sarcophagus were completely covered with a bright red powder made of cinnabar.
  • The Temple of The Jaguar (a.k.a. The Temple of the Beautiful Relief) at a distance of some 200 meters south of the main group of temples its name came from the elaborate bas-relief carving of a king seated on a throne in the form of a jaguar.
  • Structure XII with a bas-relief carving of the God of Death.
  • Temple of the Count another elegant Classic Palenque temple, which got its name from the fact that early explorer Jean Frederic Waldeck lived in the building for some time, and Waldeck claimed to be a count.

The site also has a number of other temples, tombs, and elite residences, some a good distance from the center of the site, a court for playing the Mesoamerican Ballgame, and an interesting stone bridge over the Otulum River some distance below the Aqueduct.

After de la Nada's brief account of the ruins, no attention was paid to them until 1773 when one Don Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguilar examined Palenque and sent a report to the Capitan General in Antigua Guatemala, a further examination was made in 1784 saying that the ruins were of particular interest, so two years later surveyor and architect Antonio Bernasconi was sent with a small military force under Colonel Antonio del Río to examine the site in more detail. Del Rio's forces smashed through several walls to see what could be found, doing a fair amount of damage to the Palace, while Bernasconi made the first map of the site as well as drawing copies of a few of the bas-relief figures and sculptures. Draughtsman Luciano Castañeda made more drawings in 1807, and a book on Palenque, Descriptions of the Ruins of an Ancient City, discovered near Palenque, was published in London in 1822 based on the reports of those last two expeditions together with engravings based on Bernasconi and Castañedas drawings two more publications in 1834 contained descriptions and drawings based on the same sources.

Juan Galindo visited Palenque in 1831, and filed a report with the Central American government. He was the first to note that the figures depicted in Palenque's ancient art looked like the local Native Americans some other early explorers, even years later, attributed the site to such distant peoples as Egyptians, Polynesians, or the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Starting in 1832 Jean Frederic Waldeck spent two years at Palenque making numerous drawings, but most of his work was not published until 1866. Meanwhile, the site was visited in 1840 first by Patrick Walker and Herbert Caddy on a mission from the governor of British Honduras, and then by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood who published an illustrated account the following year which was greatly superior to the previous accounts of the ruins.

Désiré Charnay took the first photographs of Palenque in 1858, and returned in 1881–1882. Alfred Maudslay encamped at the ruins in 1890–1891 and took extensive photographs of all the art and inscriptions he could find, and made paper and plaster molds of many of the inscriptions, and detailed maps and drawings, setting a high standard for all future investigators to follow. Maudslay learned the technique of making the papier mache molds of the sculptures from Frenchman Desire Charnay.

Several other expeditions visited the ruins before Frans Blom of Tulane University in 1923, who made superior maps of both the main site and various previously neglected outlying ruins and filed a report for the Mexican government on recommendations on work that could be done to preserve the ruins.

From 1949 through 1952 Alberto Ruz Lhuillier supervised excavations and consolidations of the site for Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) it was Ruz Lhuillier who was the first person to gaze upon Pacal the Great's tomb in over a thousand years. Ruz worked for four years at the Temple of Inscriptions before unearthing the tomb. Further INAH work was done in lead by Jorge Acosta into the 1970s.

In 1973, the first of the very productive Palenque Mesa Redonda (Round table) conferences was held here on the inspiration of Merle Greene Robertson thereafter every few years leading Mayanists would meet at Palenque to discuss and examine new findings in the field. Meanwhile, Robertson was conducting a detailed examination of all art at Palenque, including recording all the traces of color on the sculptures.

The 1970s also saw a small museum built at the site.

In the last 15 or 20 years, a great deal more of the site has been excavated, but currently, archaeologists estimate that only 5% of the total city has been uncovered.

In 2010, Pennsylvania State University researchers, Christopher Duffy and Kirk French, identified the Piedras Bolas Aqueduct as a pressurised aqueduct, the earliest known in the New World. It is a spring-fed conduit located on steep terrain that has a restricted outlet that would cause the water to exit forcefully, under pressure, to a height of 6 metres (20 ft). They were unable to identify the use for this man-made feature. [18]

Bas-relief sculpture of infant, 1961

Demonstrates fetal fractures of skull and clavicle. Created by Holt from plaster, hand-colored. "#45 OB-Forceps Ex." on reverse of sculpture. Originally part of an exhibit created with Dr. Frederick H. Falls for the Illinois State Department of Public Health.

  • The History of Medicine artifacts collection were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library as a transfer in 2011.
  • The materials in this collection are made available for use in research, teaching and private study. Texts and images from this collection may not be used for any commercial purpose without prior permission from Duke University.
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History of Medicine Collections

Historical medical instruments, artifacts and other objects ranging in age from the 16th to 20th centuries

The preservation of the Duke University Libraries Digital Collections and the Duke Digital Repository programs are supported in part by the Lowell and Eileen Aptman Digital Preservation Fund

Ara Pacis Augustae

Vowed on July 4, 13 B.C.E., and dedicated on January 30, 9 B.C.E., the monument stood proudly in the Campus Martius in Rome (a level area between several of Rome’s hills and the Tiber River). It was adjacent to architectural complexes that cultivated and proudly displayed messages about the power, legitimacy, and suitability of their patron—the emperor Augustus. Now excavated, restored, and reassembled in a sleek modern pavilion designed by architect Richard Meier (2006), the Ara Pacis continues to inspire and challenge us as we think about ancient Rome.

An open-air altar for sacrifice

Illustration showing the likely original placement of the Ara Pacis Augustae (far right) in proximity to the Horologium Augusti (sundial) and the Mausoleum of Augustus in the background. (source)

The significance of the topographical placement would have been quite evident to ancient Romans. This complex of Augustan monuments made a clear statement about Augustus’ physical transformation of Rome’s urban landscape. The dedication to a rather abstract notion of peace ( pax ) is significant in that Augustus advertises the fact that he has restored peace to the Roman state after a long period of internal and external turmoil.

The Outer screen—processional scenes

Processional scene (south side), Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A member of the Priestly college (association) of Septemviri epulones, carries an incense box, processional scene (north side), Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Augustus (far left) and members of the imperial household, Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (source)

Processional scene (south side) with Agrippa (hooded), Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Mythological panels

  • a scene of a bearded male making sacrifice (below)
  • a scene of seated female goddess amid the fertility of Italy (also below)
  • a fragmentary scene with Romulus and Remus in the Lupercal grotto (where these two mythic founders of Rome were suckled by a she-wolf)
  • and a fragmentary panel showing Roma (the personification of Rome) as a seated goddess.

Sacrifice Panel, Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Tellus (or Pax) Panel, Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The Altar

View to the altar, Ara Pacis Augustae (Altar of Augustan Peace) 9 B.C.E. (Ara Pacis Museum, Rome) (photo: Steven Zucker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Implications and interpretation


Mussolini and Augustus

Vittorio Ballio Morpurgo, Ara Pacis Pavillion, 1938 (photo: Indeciso42 CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Ara Pacis and Richard Meier

Richard Meier and Partners, Ara Pacis Museum, Rome, 2006

The firm of architect Richard Meier was engaged to design and execute a new and improved pavilion to house the Ara Pacis and to integrate the altar with a planned pedestrian area surrounding the adjacent Mausoleum of Augustus.

Enduring monumentality

The Ara Pacis Augustae continues both to engage us and to incite controversy. As a monument that is the product of a carefully constructed ideological program, it is highly charged with socio-cultural energy that speaks to us about the ordering of the Roman world and its society—the very Roman universe.

Augustus had a strong interest in reshaping the Roman world (with him as its sole leader) but he had to be cautious about how radical those changes seemed to the Roman populace. While he defeated enemies, both foreign and domestic, he was concerned about being perceived as too authoritarian–he did not wish to be labeled as a king ( rex ) for fear that this would be too much for the Roman people to accept. So, the Augustan scheme involved a declaration that Rome’s republican government had been “restored” by Augustus and he styled himself as the leading citizen of the republic ( princeps ). These political and ideological motives then influence and guide the creation of his program of monumental art and architecture. These monumental forms, of which the Ara Pacis is a prime example, served to both create and reinforce these Augustan messages.

The story of the Ara Pacis becomes even more complicated since it is an artifact that then was placed in the service of ideas in the modern age. This results in its identity becoming a hybridized mixture of Classicism, Fascism, and modernism—all difficult to interpret in a postmodern reality. It is important to remember that the sculptural reliefs were created in the first place to be easily legible so that the viewer could understand the messages of Augustus and his circle without the need to read elaborate texts. Augustus pioneered the use of such ideological messages that relied on clear iconography to get their message across. A great deal was at stake for Augustus and it seems, by virtue of history, that the political choices he made proved prudent. The messages of the Pax Romana, of a restored state, and of Augustus as a leading republican citizen, are all part of an effective and carefully constructed veneer.

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