JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 139 to 154)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2002, Volume 41, Number 2, Article 4 (pp. 139 to 154)


Jessica M. Fletcher


The ancient city of Teotihuacán, Mexico, was the most influential of its time in Mesoamerica and, in 600 A.D., the sixth-largest city in the world. For some perspective, at this time Constantinople was the largest city with a population of approximately 500,000 and Alexandria the fifth largest (Chandler and Fox 1974). During the Classic Period, which spans from approximately 150 to 750 A.D., Teotihuacán exercised widespread political, economic, and religious control throughout Mesoamerica while supporting a population of at least 125,000 to 150,000 inhabitants (Berrin and Pasztory 1993; Kolb 1997). Immigrant groups from places such as Oaxaca and Veracruz also played a role in this vast urban center and were housed in barrios, or neighborhoods, along the outskirts of the city (Berrin and Pasztory 1993).

Teotihuacán is perhaps most famous for its monumental architecture, much of which was decorated with painted wall murals. Unlike stuccoed vessels, the mural paintings of Teotihuacán are widely studied, and the materials used are well documented. Painted stucco was applied to a variety of substrates that included wood and shell, in addition to several types of already fired ceramic vessels. Most of these vessels are cylindrical tripods in shape but are variant in clay type. The stucco decoration typically consisted of white and cream-colored ground layers over which various pigments were applied. Paint colors included red, yellow, and a range of blues and greens. Decorative motifs were frequently bordered by black incised lines.

When artisans first started applying stucco to pots, they reused vessels with other completed decorative finishes, such as the prized trade ware known as thin orange and those with carved plano-relief. By 550 A.D. the surfaces of some vessels were purposely roughened before firing in preparation for receiving the stucco (Conides 1997). While it is likely that the roughening was performed by the same ceramic artisans responsible for carved plano-relief, it is not certain if they were the ones who then applied the decorative stucco layers. It is possible that stuccoed vessels were produced from start to finish in ceramic workshops, or that the fired vessels were decorated as a subspecialty of mural painting. It was hoped that this study might unearth new clues on the subject.

Copyright © 2002 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works