Beyond Surrealism: The Anthropological Sources of Leonora Carrington's "El mundo mágico de los mayas" (1964)

Author(s): Nancy Deffebach

Year: 2015


In 1963 Leonora Carrington was invited to create a mural-sized painting for the highland Maya ethnography room at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. El mundo mágico de los mayas (1964) portrays the humans, gods, and spirits that inhabit the sacred space of the modern Maya. Carrington’s debt to surrealism is immediately apparent. Her greater debt to anthropology is less obvious.

Carrington made several research trips to Chiapas and read extensively about the Maya before she designed the painting. She always acknowledged the profound influence of the "Popol Vuh" but was intentionally vague about her other written sources.

I interpret Carrington’s imagery in relation to publications about modern Maya ethnography and the ancient Maya that were available in the early 1960. Carrington made numerous preparatory sketches that contain brief notations. The notes and imagery of the drawings indicate that she drew heavily on Calixta Guiteras-Holmes’s "Perils of the Soul" and Sylvanus Morley’s "The Ancient Maya." I discus the significance of Carrington’s notations and the major shift in subject matter that took place between the creation of the drawings and the completion of the monumental painting.

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Cite this Record

Beyond Surrealism: The Anthropological Sources of Leonora Carrington's "El mundo mágico de los mayas" (1964). Nancy Deffebach. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396330)


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min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;