Framing the portrait : towards an understanding of elite late classic Maya representation at Palenque, Mexico

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Spencer, Kaylee Rae, 1975-

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This dissertation examines portraiture at Palenque during the Classic period. I propose that portraits communicated information about the identity of the sitter through the representation of the face and head. I argue that when picturing the same person, sculptors rendered particular facial features with remarkable consistency. Artists also represented modifications to the face. Some superficial treatments that play roles in the ascription of identity include cosmetic devices appended to the face, tattoos or scarification, and facial hair. These changeable features operated alongside the face's form to communicate individual identity. The representation of facial features allowed the designers of visual programs at Palenque to make specific claims about the identity of sitters. For example, in some cases portraits quote physical characteristics observable in earlier portraits to mark biological connections of the individuals represented. Additionally, posthumous portraits furnished opportunities to situate some ancestors into divine lineages. Artists represented the faces, heads, and costumes of certain sitters in a manner that overtly referenced images of Maize Gods. In contrast, contemporary portraiture typically exhibits variations in the face's details, differences in the age of the sitter, and a diverse array of costumes. Despite this instability, portraits created during the sitter's lifetime still exhibit enough consistency to facilitate the identification of particular individuals. I suggest that emphasis placed on either divine lineage or temporal concerns shifted depending on political circumstances. This complex negotiation took place as the roles and responsibilities of kings changed during the Late Classic period. I advocate that portraits reflect the fragile and tenuous political environment during this time period, but more importantly, I propose that portraits actively participated in shaping environments and attitudes of Palenque's inhabitants.