Romantic Circles Gallery
Uxmal: House of the Dwarf and House of the Nuns


A view of the ruins of Uxmal depicts the House of the Nuns (on the left) and the House of the Dwarf (on the right). The House of the Nuns is a short, wide, one-story building with a series of small windows and an arched entryway, while the House of the Dwarf is a large, pyramid temple structure. Two figures stand between the two buildings. Trees and small bushes grow over the buildings, the House of the Dwarf in particular, which also has a portion of its side broken away to reveal the interior structure.

Accession Number: 

F 1432 S883 1841 Vol. 2

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Printing Context: 

House of the Dwarf and House of the Nuns is one of many illustrations of Uxmal’s monuments produced by Catherwood, all of which are reproduced in John Lloyd Stephens's Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841).

Associated Events: 

Stephens and Catherwood’s Journey to Uxmal

Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens arrived at Uxmal in 1841, on the final leg of their first Mesoamerican expedition (Bourdon 148). While previous cities they encountered (Copán and Palenque in particular) were overrun with vegetation, Uxmal’s location on a high bluff left it relatively exposed, facilitating the pair’s documentation and survey of the site.

Associated People: 

Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854)

Frederick Catherwood was a British architect, artist, and archaeological illustrator whose drawings and paintings of Maya sites in the Yucatán peninsula are primarily responsible for the entry of Maya archaeology into American and European visual consciousness. Of Irish and Scottish ancestry, Catherwood was born on February 27, 1799 in Charles Square, Hoxton (a suburb of London). In his youth, he attended Haberdasher’s School in London, studying Linguistics and Grammar (Bourbon 13). In 1820, Catherwood enrolled in the Royal Academy of Arts, taking classes with Henry Fuseli, William Turner, and John Soane. After finishing his studies, Catherwood took a series of journeys around the Mediterranean, visiting Italy, Greece, Syria, and Egypt, and returning to London in 1826 (Bourbon 24). Catherwood made a return trip to Egypt and the Levant for six years (1829-1835), where he produced a large series of archaeological drawings of ancient Egyptian sites, establishing his prominence as one of the world’s foremost archaeological illustrators at that time.

One of Catherwood’s drawings from this journey, View of Jerusalem, was exhibited by William Burford as a panorama at Leicester Square in 1836, where it was seen by an American lawyer and explorer, John Lloyd Stephens. After Burford arranged their meeting, Stephens and Catherwood formed an immediate friendship. Catherwood returned to New York with Stephens, and in 1839 President Martin van Buren appointed Stephens Special Ambassador to Central America. Stephens used this opportunity to launch an archaeological expedition to the region, with Catherwood as his artist and illustrator; the goal of the expedition was not simply to record sites in the Yucatán but, by doing so, to claim them as cultural property for the American government.  Using a camera lucida for much of his work, Catherwood’s drawings and sketches from these expeditions were the first representations of Maya art and architecture to gain widespread popular appeal in the United States and Europe. Catherwood’s many illustrations were featured prominently in Stephens’ two books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843). In 1844, Catherwood produced his own lavish series of colored prints of Maya sites, Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan, which was published in a limited edition of three hundred copies in New York and London, of which 282 are known to survive.

Following their travels to the Yucatán, Catherwood spent the next eight years on book tours in Europe, assisting with Stephen’s creation of the Panama Railroad Company in 1848, and finally ending up in San Francisco as a consultant to a mining company at the height of the California Gold Rush. Stephens died in Panama in 1852. In 1854 Catherwood made plans to return to Europe to oversee the European re-print of Incidents of Travel; during the return voyage, however, the ship (the SS Arctic) was rammed by a French vessel in the waters off Newfoundland. Catherwood died in the accident on September 27, 1854.

John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852)

John Lloyd Stephens was an American travel author, explorer, and diplomat whose writings are largely credited with founding the field of Maya archaeology. Stephens was born in Shrewsbury, New Jersey on November 28, 1805. After graduating from Columbia University with a law degree in 1822, he entered a private law practice in Connecticut. Over the next decade he became a well-known lawyer and diplomat in the United States, but grew tired of the practice and instead turned his ambitions to exploration. Stephens began to travel throughout Europe and the Near East, publishing two accounts of his travels: Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia, Petraea and the Holy Land (1837) and Incidents of Travel in Greece, Turkey, Russia, and Poland (1838). Previously, while in Britain in 1836, Stephens had met architect and artist Frederick Catherwood, and had convinced him to come back to the United States as his travel companion artist. When President Martin van Buren appointed Stephens as Special Ambassador to Central America in 1839, the pair used the opportunity to explore the Maya sites of the Yucatán. Their two expeditions to the region are recorded by Stephens in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán (1843). The books were the first popularly-read accounts of Maya civilization, and are largely credited as being the first attempts at a scientific study of Mexican archaeological sites. Following his success in Central America, Stephens was appointed Vice President of the Panama Railroad Company in 1849; he spent the next three years personally supervising the construction of a railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in Panama. While in Panama, Stephens contracted a liver disease from which he never recovered; he died in Panama on October 13, 1852.

Associated Places: 


Uxmal is a pre-Columbian Maya city located in the modern Mexican state of Yucatán, approximately fifty miles south of the state capital, Mérida. The city was founded around 500 CE; modern archaeologists speculate that during its height (700-1100 CE) the city was home to at least 25,000 people. The earliest detailed accounts of the city were published by Jean-Frédéric Waldeck (Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la province d'Yucatan pendant les années 1834 et 1836; Paris, 1838), John Lloyd Stephens (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán; New York, 1841), and Benjamin Moore Norman (Rambles in Yucatan: Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabah, Zayi, Uxmal, &c.; New York, 1843). The city was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

Associated Texts: 

While all of Catherwood’s Uxmal drawings are reproduced in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, Volume I eight of the twenty-five color lithographs that make up his Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1844) were of Uxmal (Plates VIII-XV, in order): General View of Las Monjas, at Uxmal; Ornament Over the Principal Doorway, House of the Governor, at Uxmal; Archway, House of the Governor, Uxmal; Gateway of the Great Teocallis, Uxmal; Ornament over the Gateway of the Great Teocallis,Uxmal; General View of Uxmal, Taken from the Archway of Las Monjas, Looking South; Portion of the Building Las Monjas, Uxmal; and Portion of the House of Las Monjas, Uxmal (Stephens, Central America 421-35). Benjamin Moore Norman, during his Mexican journey in 1844, mentions Catherwood and Stephens’s expedition specifically as the inspiration for his own visit to Uxmal. In Rambles in Yucatán, he published a number of drawings of buildings and monuments at Uxmal, among them Governor’s House, Uxmal Ruins; The Pyramid, Uxmal Ruins; and Moonlight, Uxmal Ruins, the book’s frontispiece (Norman 154-65).


This image—rendered using a camera lucida—depicts ruins of the city of Uxmal in Mexico.


Catherwood’s views of Uxmal, along with a number of his other illustrations of Maya sites, constitute the first systematic attempt at a realistic representation of Mexican archaeological sites, as well as the first time the camera lucida had been used to depict such ruins (Evans 53). Catherwood’s drawings blend Enlightenment notions of faithful, scientific representations with nascent, Romantic-era visual technologies, and are particularly bound up with Romantic notions of landscape: Catherwood’s rendering of Uxmal clearly invoke notions of the picturesque as formed during the Romantic period. Consequently, these images rely on both a concern with scientific accuracy, resulting in the use of the camera lucida, as well as an interest in the aesthetic vision espoused by Romantic ideals.


Catherwood’s illustrations of archaeological sites, such as those from Uxmal, serve a dual function. First, they accurately illustrate the size, proportion, and visual decoration of ancient Maya cities, data which was important to potential collectors of Maya artifacts, museum exhibitors, and investors in future expeditions to the region. Secondly, while some of the sites Catherwood depicts were already known to Americans and Europeans, these were the first illustrations of Mexico in which the artist was personally concerned with the faithful re-creation of the correct size, proportion, and landscape of the city. This concern was particularly important for Catherwood, who made use of a camera lucida—relying on an assumption of its faithful, visual re-creation of reality—to assist in his rendering of Maya cityscapes.


Bourbon, Fabio. The Lost Cities of the Mayas: The Life, Art, and Discoveries of Frederick Catherwood. New York: Abbeville P, 2000. Print.

Catherwood, Frederick. Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Barre: Barre, 1965. Print.

Evans, R. Tripp. Romancing the Maya: Mexican Antiquity in the American Imagination, 1820-1915. Austin: U of Texas P, 2004. Print.

Norman, Benjamin Moore. Rambles in Yucatan: Or, Notes of Travel through the Peninsula, Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabak, Zayi, and Uxmal. 2d ed. New York, 1843. Print.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan. Vol. 2. New York: Harper, 1841. Print. 2 vols.

Stephens, John Lloyd. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. New York: Harper, 1843. Print.

Von Hagen, Victor Wolfgang. F. Catherwood, Architect-Explorer of Two Worlds. Barre: Barre, 1968. Print.

Waldeck, Frédéric de, and Hernán Menéndez Rodríguez. Viaje Pintoresco Y Arqueológico a La Provincia De Yucatán, 1834-1836. México: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1996. Print.

Long Title: 

Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán, Vol. 2.



Image Date: 



Harper and Brothers

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