Moonlight, Uxmal Ruins
Five pyramids and a stone-block building stand on a flat landscape, varied only by some small bushes and a few large rocks. The sky occupies a great portion of the picture: the clouds breaking at top right reveal the moon, whose light illumines the pyramids. It is unclear whether the pyramid surfaces are bare or covered in vegetation.
Copyright 2009, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin, Madison
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Benjamin Moore Norman’s illustrations of Uxmal were never reproduced outside the context of Rambles in Yucatan (1843), and to this day he remains more famous for his work on the history of New Orleans. This was true even in the 1840s: Rambles in Yucatan only saw one published edition (done by Norman himself), and it never garnered the popularity attained by the work of Stephens and Catherwood (published at the same time).
Benjamin Moore Norman's Expedition to the Yucatán
After reading John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s account of their expedition to Central America (Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan), Benjamin Moore Norman traveled to the Yucatán in order to record a number of new Maya sites and to collect Maya antiquities for donations to museums in the United States; Catherwood and Stephens would not explore these sites, in the northern Yucatán, till 1843. Norman left New Orleans for Havana on November 26, 1841, and arrived in the Yucatan on December 20. After exploring a series of other sites, Norman arrived in Uxmal in early March of 1842, and would remain there shortly until his departure for Mérida. Norman’s description of the ruins relays little of his personal experiences at the site, excepting an account of his emotional reaction to the “sublime” nature of the ruins (Norman 166).
Benjamin Moore Norman (1809-1860)
Benjamin Moore Norman was an American publisher, author, and philanthropist of English descent. Norman was born in Hudson, New York on December 22, 1809 to William E. Norman, a Hudson bookseller. After his father’s death, Benjamin left his clerkship in New York City to take over the family bookstore back in Hudson. Shortly afterwards he left Hudson and moved to Philadelphia, only to move again in 1837 to New Orleans; New Orleans would remain his home the rest of his life. In 1841, his wife of less than a year died of yellow fever; the exact way in which this event impacted Norman's mental and emotional state is a matter of some dispute. However, he did dedicate the rest of his life to philanthropic causes in New Orleans (Drake 662). In 1843, directly inspired by the works of Catherwood and Stephens in Central America, Norman completed the second, post-Mexican independence account of Maya archaeological sites to be published in the United States, Rambles in Yucatan: Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabah, Zayi, Uxmal, &c (Duyckinck 73). The book launched his career as an antiquarian collector: he would spend the rest of his life recording and collecting antiquities, and donating them to various historical societies in the United States (his artifacts from the Yucatan were presented to the New York Historical Society shortly after his publication of Rambles in Yucatan) (Duyckinck 73). In 1845, Norman completed New Orleans and its Environs, a historical sketch of New Orleans and the surrounding area, as well as his second and final book on travel and antiquities collecting in Latin America, Rambles by Land and Water, or, Notes of Travel in Cuba and Mexico. Norman remarried in 1855, in the midst of declining health conditions. Five years later, while traveling in Mississippi, Norman was struck with pneumonia. He died in Summit, Mississippi on February 1, 1860.
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 at its peak (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 Yucatan; 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.
Norman published a series of lithographs in Rambles in Yucatan (1843) depicting either buildings or artifacts from Uxmal, among them The Pyramid, Uxmal Ruins, and Moonlight, Uxmal Ruins, the book’s frontispiece (Norman 154-65). In the book, Norman specifically mentions Catherwood and Stephens’s expedition as the inspiration for his own journey to Uxmal. Catherwood’s illustrations of Uxmal can be seen as directly influencing Norman’s depictions; while all of Catherwood’s Uxmal drawings are reproduced in Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan (1841), 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 2: 421-35).
This lithograph depicts a portion of the ruins of Uxmal.
This is one of the first picturesque vistas produced in the Americas to use the specific term, “sublime,” in its description: “The short period to which I was, unfortunately, restricted in the examination of these sublime ruins . . . A moonlight scene from the Governor’s House is one of the most enchanting sites I have ever witnessed” (Norman, Rambles in Yucatan). The word has powerful connotations in the Romantic period, being one of the central concepts associated with the powerful, emotional experience of viewing a picturesque landscape.
Norman’s images of Uxmal are less concerned with producing a scientific record of the site than with conveying a sense of the emotional and sensuous impact given by the experience of a place. They stand in opposition to his text, which is a point-by-point record of the buildings at the site. Consequently, we can see Norman's renderings of Uxmal as visual manifestations of his interest in sublime experience.
Drake, Francis S. “Norman, Benjamin Moore.” Dictionary of American Biography Including Men of the Time; Containing Nearly Ten Thousand Notices of Persons ... Who Have Been Remarkable, or Prominently Connected with the Arts, Sciences, Literature, Politics, or History, of the American Continent. Boston: Houghton, 1879. Print.
Duyckinck, Evert A. “Benjamin Moore Norman” Supplement to the Cyclopædia of American Literature, Including Obituaries of Authors, Continuations of Former Articles, with Notices of Earlier and Later Writers Omitted in Previous Editions. New York: Scribner, 1866. 73. Print.
Norman, Benjamin Moore. Norman's New Orleans and Environs. New Orleans, 1845. Print.
Norman, Benjamin Moore. Rambles by Land and Water, or, Notes of Travel in Cuba and Mexico; Including a Canoe Voyage up the River Panuco, and Researches among the Ruins of Tamaulipas. New York, 1845. 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. 2 vols. New York: Harper, 1841. 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.
Rambles in Yucatan: Including a Visit to the Remarkable Ruins of Chi-Chen, Kabah, Zayi, Uxmal, &c.
J. & H.G. Langley