The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Fine Arts   Art of Africa, Oceania, and the AmericasAmericaMesoamerica  
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Mesoamerica: Sophistication and Monumental Art

Mesoamerica – the term used to denote the world known to the Aztecs – was the most highly developed region in the Americas. For 3,000 years, until the arrival of the Spanish in 1519, a series of civilizations – Olmec, Maya, Zapotec, Teotihuacan, and Aztec – inhabited this area. The Mesoamerican peoples shared not only a common history, but also a system of beliefs and practices. They investigated the movement of the stars, formulated sophisticated techniques for measuring time, and devised complex pictographic and hieroglyphic writing systems. They recorded their chronicles and dynastic genealogies; they wrote and recited poetry. Advanced agricultural methods and the domestication of maize, beans, squash, and tomatoes sustained large populations, making it possible to devote time and resources to the arts and to monumental architecture.

The peoples’ rulers, believed to be of divine origin, founded centers such as Teotihuacan, the largest city in Mesoamerica, and Mexico-Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Their pyramids, temples, andpalaces were decorated with imposing sculptures, wall paintings, and stone reliefs. Mesoamerican art served cultural and political goals through the use of exemplary patterns. It presented idealized concepts of authority, of cyclical time, and of the relationship between human beings and their ancestors or between humans and cosmic forces. This transcendent art fulfilled both a social and a religious role, in daily rituals, major
ceremonies, and deity and funerary cults. Centuries later, it would inspire Frank Lloyd Wright, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Henry Moore, and many other modern architects and artists.