Parution : Painting the skin : pigments on bodies and codices in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica

Painting the skin


Élodie Dupey García serves as a researcher at the Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas at UNAM in Mexico City. She is a co-editor of De olfato. Aproximaciones a los olores en la historia de México.

María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual is a researcher and professor at the University of Valencia in Spain. Her research focuses on cultural studies and physicochemical analysis of body paint, drugs, and aromatics in antiquity.

Résumé de l’éditeur

The book brings together exciting research on painted skins–human, animal, and vegetal–in Mesoamerica. It offers physicochemical analysis and interdisciplinary understandings of the materiality, uses, and cultural meanings of the colors applied on a multitude of skins, including bodies, codices, and even building ‘skins’

Mesoamerican communities past and present are characterized by their strong inclination toward color and their expert use of the natural environment to create dyes and paints. In pre-Hispanic times, skin was among the preferred surfaces on which to apply coloring materials. Archaeological research and historical and iconographic evidence show that, in Mesoamerica, the human body–alive or dead–received various treatments and procedures for coloring it.Painting the Skin brings together exciting research on painted skins in Mesoamerica. Chapters explore the materiality, uses, and cultural meanings of the colors applied to a multitude of skins, including bodies, codices made of hide and vegetal paper, and even building “skins.” Contributors offer physicochemical analysis and compare compositions, manufactures, and attached meanings of pigments and colorants across various social and symbolic contexts and registers. They also compare these Mesoamerican colors with those used in other ancient cultures from both the Old and New Worlds. This cross-cultural perspective reveals crucial similarities and differences in the way cultures have painted on skins of all types. Examining color in Mesoamerica broadens understandings of Native religious systems and world views. Tracing the path of color use and meaning from pre-Columbian times to the present allows for the study of the preparation, meanings, social uses, and thousand-year origins of the coloring materials used by today’s Indigenous peoples.


  • Foreword: Skin-deep / Stephen Houston
  • Introduction: Colors and the skin in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica / Élodie Dupey García and María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual
  • Part I. Coloring alive and dead bodies : materiality and significance of Mesoamerican corporal painting
  • 1. Painting the skin in ancient Mesoamerica / María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual
  • 2. Materiality and meaning of medicinal body colors in Teotihuacan / María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual [and others]
  • 3. Painting the dead in the northern Maya lowlands / Vera Tiesler, Kadwin Pérez López, and Patricia Quintana Owen
  • 4. Body colors and aromatics in Maya funerary rites / María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual [and others]
  • 5. Body color and body adornment at Chichén Itzá / Virginia E. Miller
  • 6. The yellow women : naked skin, everyday cosmetics, and ritual body painting in postclassic Nahua society / Élodie Dupey García
  • 7. The colors of the desert : ritual and aesthetic uses of pigments and colorants by the Guachichil of northern Mexico / Olivia Kindl
  • Part II. Illuminating animal and vegetal skins : chromatic palettes and meaning in pre-Columbian codices
  • 8. Coloring materials, technological practices, and painting traditions : cultural and historical implications of nondestructive chemical analyses of pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican codices / Davide Domenici [and others]
  • 9. The study of color in the Colombino Codex : an experimental approach / Tatiana Falcón
  • 10. Preliminary investigation on the Codex Borbonicus : macroscopic examination and coloring materials characterization / Fabien Pottier [and others]
  • 11. Convergence and difference in the Borgia Group chromatic palettes / Élodie Dupey García and María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual
  • 12. Making and using colors in the manufacture of Nahua codices : aesthetic standards, symbolic purposes / Élodie Dupey García
  • 13. Skin of walls : plaster practices across Maya books, buildings, and people / Franco D. Rossi
  • Epilogue: The painted skin, a cultural and sensorial legacy / María Luisa Vázquez de Ágredos Pascual and Élodie Dupey García

Informations pratiques

  • Éditeur : Tucson : The University of Arizona press ; Mexico City : Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas
  • Date de parution : 2018
  • Description matérielle : 1 vol. (X-284 p.-[32] p. de pl.) : ill. en coul., fac-sim., couv. ill. en coul. ; 27 cm.
  • Note : Bibliogr. p. [223]-263. Index
  • ISBN 9780816538447. – ISBN 0816538441 (rel.)
  • Disponible en ligne (payant), url : <>


  • PARIS-BnF : Tolbiac – Rez-de-jardin – magasin : 2019-153123
  • PARIS-Médiathèque MQB

Olivier Jacquot

Chargé de la valorisation et des données de la recherche > Coordination de la recherche > Délégation à la Stratégie et à la recherche > Bibliothèque nationale de France

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