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Ritual and Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art

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Ritual and Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art
By Julia Guernsey. (University of Texas Press, Austin: 2006. Pg. 256. 34 b&W photos, 105 figures, 5 maps.) ISBN 10: 0-292-71323-1. ISBN 13: 978-0-292-71323-9.

Reviewed by Simon Bonim - January 12, 2007

Resplendent with stone stelae, carved stone alters, and other sculptures, the ancient city of Izapa, in Chiapas, Mexico, holds a treasure trove of monuments depicting late Preclassic Izapan style artwork. In Ritual & Power in Stone: The Performance of Rulership in Mesoamerican Izapan Style Art Julia Guernsey focuses on Izapan monuments and their corresponding iconography, hieroglyphs, and other images associated with the Izapan style. It also explores the meaning of these monuments against the economic and political context of the Late Preclassic Mesoamerican period as a whole. More important, Guernsey examines how Izapan monuments were used to articulate leadership roles and to define ritual spaces. In addition, these monuments illustrate how rulers exercised their power in both the human and supernatural spheres.

In Ritual & Power in Stone Guernsey provides a detailed historical look at the Izapan art style from the viewpoint of an art historian. In addition, she provides a thorough overview of the Late Preclassical period in southeastern Mesoamerica, covering a broad range of topics from the status of elites and the spread of iconography to the area's geography and the impact of political factors on the development and spread of Izapan style art. Within the scope of this work she also chronicles the current state of research into the study of Izapa, and the Izapan style, assembling data from archeological, art history, and historical sources, as well as from the extensive material cultural remains that have been recovered.

In this singular study, the author acknowledges the fluidity of academic research in this field, and states that the information contained in this book is subject to future review as new information comes to light. In the meantime, however, this book is up-to-date, and presents an absorbing and edifying overview of Late Preclassic Izapan style art. It is also richly illustrated with numerous examples of Izapan styled artwork. I highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in any aspect of Preclassic Mesoamerican studies, especially those with an interest in art history, archaeology, and Pre-Columbian history.

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