Introducing Adela Breton

Yesterday’s history conference was held in the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution (yes, of course Bath has such a thing). On the ground floor of the building there was a remarkable exhibition celebrating the life and work of a 19th Century Bath archaeologist and artist, Adela Breton. Ms. Breton spent much of her life in Mexico painting Aztec and Maya cities. As with most other pioneering women scientists, her work has been largely forgotten.

Breton’s faithful recording of the ancient cities have proved invaluable to archaeologists, but the most amazing thing she did was produce recreations of the decorative friezes on the buildings, in full color. Note that this is not a case of an artist fancifully colorizing an ancient artifact, this is an archaeologist painstakingly examining a site for evidence of pigments, and recreating the art as it would have looked when the site was inhabited.

Here’s a frieze from the Temple of the Jaguars at Chichén Itzá as it looks now.


And here is Breton’s recreation.


My favorite piece from the exhibition is this amazing image of a bat demon. The Maya apparently associated bats with the underworld, because they live in caves.


The exhibition in Bath will continue to October 1st, so do pop in if you happen to be in town. Bristol Museum will be doing something soon too.