Rare Photographs of Chichen Itza, Izamal, Offered in French Auction

June 2nd, 2011 by ejalbright

1860 photo of Chichen Itza Las Monjas by Desire Charnay

One of the earliest photos ever taken at Chichen Itza has come up for sale in a French auction.

In 1860 French explorer Desire Charnay roamed the Yucatan, visiting the major cities and towns, and exploring several of the ancient Maya cities. Although he was not the first to photograph Chichen Itza, his images are the earliest photos that have survived into the 21st century.

Two of his early photographs — one from Chichen Itza, the other from Izamal — are for sale in an auction to be conducted June 8 by Beaussant Lefevre. A third photo, also from Izamal, and taken during Charnay’s second visit to Yucatan in the 1880s, is also on the block. The images are from the Pierre-Marc Richard collection.

The Chichen Itza photograph is of the east side of Las Monjas (the Nunnery). The auction estimate is 18,000 to 20,000 euro ($26,000-$29,000 U.S.).

The image from Izamal is of a giant carved human face which no longer exists. When John Lloyd Stephens visited in the early 1840s, his artist, Frederick Catherwood, captured this iconic work of art; it was still there when Charnay arrived 17 years later, but was gone by the time of his later voyage in the 1880s. Because the image is a lithograph and not an actual photograph the auction estimate is 3,000-4,000 euro ($4,350-$5,800).

The later Izamal image does not appear in the auction catalog, as is described as a “peinture d├ęcorative” on the pyramid of Ka-bul and is from Charnay’s book of his second voyage. However, there is no such illustration in the book. In any case, the auction estimate for the image is 500-1,000 euro ($700-$1,500).

1860 photo of giant stone face in Izamal by Desire Charnay

The auction catalog with two of the three images, can be downloaded HERE.

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