Color in Mayan Art

A part of the later Preclassic period, Mayan’s artist contribution flourished during the seventh century in Mesoamerica. While it came to an end in the sixteenth century, and many regional variations continued, none were able to capture the essence that the late Preclassic Period had.

Influenced by many cultures, such as the Olmec and Toltecs, their traditional style was uniquely theirs, and managed to survive in various forms. One motif that managed to stand out across all formats of creative expression for the Mayan’s was color. Their structures and manuscripts – that maned to survive – were saturated in color. From magnificent reds, to their signature “Mayan blue”, color was as much of a piece of them as their rituals. Because of the tropical environment, many structural paintings have not been able to survive. However, there were a few that managed to cling to life and remain relatively intact. It is these pieces that give us a better insight as to how color had influence over their creative expression.

Top: Image showing Mayan-Blue

The best example of this can be found in the colorful Bonampak murals, dating to roughly 790 AD. One of the most well preserved Mayan murals, it extends to three walls and the adjacent vaults, displaying nobility, sacrifice, battle and rituals. Within these murals, color inhabits the walls to not only compliment the imagery, but to aid in its story-telling.

Like many cultures, color represented many things, which the Mayan’s took full advantage of while creating. One such color that can be found across displays, even at the Bonampak site, is “Mayan blue” – a bright blue pigment composed of organic and inorganic variables. Exclusive to the Mayan’s, the paint has managed to stand the test of time and against many elements that have destroyed other colors. The technique was lost in the sixteenth century however, like much of the Mayan’s culture.


Vibrant greens ordain the importance of royalty in the Bonampak murals. Blue-greens show the significance of priests and their prayers while celebrated music and dancing occurs. Red and white demonstrates the sacrifice of warriors and future elite. The Murals of Bonampak are just one example of the comprehensive devotion given to the art created, and the importance of color carried throughout Mayan’s art work. More than just extra adornment, it provides a greater depth and understanding to the culture as a whole.

Tia Ramirez



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