top of page

Frederick Catherwood

Frederick Catherwood (1799-1854) was an English architect, artist, and explorer.  He is probably best remembered today for his evocative and exquisitely rendered drawings and paintings of Maya ruins in Central America and southern Mexico, made while traveling with adventure writer John Lloyd Stephens (1805-1852).  Catherwood often used a Camera Lucida for his drawings, which helped give his work precise detail.  Their two books, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán and Incidents of Travel in Yucatán, were best sellers and introduced the Maya civilization to the Western world.  Catherwood met Stephens in 1836 in London.  After they read accounts of the ancient civilizations of Mexico and Central America published by Alexander von Humboldt and Juan Galindo, they decided to visit the region themselves, with the goal of producing a detailed and illustrated account.  During the years 1839-1840 they visited dozens of ruins and produced detailed description of 44 sites, many for the first time.  Their writings, and Stephens’ lectures, did a great deal to dispel ideas that the ancient ruins of Mesoamerica had been built by Europeans or Asians, and that, instead, they were the remains of great Native American civilizations about which (at the time) we knew almost nothing.  One of the best accounts of the Catherwood-Stephens expeditions is William Carlsen's (2016) Jungle of Stone: The true story of two men, their extraordinary journey and the discovery of the lost civilization of the Maya.  Most of Catherwood's engraving-prints have been lost or destroyed, although many of his original lithographs are on exhibit at the Casa Frederick Catherwood Museum in Mérida, Yucatán State, Mexico.  Photographs of five of these lithographs are below.  The beautiful colonial city of Mérida is gateway to Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mayapan, Labna, and other important ancient Maya sites.

Catherwood's Teocallis, at Chichen-Itza.

Chichen Itza

Catherwood's Idol and Altar at Copan.jpg

Stella (background) and altar (foreground) at Copán.

Catherwood's Well at Bolonchen.jpg

Well at Bolonchen

Catherwood's Idol at Copan.jpg

Stela at Copán

Catherwood's Temple, at Tulum.jpg


bottom of page