Sculptured stucco piers on the facade of the Temple of the Inscriptions. (Photo: Merle Greene Robertson.)

That the Maya artists of Palenque were quite aware of the implications of the viewpoint of the beholder can be clearly seen from the way in which they positioned their stucco sculptured piers on the Temple of the Inscriptions, both with respect to their location on the building itself and with respect to the distance and angle from which they would be seen.

For example, the piers of the Temple of the Inscriptions, sculptured with single frontal figures, painted in brilliant red, blue and yellow, appear from the distance as guardian sentinals standing erect and majestic at their stations at the entrance to this funerary temple. "The distance necessary for the visual projection," Hildebrand says, "has no direct relation to the precision or vagueness of the picture," nor is the scle of the representation dependent upon the question of distance.

Now, the pyramid substructure leading up to the base of the temple and also to the base of the piers, is approximately forty meters high, ascending at an angle of approximately 42 degrees.

The obvious place from which the piers would be viewed is from the large court in front of the temple by persons approaching from the north.


As a procession of dignitaries approached the temple, they would have been able to see the full figure clearly from a distance of one hundred meters in front of the temple base. By the time they reached a distance of ten meters, the full figures would still have been visible, but as they moved closer, the portion of the figure visible would have diminished rapidly. At the base of the pyramid and at any point on the staircase, the figures cannot be seen at all. There is no point at any distance to the north of the temple from which it would have been possible to view the entire figures had they not been placed upon pedestal bases. As it is, even at one hundred meteres the tops of the pedestal masks can be seen.