National Lecture Program

AIA Lecturer: Elizabeth I. Pope

Affiliation: Art Institute of Chicago

Elizabeth Pope is a specialist in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican art, architecture, and ritual performance with a particular focus on the cosmology and cosmogony of the ancient Maya. She began her personal and professional exploration of non-western cultural cosmologies as an undergraduate at Colgate University, working directly with Dr. Anthony Aveni; in 1990, she received a B.A. in Independent Studies—Social Sciences, in Cross Cultural Studies. Furthering her understanding of the art and cultures of Mesoamerica, Elizabeth received a M.A. in Archaeological Studies from Yale University, with Dr. Mike Coe and Dr. Mary Miller. Under the guidance of Dr. Linda Schele at University of Texas at Austin, Elizabeth received her Ph.D. in 2006 with a study on Mythic Architecture and Performance in Ancient Mesoamerica.

Elizabeth is currently the Research Associate and Collections Manager in the Department of the Arts of Africa and the Americas where she has worked since 2005; previous curatorial appointments include the Yale University Art Gallery (Dept. of Ancient Art) and the Dallas Museum of Art (Dept. of New World Cultures), as well as co-curating and co-organizing additional exhibitions and art installations.

Dr. Pope is the AIA’s 2019/2020 Webster Lecturer.


The Ancient Maya have long been recognized as expert astronomers who closely tracked and documented the movements of celestial bodies. This was not merely for scientific inquiry but reflects a worldview where the night sky was the realm of supernatural beings upon which all life depended. Within the changing patterns of the celestial realm, the ancient Maya saw a narrative of the creation of the cosmos displayed. In this way, the sacred time of creation was ever present, ensuring the perpetuation of the original cosmic design.

Focusing on ancient Maya representations of the celestial realm displayed in works of art, architecture, and ritual performance, this lecture will present Maya depictions and interpretation of the night sky. Furthermore, it will explore how the creation mythology revealed in celestial realm was a touchstone for Maya kings as an expression of sacred authority, and asserted the essential connection between the human world and the supernatural realm.

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