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Jean-Frédéric Waldeck

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Jean Frederic Maximilien de Waldeck (March 16, 1766 - April 30, 1875) was a French antiquarian, cartographer, artist and explorer.

Waldeck was undoubtably a man of talent and accomplishments, but his love of self promotion and refusal to let the truth get in the way of a good story leave some aspects of his life in mystery.

At various times Waldeck said that he was born in Paris, Prague, or Vienna, and at other times claimed to be a German, Austrian and English citizen. He often claimed the title of Count and occasionally that of Duke or Baron.

Waldeck said he had traveled to South Africa at age 19 and thereafter had begun a career in exploration. He returned to France and studied art as a student of Jacques Louis David. He said he had traveled to Egypt with Napoleon's expedition. None of this has been independently verified; indeed most of Waldeck's autobiography before about 1820 (including his given birthdate) is completely undocumented and his name is absent from records of various early expeditions he claimed to have been on.

Waldeck's first contact with the art of ancient Mesoamerica seems to have been when he was hired by Lord Kingsborough to make engravings based on drawings of the city of Palenque. Waldeck's engravings were much more beautiful and artistic than the original drawings he worked from, and gave the monuments a decidedly Egyptian look, in line with his patron's views that the ancient Mesoamerican Native Americans were the Lost Tribes of Israel.

In 1825 he was hired as a hydraulic engineer by an English mining company in Mexico. After this job he explored the Pre-Columbian ruins of the country. Jean Fredric Waldeck is best known for his researching and documenting such Ancient Maya sites as Palenque and Uxmal. Waldeck published numerous lithographs of what he had come across. His last set of prints was published in 1866 when he celebrated his presumed centennial. He was active up until his death, at the incredible age of 109 years and 45 days. He supposedly died of a heart attack while eying a beautiful woman near the Champs-Elysées[?] in Paris.

Waldeck subsequently influenced many generations of artists and explorers to come, including Dame Freya Stark[?] and Helge Ingstad (1899-2001).

Further Reading

  • In Search of the Maya by Robert L. Brunhouse, University of New Mexico Press, 1973 -- contains a chapter on Waldeck

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