Pre-Columbian, eastern Maya Lowlands, Late Classic Period, ca. 800 to 950 CE. A truly striking molded cylinder whose central body is decorated with a band of four alternating scenes: two of woven mats, one of a scribe, and one of a lord. Each of these scenes is in relief, stunning considering how thin the walls of the vessel are. The scribe is depicted with the classic word symbol coming from his mouth, a curved line ending in a pointed tongue. The figure sits on a mat and wears a huge feathered headdress as well as rich ornament: necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. The background of the scene is carefully crosshatched, creating a distinctive style from the smooth sides of the vessel. The lord is depicted similarly, with his body turned in profile, seated with his legs crossed and his hands touching in his lap. He, too, wears rich ornament, including a magnificent headdress, and he, too, is in the foreground of a crosshatched background. Size: 6.25" W x 7.25" H (15.9 cm x 18.4 cm)
Separating these scenes are two beautiful, large depictions of weaving. Weaving is a common symbol in Mayan iconography, known by the word "jal", and probably meant to describe woven cloth that was given as tribute alongside other high value items like jade, quetzal feathers, and cocoa beans. Woven textiles also had a sacred purpose: newly-made sacred objects were seen as vulnerable, susceptible to loss of their souls or powers, and so they would be wrapped in textiles to protect them until they could grow stronger over time.
For the Maya, extraordinary ceramic vases like this example were gifted to elite individuals, akin to the gifts exchanged between high profile dignitaries today. Vases were a functional gift, created by artist/scribes who came from elite families and who took pains to recreate the stories of Mayan mythology and religion as well as to depict royal and godly personages in their artwork. This artwork reinforced the ruling ideology and reminded the viewer of what was valuable in Mayan society. Today, they teach us about the stories that were important to the Maya and also give us clues to how elite people lived and dressed. Scholars have painstakingly worked to decipher the meaning of the iconography and glyphs painted on cylinder jars and we know much more about them than we did even twenty years ago.
Provenance: private D. C. collection, California, USA; D. C. is an Emmy Award winning Hollywood writer and Executive Producer, collected before 2000; ex Arte Primitivo Gallery, New York, USA 6/1999 #150
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