NINE SPIRITS OF PLANTS AND THE GOD OF PLANTS Mayan culture, Guatemalan highlands (Alta Verapaz region) Late
Classical, 600-900 AD Brown
ceramic Spirits of plants: H. 14,3 to 23,2 cm
Monkey god: H. 38,3 cm
Maya nine plants spirits and monkey god, brown ceramic,
Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Plants spirits: H. 5 5/8 in - H. 9 1/4 in
Monkey god: H. 15 3/8 in
Provenance: Private American
Acquired by the present owner in 2001
Galerie Lin et Émile Deletaille, Brussels
Dominique Blieck, Brussels, 1980s
Galerie Émile Deletaille, Brussels
This series of effigies belongs to a type of terracotta figurine that was produced between the 5th and 9th centuries mainly in the highlands of present-day Guatemala, south of the regions in which classical Mayan culture flourished in parallel. In contrast to the finely molded details at the front of the figures, the rear side of these objects is summarily modeled.
Although their function is still subject to discussion today, the pairs of holes (possibly for attachment) at the back of these hollow figures, with an opening at the base, suggest that they could have been fitted on poles and thus used as puppets in ritual theatrical performances.
Of moderate size (with heights ranging from about fifteen to twenty centimeters and only one pair of holes at the back), nine figurines did not necessarily constitute a single set but they have in common that they represent personifications of cultivated plants, including gourds, and therefore probably had a propitiatory destination in fertility rites. Most of these "plant geniuses" (one of whom carries a "small" in one hand) have more or less aged or even skeletal features, while one of them has rather ape-like features and two others appear as a young man who seems to be the southern equivalent of the beautiful dancing corn god of the Mayan lowlands. One of these is perched on the top of a mountain, itself personified just like a plant.
Of a large size (with a height of almost forty centimetres and three pairs of holes superimposed at the back), this figurine represents a large monkey god, on which twelve small monkeys climb, which have the astonishing characteristic of being acephalous. One of them surmounts the god's head, while six climb to his left, four to his right, and another appears at the bottom between his legs. The monkey was an emblematic animal among the ancient Mayans, associated with the sun since it lived in the canopy of trees while descending from an antediluvian humanity. Thus their monkey god was a patron of activities as specifically human as crafts, arts and letters. It was also the eleventh of the twenty day signs of the tzolkin or divinatory cycle of the Mayan calendar: "Batz'/Chuen" (equivalent to the Aztec sign Ozomatli "monkey").
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