DECORATED TRIPODE PLATE OF A DANCER PERSONIFYING THE DIVINITY OF MAIZE Mayan Culture, Petén, Guatemala
Recent Classical, 600-900 A.D.C. Polychrome
H. 9 cm - D. 36,2 cm
Maya polychrome tripod plate with dancer as the maize god, buffware with polychrome, Petén, Guatemala,
H. 3 3/8 in - D. 14 1/4 in
Provenance: Private American
Acquired by the current owner in 1989
Merrin Gallery, New York
Andy and Von Long Gallery, Denver, active from the 1960s to the 1980s
Ancient Art of the New World, New York
This large tripod dish, each hollow leg of which contains terracotta marbles to act as bells, is inspired by an original model of dishes that was first produced in the northeast Petén in the early classical period of recent times. Examples of such dishes that have been discovered in an archaeological context have shown that the dancer personifying the reborn maize deity Hun Ixiim, painted on the bottom of the object, was frequently ritually neutralized (by means of a perforation, which is not the case here), on the occasion of the death of the person who had decided to take it to his grave. The examples found in excavations by archaeologists have also shown that the head of the deceased was covered with these dishes, with the decoration on the inner face placed against the face (and therefore with the feet of the object facing upwards from the grave).
An unusual originality of the decoration of this piece is that the god is oriented to the right, instead of to the left according to the usual canons of Mayan imagery, and that he is framed by two dwarves, the one on the left of which - through his gestures and facial features - echoes the main character. Around it, this image is framed by an annular frieze of pseudo-cephalomorphic cephalomorphic glyphs of a type frequent on this kind of dish, itself surrounded on the edge of the dish by eight variations on the glyph of the "god K" K'awiil1. This decoration is bounded on the outside by a frieze formed by a black-painted repetition of the distinctive element of the "logogram of the (vital) breath"2, with the value 'IK' "air, wind", which is echoed below the dish by a basal ridge formed by the repetition of the same elements in relief.
JMH 1 - Divinity of political power among the Mayas since the beginning of the classical era (in the fourth century), the god K'awiil would be the Mayan emulator of Tezcatlipoca, the god of empire and war among the Toltecs and then the Aztecs. Indeed, his distinctive attributes are a "mark of brilliance" on his forehead, symbolically representing the reflection of light on a shiny surface (as well as an axe or a tube) from which flames emanate, which is what the ordinary shape of his theonymic glyph here represents. In Maya, k'aa wi'il means "abundance of food" and the name of this deity is therefore not unrelated to the symbolism of maize, which was the basis of the food of the ancient Maya and consumed in particular in the form of tamales (or "breads" in the form of balls of dough cooked in a steaming pan), for the consumption of which dishes such as this one were intended.
2 - This logogram is also, in the list of the 20 day signs of the tzolkin or divinatory cycle of the Mayan calendar, that of the second name ("Ik", equivalent in the Aztecs to the Ehecatl sign "wind").
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