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Lidded Vessel
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Lidded Vessel

Description Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description The Classic Maya political landscape was divided into more than two dozen polities, similar to city-states, composed of a primary site plus aligned towns and villages. Each was headed by a royal lineage supported by noble families, and the polities often competed against each other for political and economic supremacy. Feasts sponsored by the ruling elite provided a crucial platform for securing relations among aligned parties and negotiating new alliances. Feasts were integral to elaborate affairs of state, from rulers' accession rites to royal weddings to war victory celebrations and special religious observances. The consumption of large amounts of sumptuous foods, including drinks made from highly valued cacao (chocolate), was a focal point. The banquets prompted the production of finely made food-service wares in the form of pictorial pottery, their decorative imagery often featuring themes lauding the earthly or supernatural prowess of the host. These ornate vessels also functioned as gifts, their acceptance signaling the guests' alliance or, at least, an association with the host. The vase's hieroglyphic text confirms its function as a drinking vessel-kakaw yuk'ib, or "the cacao drinking cup of . . . " The text goes on to name the cup's patron/owner (at B2) and his father (at d1-d2) Chakjal Mukuuy, "Reddening Dove." Neither of these individuals is known from other Early Classic hieroglyphic texts, and thus we do not know their political or familial identities. Yet the artistic quality of the vessel and its detailed nominal phrase indicate their being members of the nobility if not a royal dynasty of the fourth-fifth centuries. The two hieroglyphic texts are separated by pictorial panels featuring the maize god as an embodied cacao tree. His bejeweled headdress is topped by a sprouting cacao tree like those adorning the vase's lid. Modeled cacao pods embellish the vessel, and the lid's knob is a cacao tree with a bird (now broken). The avian may be the false sun of the previous creation and avatar of the deity Itz'amnaj (God D). Uniting text and image panels are overlapping bands of cacao leaves. The preponderance of cacao imagery supports the interpretation of the text's unusual introductory glyphs (a1-b1) as "sprouting cacao," based on the first sign's resemblance to the vase's sprouting trees (see the Maize god's headdress) and its sub-fixed sign -la, a well-known adjectival element in Maya hieroglyphic writing.
  • Art of Ancient America, 1500 B.C.-1400 A.D.. Museum of New Mexico, Santa Fe. 1998-2008.
  • Exploring Art of the Ancient Americas: The John Bourne Collection Gift. The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville. 2012-2013.
Provenance Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1970s, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
Credit Gift of John Bourne, 2009

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AD 250-550 (Early Classic)
earthenware, slip with incising
Accession Number
H: 13 11/16 x Diam: 9 in. (34.77 x 22.86 cm)
Location Within Museum
Centre Street: First Floor: Lobby


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