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Dwarf Figurine
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Dwarf Figurine

Description Conservation Exhibitions Provenance Credit
Description Dwarfs were important members of royal Maya courts. They are portrayed serving food, playing musical instruments, holding sacred objects for the ruler, and as diviners and scribes. Their elevated social roles were steeped in cosmology and religious mythology, especially that of the maize god, who was assisted by a dwarf when the deity set the Three Stones of the cosmic hearth at the beginning of Creation. The Classic Maya viewed dwarfs as the living embodiment of the maize god's supernatural helpers, who continued their sacred duty in the regal court. Maya peoples today believe that earlier creations were populated by a race of dwarfs who now reside inside the earth, living below the ruins of the ancient cities. The ornate turban worn by this dwarf is typical of the courtly garb of key individuals serving the ruler. This so-called spangled turban headdress is especially connected to gods and humans associated with Creation and scribal duties. A curious feature of this dwarf is what may be a halved cacao pod held in his right hand. His cheeks are covered with what appears to be a thin, woven fabric; this recalls other figurines, many of which are dwarfs, with an unidentifiable material plastered to the lower half of their face. These features suggest the depiction of a formal rite. The graceful rendering of this figure and the exceptional attention to detail reveal the work of a master artist.

Low-fired ceramics like this Dwarf Figurine are fragile. It was broken and, in the past, was reassembled from multiple fragments, using a large amount of glue, which caused further damage to the object. Conservation treatment at the Walters began with removing the old glue and reassembling the sculpture using a more appropriate adhesive that is easily removable should additional conservation be required in the future. The cracks were filled in, and a flaking area on the figure’s right hip was repaired by covering the surface with a thin piece of special paper, which acts like a bandage.

  • 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 J. Guy Puerto [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; John G. Bourne, 1960s, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 2009, by gift.
Credit Gift of John Bourne, 2009

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AD 550-850 (Late Classic)
earthenware, post-fire paint
Accession Number
H: 8 x W: 5 x D: 6 1/4 in. (20.32 x 12.7 x 15.88 cm)
Location Within Museum
Not On View


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