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The enthroned lord is a dominant theme in Classic Maya imagery. Even when appearing alone, as on this shell pendant, the ruler on his seat of power implies an audience of courtiers.
Made of the queen conch (Strombus gigas), the object had it recessed areas created by boring, sometimes by multiple drilling, and was hollowed out further by scoring and polishing. A file helped to define the toes and edges. A fine abrasive probably assisted in the smoothing of surfaces. Faint red pigment appears in most of the shallower incisions that define the figure.
The figure face to the viewer’s left, a standard pose for a ruler when addressing courtiers, visitors, or captives. His right hand, lightly clenched or extended, rose to his chests, while his left hand, with fingers seemingly in flutter, rest on his knees. Presumably, this gesture is not only conventional but also hints at some specific nuance of interaction. The Lord exhibit a spangled headdress with knotted hair and a delicate rendering of fingernails and details of cloth and facial cicatrices.
The seven glyphs that adorn the throne of this shell silhouette make up a typical Late Classic dedicatory text. It conforms to a sentence-like structure called a Primary Standard Sequence, and identifies the piece’s owner Ichin.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1967 The Maya World. Crowell, New York. p. 83, endpapers.
Benson, Elizabeth P. 1969 Supplement to the Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D. C., p. 3, cat. 437.
Goldstein, Marilyn M. and Lourdes Suárezs Diez 1997 Conchas Precolombianas: Mesoamerican Art Created from Seashells. Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus, New York. p. 81, cat. 184.
Mora-Marin, David F. 2007 Two Incised Shell Silhouette Plaques at Dumbarton Oaks. FAMSI Journal of the Ancient Americas (online version). http://research.famsi.org/aztlan/uploads/papers/Mora-Marin-ShellSilhouettePlaques.pdf.
Pillsbury, Joanne, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito and Alexandre Tokovinine (EDS.) 2012 Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks. Pre-Columbian Art at Dumbarton Oaks, Number 4. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 446-450, pl. 84, fig. 257, 260.
Stone, Andrea and Marc Zender 2011 Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. Thames & Hudson, New York. p. 58-59, ill. 2.
"Conchas Precolombianas: Mesoamerican Art Created From Seashells", Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University, Brookville, NY, 11/5 - 12/24/1997.
"Pass It On: Visual Communication in the Pre-Columbian World", Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 10/10/2008-5/1/2009.
"Lasting Impressions: Body Art in the Ancient Americas" , Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 10/1/2011 - 3/4/2012.
Purchased from Alphonse Jax, New York (dealer), by Dumbarton Oaks, 1966.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.