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Maya, Late Classic
702-711 CE
167.01 cm x 100.01 cm x 7 cm (65 3/4 in. x 39 3/8 in. x 2 3/4 in.)

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Ritual was a central part of courtly life among the Maya. Rulers enhanced their power by creating ceremonies in which they interacted ritually with their ancestors and the supernatural world. This monumental panel from the site of Palenque shows an early eighth century ruler, K’an Joy Chitam, performing a ceremonial dance. He impersonates Chaak, a god of storm and sacrifice, identified by his bivalve shell ear ornaments and a cross-banded shell diadem in his headdress. In his left hand, he brandishes a stone axe with a shaft ending in a snake, a symbol of lightning, and in his right hand he carries another snake and a water vessel with the glyph for darkness, indicating a thunderous downpour. The inscriptions associated with the scene refer to him as Chaak rather than by his human name, suggesting that the ruler dancing as a god and the god materializing in the ritual are one and the same, united through dance and symbolically sharing the ability to rule and the power to affect atmospheric events.

Following Maya artistic convention, K’an Joy Chitam’s identity is revealed by the presence of his parents, sitting on either side of him. The great Pakal, on the right, and Lady Tz’akb’u Ajaw, on the left, are identified in the glyphic text above them. Pakal holds an effigy of the Jester God, a patron of royal lineage, while Tz’akb’u Ajaw holds the snakefooted god K’awiil, a god of lightning who oversees the spirits associated with localized lineages and deified ancestors. With this imagery, the panel establishes K’an Joy Chitam as the supernaturally sanctioned heir to a long line of distinguished rulers. It was probably his successor who commissioned this monumental work, carved in limestone of the highest quality. Taking the throne after K’an Joy Chitam had succumbed to a rival king, the new ruler—possibly his brother—sought to create a semblance of stability and continuity by emphasizing his ties to the royal line and his predecessor’s semidivine power.

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Schele, Linda and Mary Ellen Miller 1986 The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. 2nd pbk., repr. with corrections. ed. Braziller; Kimbell Art Museum, New York; Fort Worth. Other Kan-Xul monuments: pp. 112, 115.

Exhibition History
"Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 4/4 - 7/25/2004; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, 9/4/2004 - 1/2/2005.

Acquisition History
Gift to Dumbarton Oaks in memory of Robert Woods Bliss by Mrs. Mildred Bliss, 1963.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.

Glyphs | Mayas | Pacal | Palenque