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Plaque Pendant of Tlaloc

Maya, Late Classic
700-900 CE
7.94 cm x 6.67 cm x 0.64 cm (3 1/8 in. x 2 5/8 in. x 1/4 in.)

Not on view


This pendant offers a fusion of symbols of preciousness for the Classic-period Maya: the materiality of jadeite and its green color, and the image of Tlaloc, the central Mexican deity of rain and fertility. The work’s thickness results from a calculated effort by the artist to attain the thinnest possible piece of green jade. The object maximizes and showcases the green color, while the white and brown impurities remain largely hidden on the uncarved surface.

The image was achieved with extensive use of hollow tubular drills. The resulting lines are characterized by relatively wide depressions with regular depths and widths. The varying curvatures of the carved lines indicate diversity in the size of drills, which ranged in diameter from 0.7 to 2.1 centimeters. A study of the lines reveals their relative carving order. In the upper portion of the face, the eyes and central scroll on the forehead were carved first; in the lower half, the upturned mouth scrolls were carved first. The relatively straight lines forming the lips and teeth were likely incised using tools such as blades. The depressions of the carved lines are polished, indicating the same tools were used for both carving and subsequent polishing, but different types of abrasives were employed.

Stylistically, the absence of modeling is reminiscent of central Mexican art. Likewise, the imagery is in keeping with that area’s iconography. The large, circular eyes along with the upturned corners of the mouth suggest Tlaloc, the central Mexican rain deity. With eyes closed, his head is framed by cloudlike scrolls that may represent his hair. The fleshless upper jaw containing four rectangular incisors as well as scrolls representing outpouring blood are common characteristics of Tlaloc.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 13, cat. 57.

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. 248-249, pl. 41, fig. 145.

Exhibition History
"All Sides Considered: New Research on the Maya Collection:, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, 09/08/2012 - 06/02/2013.

Acquisition History
Purchased from William Hawker, New York, by Robert Woods Bliss, 1961.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1961-1962.

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