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Maize God Contortionist

Maya, Early Classic
200-650/750 CE
7.3 cm x 4.45 cm x 1.91 cm (2 7/8 in. x 1 3/4 in. x 3/4 in.)

Not on view


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In terms of carving technique, style, and iconography, this impressive jade is clearly Early Classic lowland Maya, quite probably from Peten or nearby areas.

Much of the sculpted front side displays a vein of jade that, although rich in color, is filled with mica inclusions, a common impurity in jadeite from the Middle Motagua region. Although mica is a far softer material that is very often a dull, brownish yellow in Motagua jadeite, here it augments the jade by giving it a sparkling luster. The carver skillfully exposed the micaceous vein of green jade on the front portion of the figure—forearm, head, legs, and uppermost jade belt piece. This darker hue contrasts with the whitish color visible on the torso, a shade that extends to the back of the piece. Much of the whitish jade on the reverse side was removed to reduce the object’s weight. This cavity, however, has another important function, as the cutting away of the back edge and the central hollowing produced a narrow projecting rim that could be readily drilled through for suspension. Six biconically drilled holes pass through this rim—the largest pair appear at the top and bottom edge, and two more pairs pass horizontally through the upper portion of the rim
The ornament’s carving displays a very popular motif in Early Classic Maya jades: a contortionist performing a handstand, with his legs bending back over his head. The flattened and elongated brow, curl at the back of the head, and forelock identify this figure as the maize god.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 250, cat. 104-A, pl. LXIV.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 258, cat. 104-A, pl. LXIV.

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. 196-199, pl. 22, fig. 108, 109.

Taube, Karl A. 2005 The Symbolism of Jade in Classic Maya Religion. Ancient Mesoamerica 16:25-50. p. 26, fig. 2e.

Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, August 1956 to July 1962.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Robert Stolper, New York (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1956.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1956-1962.

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