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Decorated Tubular Bead of Maize God

Maya, Early Classic
200-650/750 CE
7.62 cm x 2.22 cm x 1.59 cm (3 in. x 7/8 in. x 5/8 in.)

Not on view


This small jade, with a standing profile figure carved in high relief, resembles— albeit in a different material and at a reduced scale—monumental Maya panels or stelae. The attempt to remove much of the whitish veins, which are mixed with the more desired light, milky green jade, also contributed to producing a deeper relief, particularly in the elaboration of the figure’s right leg. Biconically perforated through the long axis, the tubular bead is carved primarily on one side, leaving the whiter, reverse side smoothed but plain, typical of Early Classic carved bead. The figure is shown in three-quarter view; the left arm, depicted in the foreground, wraps around the side of the stone. A strand of large, spherical beads encircles the neck, waist, ankles, and wrists. A great, circular earflare completes the ensemble. Near the right hand, at the viewer’s bottom left, are a series of five circular elements—possibly an additional strand of beads, water droplets, blood, or copal.

The elongated slope of the forehead, comparable to an ear of corn, suggests the image represents the young maize deity. In Maya iconography, an individual’s identifying marker usually lies in the headdress. The top of this figure’s head is graced with circular elements that may represent maize grains from which new growth sprouts in cascades down the front of the face. A similar strand of foliage is observed on the back of the head, but the details are missing due to the spalled corner of the bead. A short tuft of hair directly in front of the forehead may represent corn silk. The bilobed or dual circular element shown at the tip of the nose most likely indicates the floral, living essence, or breath soul, of the deity. Manifested in verdant jade, the lush foliation framing the tonsured head, in addition to the luxurious jewelry adorning the body, enliven the image of the young maize deity and allude to concepts of vitality, prosperity, and durability.

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. 251, cat. 116-H, pl. LXVII.

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. 259, cat. 116-H, pl. LXVII.

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. 212-213, pl. 27, fig. 121.

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

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.

Anthropomorphic | Bead | Corn | Mayas