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Bead of a Feline Head

Maya, Classic, general
200-900 CE
1.91 cm x 2.22 cm x 3.18 cm (3/4 in. x 7/8 in. x 1 1/4 in.)

On view


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Delicately carved in the round, this compact bead represents a head of a feline—possibly a jaguar or a puma—based on the elongated muzzle. The eyes were created with a tubular drill, leaving a central protrusion for the pupils, which may have been highlighted by red pigment given the faint residue in the orbits. The eyes were then carved at either end to produce the characteristic shape of cat eyes. Two finely incised whiskers on each side of the muzzle frame the nose. The mouth is slightly open to reveal both upper and lower teeth, but no canine teeth are evident. The scroll-like ears are a common way to depict jaguar ears in Maya art, but they are thrust backward, flat against the head, suggesting a gesture of aggression or attack. The slight lines incised on the underside of the chin may represent the white hair over the loose skin that is character¬istic of pumas and jaguars. Two perpendicular perforations pierce the object—one enters in front of the ears, and the other penetrates from the back of the head to the center of the mouth—suggesting that the bead formed part of a composite ornament. Although the majority of the stone is bright green, the right side of the face is mostly white with a green patch on the cheek.

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. 434.

Gallenkamp, Charles and Regina Elise Johnson (EDS.) 1985 Maya: Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. H.N. Abrams, New York. p. 172, cat. 118.

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. 238-239, pl. 37, fig. 137, 138.

Exhibition History
"Maya: Treasures of an Ancient Civilization", American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 5/1 - 7/28/1985; Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA, 8/28 - 11/3/1985; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, 12/15/1985 - 2/16/1986; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, 3/23 - 6/15/1986; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City, MO, 7/20 - 10/15/1986; The Albuquerque Museum, Albuquerque, NM, 11/16/1986 - 2/8/1987.

Acquisition History
Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by Mrs. Mildred Bliss, 1964.

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

Animals | Bead | Felines | Mayas