Embellished by varying surface treatments such as painted stucco and plano-relief carving, cylindrical vessels with tripod supports are diagnostic of the Early Classic period and are found throughout the Maya area and central Mexico. They have been documented in sizable quantities, many with lids, from Kaminaljuyu, Tikal, and Teotihuacan, among other sites. This particular brown-slipped, lidded vessel shows two similar panels that differ only slightly in the headdress and the bench. Each panel features a figure seated—with knees up and arms crossed over them—on a low bench. The individuals are in profile, facing the viewer’s left, and each wears a feather headdress and a prominent back mirror.
This object has near vertical walls and a squat profile, but Early Classic cylinder tripod vessels span the spectrum from squat bowls to taller vases. While some tripods have bulbous rattle feet, this work’s supports consist of undecorated slab feet that are recessed on the backs, as if molded around a rectangular block. The rattle effect in this vessel is created by three pellets in the lid’s keyhole-shaped knob handle, which is perforated in three places on the sides; the pellets seem to be the by-products of the three perforations.
A variegated light- to dark-brown slip, with some orange coloration, covers all sides of the container and lid, with the exception of the underside of the bowl and the inner sides of the feet. The incised motifs stand out against the background, which was created by scraping away the slip to reveal the lighter, tan color of the paste.
The combined assemblage of the lid and cylindrical tripod vessel has been compared to a house or temple, with the gently sloping lid as the roof and the feet often shaped into a talud-tablero (architectural style consisting of a sloping surface below a platform) outline as the building foundation. Within this architectural framework, the individuals depicted on the vessel may be considered to be seated in a roofed building either inside or in front of a room or doorway, as suggested by the delineated panels. The floor line on which the figures sit coincides with the top of the thick¬ened basal wall of the vessel.
Aside from the realistic body proportions and fluid, bodily outlines that reflect Maya canons of art, the representation of the individuals recalls non-Maya imagery—in particular the facial features and the seated pose with bent knees pulled toward the chest. This position is associated with Teotihuacan-related imagery. With the exception of the ear ornaments shown in profile, which are in line with Maya conventions, the Dumbarton Oaks figures’ attire resembles central Mexican representations—including the sandals, though here they seemingly lack soles, as well as the turbanlike headdresses with feathers streaming from them.
The identity of the individuals represented on the Dumbarton Oaks vessel may be hinted at by their gestures and the impressively large disk or mirror that is worn on their backs and framed with a scalloped rim and feathers. Arms crossed in front of the chest signify a subordinate rank, although the individuals are not depicted holding any weaponry, they may represent subordinate warriors.
Coe, Michael D. 1975 Classic Maya Pottery at Dumbarton Oaks. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 11, cat. 1, pl. 1.
Fagan, Brian M. 2010 Ancient Lives: An Introduction to Archaeology and Prehistory. 4th ed. Pearson/Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, N.J., p. 153, fig. 6.12.
Gallenkamp, Charles and Regina Elise Johnson 1985 Maya: Treasures of an Ancient Civilization. H.N. Abrams, New York. p. 115, fig. 30
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. 306-309, pl. 54, fig. 169.
"Maya: Treasures of an Ancient Civilization", American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY, 5/1 - 7/28/1985; Natural History Mueum 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.
Purchased from Alphonse Jax, New York (dealer), by Dumbarton Oaks, 1970.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.