Photo Credit: © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection. Photography by Joseph Mills.
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The creation of this vessel involved a reserve technique that began with a plain, cream-white slip that covered the exterior of the entire vase. Most of the painted scene was outlined on this surface and then carefully covered with a reserve material that was removed after applying a thick yellow-orange slip. This method left the figures standing out markedly against the apparent background. Additional colors— red, black, brown, and gray—were added, both over the original designs and over the yellow-orange slip.
The three hieroglyphic captions—one horizontal near the rim and two vertical near the base—remain largely unreadable, with the exception of the bar-and-dot numerals eight and seven that appear as coefficients for the two signs in front of the deer.
The vessel boasts two scenes. The larger scene portrays two white-faced figures flanking a deer covered by a black mantle that has repetitive crossed-bones designs. A bird hovers over the deer, and its claws touch the animal’s ear. In addition to its own ears, the animal has what appears to be a human-shaped ear that is pierced by an oddly shaped element, perhaps an antler. The two humans’ bodies are marked with black, hatched spots. The men are likely hunters, judging from their spears and animal headdresses—a peccary and a badly eroded head with reptile features.
The smaller scene shows two small deer seated in human fashion on either side of a tree. Two characters sit back-to-back on the tree branches and wear stiff-looking white capes. Standing beside the tree, yet another character holds spears and a conch-shell trumpet; he is almost a mirror image of the figure behind him. The hand gestures of the two characters seated in the tree—a wrist raised to the forehead, with the hand extended forward—denote lamentation, perhaps consonant with the mortuary symbolism of the deer mantle. In fact, all the characters on the vessel are essentially identical, with white faces and multiple black, crosshatched spots on their bodies.
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"Ancient American Art", Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, CA, April - June 1942; M. H. De Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco, CA, July - August 1942; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, OR, September - October 1942 (catalogue # 143).
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, April 1947 to July 1962.
Formerly in collection of Enrique Cámara, Merida, Yucatan.
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, July 1941.
Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1941-1962.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Pre-Columbian Collection, Washington, DC.