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Carved Vase

Maya, Late Preclassic
200 BCE-100 CE
14.29 cm x 12.07 cm (5 5/8 in. x 4 3/4 in.)

On view


Carved from a dark, fine-grained stone, this vessel is an outstanding example of Late Preclassic Maya sculpture. While a southern origin remains plausible, the vase instead may have originated from the Lowlands.
The carving shows two identical serpents with geometric designs along their bodies. The serpents’ heads are raised upward, with each tail forming a broadly open coil on which rests a large and elaborate head of the rain god, also turned upward. The snakes have crested eyelids and a forward-projecting element that can be characterized as a feather crest. The closest counterparts to the creatures on this vessel are the representations of serpents emerging from cave openings in mountains, at Uaxactun and San Bartolo. These snakes may symbolize the rain-bringing winds coming out of caves, as suggested by their association with mountains and by their flower and breath symbolism. The blood gushing from the serpents’ mouths and the presence of severed heads also indicate sacrificial connotations.

Fields, Virginia M. and Dorie Reents-Budet (EDS.) 2005 Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship. Scala; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, London; Los Angeles. p. 160-161, cat. 60.

Kerr, Justin n.d. Maya Vase Database: An Archive of Rollout Photographs. URL: <>. cat. K2786.

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. 100-103, pl. 7, fig. 50, 51.

Schele, Linda and Mary Ellen Miller 1986 The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth. p. 201-203, pl. 67.

Willey, Gordon R. 1974 Das Alte Amerika. Propyläen Verlag, Berlin. p. 233, fig. 117.

Exhibition History
"The Blood of Kings: A New Interpretation of Maya Art", Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX, 5/17 - 8/24/1986; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, 10/8 - 12/14/1986.

"Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA, 9/9/2005 - 1/8/2006; Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, TX, 2/12 - 5/7/2006; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY, 6/11/ - 9/10/2006.

Acquisition History
Purchased from Edward Merrin (The Merrin Gallery), New York (dealer), by Dumbarton Oaks, 1970.

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