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Polychrome Vase

Maya, Late Classic
650-750 CE
21.4 cm x 13.9 cm (8 7/16 in. x 5 1/2 in.)

On view


This cylinder vase has a flat bottom and slightly incurved walls; its exterior is painted in shades of red and black over an orange slip. The interior is decorated with a single red band along the rim and vertical gray brushstrokes below. The exterior composition is dominated by a painted scene framed by two bands with circular and cross motifs. Bands of solid red mark the top and bottom of the exterior surface. In addition, one row of pseudoglyphs runs between these bands and three more appear in the scene itself. The pseudoglyphs are a repeating set of two or three graphemes outlined in black and filled with solid red. Their execution is fluid, but they are nothing but generic imitations of real glyphs. The painted scene, however, is the work of an accomplished artist in terms of its execution and composition. The dominant palette is red and orange, with some additional gray. All forms are outlined in black.
Almost one-third of the painted scene is a depiction of a fantastic creature that combines fish and snake traits. It has been identified as a distinct class of supernatural beings—a “bearded dragon.” Most attributes of this monster are consistent with representations in Classic Maya art and writing of the xook fish, which has been identified as a shark, possibly a bull shark. The shark monster emerges from a whirlpool. Blood seems to be gushing from the creature’s mouth and wound: the Jaguar God of the Underworld has speared the shark. This deity is accompanied by the Pax God, who also holds a spear and seems ready to strike the beast. The two deities are standing waist-deep in water marked by S-scrolls (jets of water or vapor) and water lilies growing out of a skull-like root. The water is the same red as the shark’s blood, as if the artist wanted to show that the water was in fact the monster’s blood.

Bowles, John H. 1974 Notes on a Floral Form Represented in Maya Art and Its Iconographic Implications. In Primera Mesa Redonda De Palenque, Part 1, Merle Greene Robertson, ed., pp. 121-127. Palenque Round Table (1 Session, 1973). Robert Louis Stevenson School, Pre-Columbian Art Research, Pebble Beach. vol. 1, fig. 14.

Coe, Michael D. 1965 The Jaguar's Children: Pre-Classic Central Mexico. Museum of Primitive Art, New York. fig. 60.

Coe, Michael D. 1975 Classic Maya Pottery at Dumbarton Oaks. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 19-21, cat. 11, pl. 11.

Finamore, Daniel and Stephen D. Houston 2010 Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. Peabody Essex Museum; Yale University Press, Salem, Mass.; New Haven, Conn., p. 246-247, cat. 21, pl. 80, fig. 1.

Miller, Mary Ellen 1986 The Murals of Bonampak. Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., p. 135-136, pl. 14.

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. 338-342, pl. 61, fig. 184.

Quenon, Michel and Genevieve LeFort 1997 Rebirth and Resurrection in Maize God Iconography. In The Maya Vase Book, Barbara Kerr and Justin Kerr, eds., pp. 884-902. vol. 5. Kerr Associates, New York. fig. 9.

Stone, Andrea and Marc Zender 2011 Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. Thames & Hudson, New York. p. 202-203, ill. 2.

Exhibition History
"Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea", Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA, 3/27/2010 - 7/18/2010; Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, TX, 8/29/2010 to 1/2/2011; Saint Louis Art Museum, Saint Louis, MO, 2/13/2011 to 5/8/2011.

Acquisition History
Gift to Dumbarton Oaks by Alphonse Jax, New York (dealer), 1970.

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

Mayas | Sea