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Carved Vase

Maya, Late Classic
650-900 CE
14.61 cm x 15.24 cm (5 3/4 in. x 6 in.)

On view


The carved panels on this vessel contain two discrete but interrelated scenes divided by glyph columns. Apparently representing mythological episodes, both scenes portray gods with deer features. The panels were deeply excised into the paste, and finer details were incised. To create the illusion of multiple levels, parts of the incisions were made at an angle, and the incisions vary from shallow to deep, depending on the desired effect. There are remains of a brown slip that was applied after the excision was done and a red pigment that was rubbed into some of the finer lines. Faint remnants of a band of blue paint are visible along the exterior rim.
Despite their exceptional workmanship, the hieroglyphs on the incised glyphic columns appear to be purely ornamental as they do not appear to form coherent phrases, nor do they relate to the iconography of the object.
The panel in this picture shows a god with deer attributes, such as antlers and large ears. He is holding a torch or cigar, while he blows a conch-shell trumpet, an inverted jar with a small serpent hangs from his neck. In front of him is a seated deer wearing a crosshatched mantle like carrying a small burden strapped to his back. The combination of torch, conch-shell trumpet, and inverted jar pendant on this representation of the god suggests an association with rainmaking. In Mesoamerica, the sound of musical instruments such as drums, turtle shells, and trumpets is often associated with thunder. Other motifs in this panel provide indications of the scene’s setting. While simplified, the grotesque face in the upper corner might be a personified witz, a mountain symbol with vegetation growing on the forehead and a wide, open mouth that suggests a cave entrance.

Braakhuis, H. E. M. 2001 Way of All Flesh: Sexual Implications of the Mayan Hunt. Anthropos 96 (2):391-409. p. 402.

Coe, Michael D. 1975 Classic Maya Pottery at Dumbarton Oaks. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 15, cat. 6, pl. 6.

Finamore, Daniel and Stephen D. Houston (EDS.) 2010 Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. Peabody Essex Museum; Yale University Press, Salem, Mass.; New Haven, Conn., p. 116-117, cat. 43, pl. 36, fig. 1.

Houston, Stephen D., David Stuart and Karl A. Taube 2006 The Memory of Bones: Body, Being, and Experience among the Classic Maya. 1st ed. University of Texas Press, Austin. p. 264.

Janssens, Bert and Ruud van Akkeren 2003 Xajooj Keej: El Baile Del Venado De Rabinal. Museo Comunitario Rabinal Achi, Rabinal, Guatemala. p. 87.

Kerr, Justin n.d. Maya Vase Database: An Archive of Rollout Photographs. URL: <>. cat. K4336.

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. 386-389, pl. 73, fig. 214.

Robicsek, Francis 1978 The Smoking Gods: Tobacco in Maya Art, History, and Religion. 1st ed. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman. pl. 188-189.

Stone, Andrea and Marc Zender 2011 Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture. Thames & Hudson, New York. p. 160-161, ill. 4.

Willey, Gordon R. 1974 Das Alte Amerika. Propyläen Verlag, Berlin. p. 243, fig. 208.

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

Acquisition History
Purchased from Alphonse Jax, New York (dealer), by Dumbarton Oaks, 1970.

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

Anthropomorphic | Mayas