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Photo Credit: © Dumbarton Oaks, Pre-Columbian Collection. Photography by Joseph Mills.

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Figurine of Embracing Couple


Maya, Late Classic
650-800 CE
25.72 cm x 13.34 cm x 8.57 cm (10 1/8 in. x 5 1/4 in. x 3 3/8 in.)
post-fire painted ceramic
PC.B.195

On view


Permalink: http://museum.doaks.org/objects-1/info/22799

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Description
An amorous old man and a young maiden stand in three-quarter view, each with an arm around the other’s waist. He has a shriveled face and bald head, but his huge deer headdress identifies him as a person of importance. The woman is young and beautiful, with a rounded face, closely set eyes, and a flattened forehead that is accentuated by her elaborate coiffure. Both she and her lover are richly attired, and while he lifts her skirt with his left hand, she caresses his cheek with her right hand.

A Classic Maya viewer would likely have found the figure shocking or grotesque. Although the pairing of an old man and a young woman may have been quite natural in a polygamous society, its representation in art was not. Maya artists of this period portrayed men of all ages as young and strong, and they seldom depicted women except in secondary roles (see PC.B.528). Moreover, they generally avoided blatantly sexual themes, except in a few cases such as this, where a woman invariably embraces either an elderly man or an anthropomorphized animal. This has confounded scholars; some suggest that the embrace refers to the mythical pairing of deities, while others argue that the scene is deliberately burlesque, a visual parody of inappropriate sexuality.

This figure is in the Jaina style, named for an island in the Gulf of Mexico where many were reportedly found in burials. It is hollow, made partly with a pottery mold and partly by hand. The back incorporates a whistle that can be played if the figures are turned upside down. The brilliant blue of the figures’ accoutrements is known as Maya blue, a durable pigment made by mixing and heating indigo (a vegetable dye) with a special clay found only in Yucatan. The resulting pigment, highly resistant to the effects of lights, acids, and time, gives Jaina figurines their vibrant hues.


Bibliography
Alcina Franch, José 1979 Die Kunst Des Alten Amerika. Grosse Epochen Der Weltkunst. Ars Antiqua. Herder, Freiburg. fig. 394.

Alcina Franch, José 1983 Pre-Columbian Art. Abrams, New York. fig. 394.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1963 Handbook of the Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art. Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., p. 15, cat. 74.

Benson, Elizabeth P. 1979 From the Island of Jaina: A Maya Figurine. Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 57 (3):94-103. p. 96-98, fig. 3.

Bliss, Robert Woods 1957 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, New York. p. 255, cat. 127, pl. LXXV.

Bliss, Robert W. 1959 Pre-Columbian Art: The Robert Woods Bliss Collection. 2nd ed. Text and Critical Analyses by S. K. Lothrop, Joy Mahler and William F. Foshag. Phaidon, London. p. 263, cat. 127, pl. LXXV.

Bühl, Gudrun (ED.) 2008 Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., p. 220-221.

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Kubler, George 1962 The Art and Architecture of Ancient America; the Mexican, Maya, and Andean Peoples. The Pelican History of Art, Z21. Penguin Books, Baltimore. p. 159, pl. 81.

Kubler, George 1984 Ancient American Gods and Their Living Impersonators. Apollo CXIX (266). p. 12-13, pl. 3.

Lachenal, François and Christian Duverger 1977 The Arts of Latin America: Unesco Travelling Exhibition. UNESCO, Paris. p. 54, cat. 52.

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Mason, J. Alden 1958 Pre-Columbian Art (Review Article of the 1957 Catalogue). Archaeology II (2). p. 123.

Masuda, Yoshio 1981 Kodai Amerika No Isan. Shinch?sha Kodai Bijutsukan ; 14. Kabushiki Kaisha Shinch?sha, Tokyo. pl. 44.

Mayer, Karl Herbert 2020. Academic Publishers, Graz, Austria. fig. 94.

McVicker, Donald 2012 Figurines Are Us? The Social Organization of Jaina Island, Campeche, Mexico. Ancient Mesoamerica 23 (2):211-234. p. 225-226, fig. 15c.

Miller, Mary Ellen 1984 Four Maya Reliefs. Apollo CXIX (266). p. 17-20, fig. 4, 5.

Miller, Mary Ellen and Simon Martin 2004 Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. Thames & Hudson and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, New York; San Francisco. p. 116, pl. 59.

National Geographic Maps 1997 Antigua Mesoamérica. National Geographic Magazine, Spanish December 1997. supplement map.

National Geographic Maps 2002 Antigua Mesoamérica/Los Mesoamericanos. Explora y Navega (children's magazine). supplement map.

National Geographic Maps 2003 Das Alte Mesoamerika. In National Geographic Spezial, Deutschland. vol. März 2003. supplement map.

Pendergast, David M. 1982 The Old Man and the Moon: A 14th-Century Figurine from Lamanai. Rotunda 14 (4):7-12. p. 9.

Penney, David Pre-Columbian Art, Gallery Pamphlet. Detroit Institute of Fine Arts, (unpublished). p. 1.

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. 420-425, pl. 79, fig. 231-232.

Ramírez, Elisa 2002 Mayas Del Norte De Quintana Roo: Mitos Y Cuentos Indigenas, La Diosa De La Luna. Arqueología Mexicana IX (54):78-79. p. 79.

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Soustelle, Jacques 1967 Mexico. Archaeologia Mundi. World Pub. Co., Cleveland. p. 105, cat. 74.

Stone, Andrea 1995 Images from the Underworld: Naj Tunich and the Tradition of Maya Cave Painting. 1st ed. University of Texas Press, Austin. p. 143, fig. 6.29.



Exhibition History
"Indigenous Art of the Americas", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, July 1954 to July 1962.

(photo only) "The Arts of Latin America", UNESCO traveling photographic exhibition, Paris, France, 1977.cat. no. 52.

"I Maya", Palazzo Grassi, Venice, Italy, 9/6/1998 - 5/16/1999.

"Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya", National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, 4/4 - 7/25/2004; California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA, 9/4/2004 - 1/2/2005.

"Lasting Impressions: Body Art in the Ancient Americas" , Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, DC, 10/1/2011 - 3/4/2012.


Acquisition History
Purchased from Earl Stendahl, Los Angeles (dealer), by Robert Woods Bliss, 1954.

Robert Woods Bliss Collection of Pre-Columbian Art, Washington, DC, 1954-1962.

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


Anthropomorphic | Jaina | Mayas