Censer Stand with the Head of a Supernatural Being with a Kan Cross

Mexico, Usumacinta region, Chiapas, Palenque, Maya culture
Late Classic period (A.D. 600-900)
c. A.D. 690-720
Ceramic with traces of pigments
44 7/8 × 21 1/2 × 11 1/2 in. (114 × 54.6 × 29.2 cm)
AP 2013.02
Currently On View
Monumental ceramic censer stands are some of the finest and largest freestanding sculptures created by Maya artists. The sophistication and craftsmanship demonstrated in this stand are indicative of Palenque, an important Maya city-state located in current-day Chiapas, Mexico, that flourished in the seventh century. Ceramic censers (incensarios) were an important component of ritual paraphernalia and ceremonial life at Palenque. They were used to represent and venerate divine beings, primarily the deities of the Palenque triad (called GI, GII, and GIII). Censers were composed of a stand and a brazier-bowl (now missing), which was placed on top and used for burning copal incense. The stands were elaborately embellished with a variety of iconographic elements, most often featuring the Jaguar God of the Underworld (GIII). For the Maya, the center of the universe was the Axis Mundi, or World Tree, which had roots growing deep in the sea under the earth and branches that rose to support the heavens. Symbolically, the tubular bodies of the censers formed cosmic trees that made the movement of deities through the cosmos possible during ritual acts. This censer stand is sculpted with a vertical tier of five heads. The lowest head is an unidentified reptilian, surmounted by a head that may be a human in the guise of a deity, probably the Jaguar God of the Underworld. This head has an open mouth with a cut-off jaw. The inside of the mouth is marked with a Kan Cross (X) and resembles the entrance of a temple. This principal head is topped by Itzamye, the serpent-bird, indicating a symbolic shift to the branches of the World Tree (Axis Mundi) in the celestial realm. The two upper reptilian heads are versions of the Jester God, who resided in the upper heavens. The side flanges of this censer stand are decorated with a variety of motifs that include (from top to bottom) jewels with bird-shaped heads and ribbons, stylized crocodile ears, crossed and knotted bands, and ornamented ear spools. Traces of the original blue, red, and white pigments are still present on the surface.

Provenance

(Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles), August 1968; purchased by a European private collection; purchased by Daniel Wolf, New York, through a private treaty sale arranged by (Sotheby’s, London), 1984 or 1985; purchased by Oceantrawl Inc., Issaquah, Washington, 1999; purchased through (Ancient Art of the New World, Inc., Miami Beach) by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2013