Codex-Style Vessel with Two Scenes of Pawahtun Instructing Scribes
Possibly Mexico or Guatemala, Maya culture
Late Classic period (A.D. 600–900)
c. A.D. 550–950
Ceramic with monochrome decoration
H. 3 3/4 (9.5 cm); Diam. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm)
Currently On View
This celebrated vessel depicts two scenes with the deity Pawahtun, a principal god of Maya scribes, in animated lessons with young disciples. The Pawahtun is recognizable by his aged features and his netted headdress with a brush wedged into the ties. In one scene, the Pawahtun is holding a pointer and reading from a folded codex placed in front of him. As he looks directly at the two individuals seated in rapt attention in front of him, he recites the bar and dot numbers attached to a speech thread, which may represent a date. In the second scene, the Pawahtun hunches intently forward and taps the ground as he speaks to two similarly attentive pupils, an Ah k'hun (a keeper of the holy books), who wears a turban with the bundle of quill pens stuck into the top, and a second figure with a goatee. The Pawahtun's spoken words appear as a group of glyphs connected to a speech thread that emanates from his mouth, which may be interpreted as “receive my bad omens.” The Codex style takes its name from a small group of vessels painted with scenes of great realism in very fine monochromatic lines on cream backgrounds by artists who must have been primarily painters of codices, the folding-screen books that the Maya made from bark paper coated with stucco. These codex-style ceramics give an excellent idea of the high elegance and extraordinary delicacy that must have characterized ancient Maya books, none of which has survived from the Classic period.