Vessel with a Mythological Frieze

Possibly Guatemala or Belize, Maya culture
Late Classic period (A.D. 600–900)
c. A.D. 550–950
Polychromed ceramic
H. 10 13/16 in. (27.5 cm); Diam. 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm)
AP 2004.02
Currently On View
This tall vessel is skillfully painted with a unique mythological frieze depicting two renderings of the aged supreme deity Itzamna, the god of heaven and sun for the Yucatec Maya. One scene portrays the dying or wounded Itzamna lying motionless on the back of a peccary (wild pig), his head turned sharply upward. He is shown with his characteristic hooked nose and large goggle eyes, wearing a thickly padded loincloth and complex headdress with water lily, beads, and scrolls. Moving counterclockwise, a massive wood column incorporating janiform portraits of the jaguar god of the Underworld with his spotted cheeks separates the two renderings of Itzamna. The second scene portrays Itzamna energetically straddling a deer and gesturing to a standing, aged figure (probably a personification of the deer god) who wears a striped cape and carries a canoe paddle held upside down in one hand while pointing with the other to a vaporous offering below. The entire scene is framed above with a stepped sky band enclosing stars and other celestial glyphic signs. Based on related vessels, the scene seems to pertain to a myth concerning the dying or wounded Itzamna being restored to life by the moon goddess Ixchel accompanied by deer, her alter egos. The rim text identifies the vessel as a drinking cup for cacao (chocolate), a beverage of the elite in the Classic period, and continues and ends with titles for the lord who commissioned the vessel.

Provenance

Reputed to be from Belize; Jorge Castillo, Guatemala and Florida, early 1970s; purchased by John Fulling, Everglades, (imported into United States via Martin-Merrill Customs brokers, Port Everglades, Florida, in the early 1970s). (with Stoetzer, Inc., Florida, as agent for owner), sometime prior to June, 2002. (sale, Christie’s, Paris, 14 June 2004, no. 423, illus. p. 154–55, as “Mayan Polychrome Cylinder Vessel”); purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2004.