Masterpieces from Mesoamerica

Gold Greave, ca. 700-900 AD, Panama, PM 31-36-20/C13368
Gold Greave, side view
Gold Disc, ca. AD 500-700, Panama, PM 30-49-20/C11058
Maya Jade Head, ca. 687 AD, Guatemala, PM 10-70-20/C6100
Maya Jade Head, side view
Maya Jade Head, reverse view
Classic Maya Wall Panel, 667 AD, Guatemala, PM 00-36-20/C2740
Maya Jade Plaque, ca. Late 7th-Century AD, Chiapas, Mexico, PM 10-71-20/C6667
Peto Vase: Water-Lily Jaguar Vessel, ca. 600-900 AD, Yucatan, Mexico, PM 92-51-20/C2363
Carved Peccary Skull, ca. 580 AD, Honduras, PM 92-49-20/C201
Carved Peccary Skull, detail
Carved Peccary Skull, detail
The Maize God: Maya Sculptured Stone Head, ca. 700-800 AD, Honduras, PM 95-42-20/C716 and PM 95-42-20/C727
Maize God, side view
Maya Pendant, ca. 600-800 AD, Honduras, PM 92-49-20/C921
Jaguar Bowl: Polished Black Incised Bowl with Lid, ca. 375-450 AD, Holmul, Guatemala, PM 11-6-20/C5577
Jaguar Bowl, reverse view

Gold Greave

The subject, symmetry, and clarity of this high quality gold greave (decorative or ceremonial leg armor) all exemplify design elements of Cocle culture.  Found near the corpse of an old man at a large, late grave site in the Sitio Conte sequence, this particular greave was probably part of a mummy bundle containing other jewels, precious adornments, and perishables.  The two crested crocodiles with eagle tails hammered and embossed into the greave incorporate principle mythological and religious Cocle symbols into a beautifully crafted lineage emblem.  C.C.

Gold Disc

This early Columbian gold disc, uncovered at the Sitio Conte grave site, was probably worn as a breastplate by the chief of this prosperous seventh century A.D. town.  Discs of this variety utilize a Peruvian gold-working method that involves hammering nuggets of heated gold, embossing the cooled sheets, and trimming and burnishing the finished plaques.  C.C.

Maya Jade Head

This Maya jade head, made to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the accession to the throne of a lord of Piedras Negra on 6 March 687 AD, is the largest known example of its kind.  Despite damage caused to the head after it was brought to Chichen Itza after AD 800, its delicate facial features still offer a stunning example of Piedras Negras distinct sculptural style.  T.P.

Classic Maya Wall Panel

This beautifully preserved wall panel contains hieroglyphics that may help illuminate previously obscured aspects of Maya civilization.  Collected during a reconnaissance mission by Toebert Maler, a preeminent explorer of Maya ruins, this panel’s minute details speak to the high degree of technical and artistic accomplishment seen throughout Maya sculpture.  I.G.

Maya Jade Plaque

This plague’s unique design, fine quality, and unusual variety of jade all suggest that it was crafted near Palenque Chiapas in the seventeenthth century AD.  The plaque’s numerous alterations and mutilations illustrate a history of theft and incompetent craftsmanship that archeologists term “the Maya collapse.”  T.P.

Peto Vase: Water-Lily Jaguar Vessel

This famous peto vase was crafted in the Puuc Hills of Northern Yucatan during the late Classic Period.  Its striking central figure, the jaguar, mingles with the water lilies to create a scene rife with supernatural elements and dark themes.  The surrounding glyphics represent a funerary chant that reinforces the central picture’s morbidity and underworld imagery.  R.S.

Carved Peccary Skull

This fragmented peccary skull was found at a late classic Maya tomb in Copan, Honduras.  A ritual object that may have been worn as a gorget or breastplate, the skull’s carefully polished, carved, and incised surface depicts an intricate scene replete with elaborately adorned people, animals, death gods, a death’s head altar, and glyphs.  G.W.

The Maize God

One of the finest pieces of pre-Columbian art in the Americas, this handsome, young maize god embodies the stylistic traditions of classic Maya civilization.  The Peabody Museum recovered this piece in the 1890s from Copan, the eastern-most ancient Maya city of the classic civilization.  The maize god exemplifies Copan’s unusual high-relief sculpture technique, which was enabled by access to soft, workable andesite tufa unavailable to other Maya sculptors.  G.W.

Maya Pendant

Excavated by the Peabody Museum between 1891-92 from the classic Maya site Copan, this tiny ornamental object speaks to the craftsmanship and style of the Late Classic Maya period.  Executed without the assistance of metal tools, the pendant’s intricate carved design portrays a dignitary wearing a protective belt typically worn by players in a ceremonial ballgame associated with high social status.  Pendants of this kind were frequently used as grave offerings for elite burials.  G.W.

Jaguar Bowl

“One senses the dignity and grandeur of the culture that produced it—a culture that was, indeed, a civilization in its social and political complexity and one whose great works of art and architecture reflect the aesthetic refinement of its ruling class.”—Gordon R. Willey

This jaguar bowl offers a superb example of Maya ceramic art from the Classic period.  Representative in form, style, and motif, this wildly elegant piece was found in a temple tomb of Early Classic date.  Other pieces of this variety were also used as serving dishes in aristocratic households.  G.W.