Pre-Columbian, Southern Mexico to Guatemala, Maya, Late Classic Period, ca. 550 to 900 CE. Wow! With gorgeously preserved bright pigment and striking motifs, this is a ceramic cylinder vessel with rich iconography. It was probably given as a gift during a feast and used for drinking cocoa. It is tall, with a narrow mouth with an unpronounced rim whose edge is gently curved. It stands on a flat base with gently upturned edges and the sides taper very slightly to the mouth. Much of the exterior body is dominated by a boldly painted, black-outlined profile head of God A wearing a disembodied eyeball above his brow against a scarlet background. Feathers extend behind his head in a headdress, signifying his importance. A narrow band around the upper part of the exterior features black glyphoid symbols that resemble eyes and caterpillars, both symbols for the soul, on a background of creamy white. Size: 3.45" W x 7" H (8.8 cm x 17.8 cm)
God A is one of the Maya codical death gods, known to us only from early colonial-era documents and from the work of 19th century scholar Paul Schellas, who named the gods for letters from the Roman alphabet because at the time Maya hieroglyphs could not be read. A figure similar to God A is called by many different names by modern Maya people - often Kimi or Ah Puch - and is the Lord of the Underworld (known variously as Xibalba or Mitnal depending on the dialect). God A is often painted as he is here as partially dead, with grey, decaying flesh and skeletal bone structure. He is meant to be both terrifying and grotesquely funny, and this portrayal, with its askew teeth and bulbous nose, embodies both. Modern Maya folklore still considers God A a threat - creeping around the houses of the sick, waiting to take them to Xibalba.
Residue analysis on vessels like this one show that they were used for drinking chocolate, a hugely popular and ritual practice amongst the Maya, especially the elite. Although we know little about the artisans who made vessels like this one, we do know that cylinder jars are often associated with tombs, sometimes ritually broken. Prominent Mayanist Michael Coe has connected the scenes depicted upon the most important of these vessels with the sixteenth century Maya written epic, the Popol Vuh, which describes Maya religion and mythology, as this one does.
Provenance: ex-private North Carolina, USA collection of Dr. Francis Robicsek, acquired in the 1970s
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Expertly repaired and restored, which is almost impossible to see. Very limited overpainting, with almost entirely original pigment on the exterior. Motifs are very clear with light deposits.