Ulua Polychrome jar with handles

650–750 CE
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General Description

The Ulúa River system runs through northwestern Honduras, connecting highland lakes and valleys to the Caribbean Sea. During the Late Classic period (600–900 CE), the Maya traded actively with communities in these regions, and this exchange enriched a regional polychrome ceramic tradition. The Ulua Polychrome vessels presented here mostly originated in the Comayagua or Lake Yojoa regions. The richly decorated vessels often functioned as fine serving wares. Bowls and jars were the most common forms, while tripod dishes were relatively rare. Cylinder vases may have been used to serve a cacao beverage common to the Maya.

The Ulua Polychrome tradition is defined by shared decorative elements executed in a palette of black, red, orange, and white paints. Generally, the interior rim of the vessel features a single or double black or red band while the exterior rim has basic motifs, such as step-and-frets (or step-and-volute). The exterior typically features a singular motif that repeats around the vessel. The motifs include animals local to the region, such as peccaries (wild pigs), water birds, monkeys, and jaguars. The naturalistic forms appear in profile, facing the viewer’s right, and may be framed by medallions.

During the Late Classic period, Ulua Polychrome vessels also adapted motifs introduced by Maya artisans and regional trade. Examples here include feathered serpents/fish, stylized items of regalia, and human figures dressed in Maya-style costumes. Ulúa artisans also appropriated Maya gods, such as God N, adapted here as an anthropomorphic form of Glyph H on the polychrome vessels.[1] These objects are critical indicators of both distinct regional identities and vibrant cultural exchanges.

[1] Ceramic class, subclass, time period, and iconographic identifications were graciously provided by Dr. Rosemary Joyce, University of California, Berkeley.

Excerpt from

Kimberly L. Jones, PhD, Label text, Edith O'Donnell Institute of Art History (EODIAH), 2017.