Codex style cylinder vase: Chac-Xib-Chac and God A in the underworld


The Metropolitan Vase Painter ( Maya, 600 - 900 )

600–850 CE
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General Description

This vessel is painted in what scholars call the “Codex style” because it resembles the painting of Maya books and manuscripts. It shows a mythical dance in which the god Chac (Chak) competes against the greatest of the death gods, Kimi. Maya nobles reenacted such mythological scenes, dancing in swirling “seas” of incense and smoke during ceremonial pageants and performances.

Adapted from

Carol Robbins, Label text [1983.149 and 1991.44], A. H. Meadows Galleries, 2010.

Fun Facts

  • The lively style is attributed to a group of pots that originate in the central Petén of Guatemala, called the Codex-style. This small vase is one of about eight known that show an aspect of this victory of the Hero Twins. It and the others are published in the Maya Book of the Dead by Francis Robicsek and Donald Hales. It is very likely the same artist painted this vase and the well-known one in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (1978.412.206). The MET's Vase is slightly larger and has been touched up. The DMA's cylinder vase, however, appears not to have been repainted at all. The surface is slightly scuffed, exactly as a vase used in ceremony would be. Only three inches tall, it likely functioned as a personal drinking cup.

  • This vase illustrates the Hero Twins' cunning victory over the Lords of the Underworld by sacrificing each other, a crucial moment in Maya mythology. One Lord (Hunahpu), the elder Twin, swings two axes at his younger brother, Jaguar Sun (Xbalanque), killing him. Jaguar Sun, the small figure lying on the earth monster altar, awaits his fate. Bone Master, also known as God A, reaches out gleefully to grab the victim. In the next moment in the narrative of the Hero Twins, told in the book called Popol Vuh, One Lord revives his brother and the Lords of the Underworld excitedly ask the Twins to perform this trick on them. They oblige, but do not revive the evil Lords, thereby making the world safe for human habitation. A short sequence of hieroglyphs reinforce the theme of sacrifice. The hieroglyphs read: 7 Cib 4 Kayab, (an eroded glyph), tz'ak-ah (tzak). Roughly translated, this is a Calendar Round date, the eroded glyph, and the "hand-grasping-fish" verb which most likely means to grasp, grab, conjure, or to appear, and may refer to communication with ancestors and spirits in the supernatural realm as well as blood sacrifice and/or self-sacrifice (blood-letting).

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