Cylindrical vessel with sacrificial scene

CULTURE:
Maya
DATE:
600–900 CE
more object details

General Description

The sacrifice ceremony illustrated on this vessel appears to take place at night, as suggested by the dark background. The victim lies stretched across a stone altar, with a dramatic grimace conveyed to the viewer. The other four figures, possibly members of the nobility, are in dance poses (with upraised legs) and wear blood‑spattered cloth or paper around their waists, wrists, and ankles. One executioner grips an eccentric flint in one hand and clutches a giant, red macaw under his other arm; another holds a jaguar. Two figures wear supernatural masks; three have quetzal plumes extending from the backs of their headdresses; one wears a royal headband; and the prisoner has been completely stripped of clothing and regalia, indicating defeat and humiliation. This vessel may be commemorating a war victory with the corresponding presentation and sacrifice of a captive. The two jaguars also have supernatural attributes, and the macaw wears a beaded necklace. For the ancient Maya, the macaw and the jaguar represent animal spirit companions, wahy or wahyoob, as connections to the supernatural world.

Adapted from

  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., "Cylindrical vessel with ball game scene (1983.148)," in Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 49.

  • Carol Robbins, Label text, A. H. Meadows Galleries.

Fun Facts

  • The following are observations from Maya specialists regarding this vessel.

  • Adam Herring, PhD, Assistant Professor of Art History, Southern Methodist University: The line quality is terrific. There is nuance in the glyphs. This is a great piece. The straight-backed glyphs and nuanced execution suggest an origin in the northwestern area of the Petén (Guatemala). Do not be surprised if the glyphs are nonsense (pseudo) glyphs. I have no problem with the two figures with losses. My initial impression is that the scene represents a founding ritual—a sacrificial event that marked the genesis of a dynasty in the central Petén, a primordial ritual of kingship. I think the vessel could become central to the literature and could not be more enthusiastic.

  • Mary Miller, PhD, Professor of History of Art, Yale University: I think it's an extremely important and interesting pot. Not only the frontal victim, with his poignant "thumbs down" gesture—but also the two principal sacrificers, one with jaguar, one with macaw, are completely extraordinary. I don't know if I can think of another macaw on a pot like this. But let me just say that these two sacrificers are dressed in particular costumes we know well from other scenes, especially on monumental art. The masked costume associated with the macaw appears regularly at Piedras Negras and Dos Pilas, usually with warriors; the masked costume associated with the jaguar would seem to be that of Chaak, in his role as sacrificer (see the "sacrifice" side of Yaxchilan Stela 11, for example). Then the altar itself for sacrifice is quite interesting—this very altar exists today at Piedras Negras; the pedestals are personified stone. See Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya (Simon Martin, Kathleen Berrin, and Mary Miller, 2004, page 129) for other examples.

  • David Freidel, PhD, Professor of Archaeology, Washington University in St. Louis (former Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, Southern Methodist University): This is high-level court art. It represents the highest quality work in Classic period art, by a master or master workshop. In this ritual genre, the protagonists wear blood-spotted garments. The bundle on the groin is analogous to a worn bundle. The sacrificial victim is remarkable. The executioner is holding an implement used for heart excision rather than disembowelment. . . . The expression on the face makes this so compelling—a death grimace. I think the victim is named. The rim text is the PSS (Primary Standard Sequence). It's interesting that they would be naming the wahy (spirit companion). There won't be much information from the glyphs. The main feature here is the ritual scene—the iconography. Oh, my goodness—I just saw the macaw! The king of Piedras Negras performed the "descending macaw" dance. The macaw is wonderful. There is a fair amount of symmetry. Each guy has his "thing." Lords and their ways—monsters, dangerous, they belong to kings and realms-bad guy stuff, appropriate to the subject. It is beautiful and compelling. There is not a lot of historical information. I wonder if there is a signature. The iconography, composition, and execution are the work of a great artist, beautiful execution. The audacity of the sacrificial scene is interesting iconography—someone will want to publish it. It is a masterpiece of the genre—and worthy of the DMA collection. People will talk about it and want to do things with it. The condition is reasonable in that it's tomb furniture that wasn't broken, and one side was down in the tomb. The principal scene is remarkably well-preserved. Scholarship depends on not having overpainting. It has a wonderful scene and two ancillary figures. I think it dates between 680/690 and 720 CE, and represents the apogee of the Late Classic. The complete scene makes it worth getting—it is as beautiful as it gets. The composition is dramatic. It is not a prosaic palace scene with people sitting around talking—wonderful as many of those are. Beautiful composition and really compelling scene about which you can tell stories—top rate sacrifice, high end of figural representation.