In Focus

Maya Miniatures: Textiles for the Saints among the Contemporary Maya in Guatemala

The cult of the saints came to Guatemala in the 16th century when the invading Spanish introduced Christianity. A Roman Catholic saint became the patron of each town, and his or her Spanish name was often coupled with the indigenous name of the community. Other saints were also venerated locally, each served by a religious brotherhood, or "cofradía," whose members arranged feast day celebrations, carried images of the saints in processions, and presented textiles as offerings. Vestments for the saints were often miniature versions of actual garments, including the "huipil" or tuniclike blouse, the shirt, the headcloth, and the sash.

Like their prototypes, these textiles were woven on a backstrap loom—a simple, portable combination of sticks, cords, and strap, which is used today as it was in pre-Hispanic times. Designs were usually achieved by the addition of extra, or supplementary, wefts during the weaving. Colors, including their configuration in stripes, and motifs often identify the community where a textile was woven. A red cotton ground with lengthwise (warp) stripes in purple, yellow, and naturally pigmented brown are characteristic of several textiles from San Juan Sacatepéquez, a community northwest of Guatemala City, as are the frontal double-headed bird, profile deer, and profile bird with flag wing.

Excerpt from

Carol Robbins, "Huipil, probably for a figure of the Virgin of the Rosary (1982.145)," Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 202.