Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object

Bird Palma

7th–10th century
Mexico, Mesoamerica, Veracruz
Overall: 18 5/16 in. (46.59 cm)
Credit Line:
Museum Purchase, 1900
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 358
The palma, named for its palm frond shape, is an item of protective gear worn in the Mesoamerican ballgame. Although those worn in actual play are thought to have been made of a much lighter material such as leather or wadded cotton, many stone palmas survive. This sculpture depicts an upended turkey with its head pressed against the lower portion of the palma. The body of the bird seems collapsed downward and sinking, the abdomen hanging over and feet curled as if in death. The various parts of the feathered body are carved with different patterns from the neck and breast to the wings and the tail, the feathers of which form the palm frond shape that identify this object. Contrasting with this downward slump is the airiness created by the artist's use of negative space. Themes of death and sacrifice dominate the imagery of ballgame attire due to the nature of the game and the sacrificial act that followed on a number of occasions.
Louis Petich Collection, New York, before 1893, on loan to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1894–1900

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