Art/ Collection/ Collection/ Art Object
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Spouted Jar

Date:
mid-1st century B.C.–A.D. 1st century
Geography:
Guatemala or Mexico, Mesoamerica
Culture:
Maya
Medium:
Indurated limestone
Dimensions:
H. 5 in. (12.7 cm)
Classification:
Stone-Containers
Credit Line:
Gift of Charles and Valerie Diker, 1999
Accession Number:
1999.484.3
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 358
This spouted vessel is one of the most elegantly sculpted stone containers in the corpus of Maya art. Its form with the vertical spout parallel to the central axis of the main chamber is known from the late 1st millennium B.C. and is especially related to chocolate consumption. The ancient Maya would inject air into the spout so that the bubbling effect would produce a frothy spume on the surface of the savory chocolate drink.

Carved from indurated (compacted) limestone, the vessel is a rare example of such a spouted container in stone. The neck of the vessel contains a “sky-band,” a motif in Maya art indicating a celestial location, that has t-shaped hieroglyphs deciphered as IK, “wind” separated by diagonal lines. The globular body of the vessel is perfectly symmetrical and the bottom of the chamber is leveled off for ease of storage.

On either side of the spout on the body of the vessel are ornate deities floating in smoky volutes. The specificity of these figures contrasts with the repetitive abstraction of the sky band rim decoration. The first supernatural, to the proper right of the spout, has avian characteristics including wings, a buccal mask of a protruding beak and downturned mouth, though human-like hands and feet are clearly visible on its twisted limbs. The avian deity faces downward, a common convention for ancestors looking down on living rulers from above in sculpture from the Late Preclassic (ca. 300 B.C.–A.D. 250) and Early Classic Period (ca. A.D. 250–550). A hieroglyphic phrase composed of an open hand holding a sign for k’in “sun” is found directly above the deity’s head, signaling that it is a specific, named individual.

The second figure, on the proper left side of the spout, has more human-like characteristics, with symbols associated with the Maya Maize God, including: the distinguished profile with sloping forehead, the two parallel lines on the cheek, the protruding tooth from the mouth, and jade jewels adoring the wrists, ankles, pectorals, and loin cloth. Another name hieroglyph appears above the forehead of this Maize Deity as he faces up.

A hieroglyphic inscription appears on the spout; while not fully deciphered, it contains a dedication of the vessel. The hieroglyphs, which mention the dedication of the stone bowl (u-K’AL-wa TUUN) and mentions the name of one of the depicted gods, are in a style consistent with Early Classic texts, approximately the 4th century, according to epigrapher Stephen Houston. Houston also identified that the Early Classic artist of this vessel executed the images on the sides of the pot in a style more consistent with earlier, archaic images from the Preclassic period.

James Doyle, 2016

Published References
Coe, Michael D. 1973. The Maya Scribe and His World. New York: Grolier Club. Pl. 2
Fields, Virginia M., and Dorie Reents-Budet. Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship. London and Los Angeles: Scala Publishers Limited, 2005, 98, 202.
Houston, Stephen D. 2011 Bending Time among the Maya. Maya Decipherment, 24 June 2011: https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/bending-time-among-the-maya/
Jones, Julie 2000 The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West. New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 196--197

Further Reading
McAnany, Patricia, and S. Murata. 2006. From Chocolate Pots to Maya Gold: Belizean Cacao Farmers through the Ages. In Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron McNeil, pp. 429-450. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Powis, Terry G., Fred Valdez, Jr., Thomas R. Hester, W. Jeffrey Hurst and Stanley M. Tarka, Jr. 2001. Spouted Vessels and Cacao Use among the Preclassic Maya. Latin American Antiquity 13(1), pp. 85–106.
[Edward Merrin Gallery, New York, sold before 1973]; Charles and Valerie Diker, New York, acquired by 1973, until 1999

Coe, Michael D. The Maya Scribe and his World. New York: The Grolier Club, 1973, pl. 2.

Jones, Julie. "The Americas." In The Year One: Art of the Ancient World East and West, edited by Elizabeth Miller. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000, pp. 196–97.

Powis, Terry G., Fred Valdez Jr., Thomas R. Hester, W. Jeffrey Hurst, and Stanley M. Tarka Jr. "Spouted Vessels and Cacao Use among the Preclassic Maya." Latin American Antiquity vol. 13, no. 1 (2001), pp. 85–106.

Fields, Virginia M., and Dorie Reents-Budet. Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship. London and Los Angeles: Scala Publishers Limited, 2005, no. 98, p. 202.

McAnany, Patricia, and S. Murata. "From Chocolate Pots to Maya Gold: Belizean Cacao Farmers through the Ages." In Chocolate in Mesoamerica: A Cultural History of Cacao, edited by Cameron McNeil. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006, pp. 429–50.

Houston, Stephen D. "Bending Time among the Maya." In Maya Decipherment. June 24, 2011, https://decipherment.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/bending-time-among-the-maya/.



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