Palma with Figure
Not on view
Palmas, named for their palm frond shape, were one element of the elaborate regalia worn by Mesoamerican ballplayers. Resting atop the yoke worn around the player’s hips, they extended up the middle of the ballplayer's chest to protect major organs from the impact of the hard rubber ball used in the game. While hachas are more widely distributed in Mesoamerica, palmas appear to have been a Veracruz innovation. Ballplayers wearing palmas are depicted on the relief sculptures of El Tajín, the largest city in classic-period Veracruz.
In sculpting this palma, the artist has combined low and high relief to depict a human figure surrounded and overlapped by a pattern of scrolls. These are loosely drawn, breaking with the regularity usually found in the sculpted or drawn double-edges scrolls common in Classic Veracruz art and may represent blood or vines (see also MMA 1979.206.423). They swirl around the central figure, whose legs and arms appear to be moving in a clockwise motion of their own. The figure’s skull-like head contrasts with its animated body, moving between life and death. The skull, rendered in high relief, together with the outward curve of the palma itself pushes into real space, and engages the viewer with its direct gaze.
Ballgame-related images from Veracruz depict the blood of sacrificial victims in the process of transformation from the blood of death into living vines. Bursting forth from the chest of a sacrificial victim, the blood offering to the deities is believed to return as the gift of fertility and rebirth. In this palma’s image, the figure’s bare skull signifies death while, in contrast, its intense gaze and active stance suggest the renewal of life.
Patricia Joan Sarro, 2017
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