This delicate shell pendant depicts a long-necked water bird—likely a heron—with its wings spread. The head of a deity with an oval eye and a grimacing, long-toothed mouth is incised on the breast. Comparable depictions on painted vessels show that the bird and the deity face on its chest are a single being rather than separate entities. This extraordinary bird was also a star or constellation in the Maya concept of the heavens.
Ornamento de pájaro Guatemala o México 600-800 d. C Concha
Este delicado dije de concha muestra a un ave acuática de cuello largo con las alas extendidas, probablemente una garza. En su pecho se observa el rostro de perfil de un dios con un ojo ovalado y largos dientes. Figuras semejantes en vasijas pintadas muestran que el pájaro y la deidad en su pecho son inseparables. Esta extraordinaria criatura también se consideraba una estrella o constelación en el mapa celeste maya.
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Geography:Guatemala or Mexico, Mesoamerica
Dimensions:H. 2 1/2 x W. 2 1/2 x D. 1/2 in. (6.4 x 6.4 x 1.3 cm)
Credit Line:The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Mrs. Gertrud A. Mellon Gift, 1963
[Everett Rassiga, New York, until 1963]; [Harold Kaye, New York and London, until 1963]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1963–1978
Museum of Primitive Art. "Works from the Permanent Collection: Textiles of Ancient Peru/Sculpture of Middle America," May 15, 1963–September 8, 1963.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art of Oceania, Africa and the Americas from The Museum of Primitive Art," May 10–August 17, 1969.
Fine Arts Center, Long Island University, C.W. Post Campus. "Pre-Columbian Sculpture," April 12, 1970.
Museum of Primitive Art. "Birds, Beasts and Fantastic Creatures from the Museum Collection," June 17, 1970–September 13, 1970.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art," November 14, 2022–April 2, 2023.
Kimbell Art Museum. "Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art," May 7–September 3, 2023.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 628.
Schmidt, Peter, Mercedes de la Garza, and Enrique Nalda. Maya: Exhibition at the Palazzo Grassi in 1998. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1998, p. 618, Pl. 393.
Miller, Mary Ellen, and Simon Martin. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. New York and San Francisco: Thames & Hudson Inc., 2004.
Finamore, Daniel, and Stephen D. Houston, eds. Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea. Salem and New Haven: Peabody Essex Museum, 2010.
Velásquez Castro, Adrián. "Pre-Columbian Maya Shell objects: An Analysis of Manufacturing Techniques." In Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito, and Alexandre Tokovinine. 2012, pp. 440–74.
Martin, Simon. "The Old Man of the Maya Universe: A Unitary Dimension to Ancient Maya Religion." In Maya Archaeology 3, edited by Charles W. Golden, Stephen D. Houston, and Joel Skidmore. San Francisco: Precolumbia Mesoweb Press, 2015, pp. 186–227.
Juárez Cossío, Daniel, Adrián Velásquez Castro, and Norma Valentín Maldonado. "El joven Dios del maíz. Tecnología y simbolismo de un pendiente de concha del Museo Nacional de Antropología." Estudios de Cultura Maya vol. 47, no. 1 (2016), pp. 31–53.
Velásquez Castro, Adrián. "Luxuries from the Sea: The Use of Shells in the Ancient Americas." In Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Timothy F. Potts, and Kim N. Richter. Los Angeles, 2017, pp. 91–98.
Chinchilla Mazariegos, Oswaldo, James Doyle, and Joanne Pillsbury, eds. Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2022.
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