Scepter with Profile Figures

Date:
7th–8th century
Geography:
Guatemala, Mesoamerica
Culture:
Maya
Medium:
Flint
Dimensions:
H. 13 5/8 x W. 7 1/2 x D. 5/8 in. (34.6 x 19.1 x 1.6 cm)
Classification:
Stone-Sculpture
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1967
Accession Number:
1978.412.195
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 199
Artists transformed flint, a material abundant in the Maya Lowlands, into royal regalia. Representations of these blades appear in monumental sculptures, where rulers hold them mounted as scepters or ceremonial spears. The compositions here feature multiple profile heads with sloping foreheads and elaborate headdresses; the distinct frontal projections probably represent a "smoking celt," the hallmark of K’awiil, the Maya God of Lightning. Both the scepters and K’awiil’s repeated faces may symbolize the multiple branches of lightning.


Los artistas transformaban el pedernal, un material que abunda en las tierras bajas mayas, en ropajes reales. Se pueden observar representaciones de estos sílex en esculturas monumentales en las que los gobernantes los llevan como cetros o lanzas ceremoniales. Las obras aquí presentes muestran múltiples caras de perfil con frentes inclinadas y elaborados tocados. Las singulares proyecciones frontales probablemente representen un "hacha humeante" el sello distintivo de K’awiil, dios maya del trueno y del relámpago. Ambos cetros y las repetidas caras de K’awiil simbolizan las múltiples bifurcaciones de los rayos.


Further information
Maya artists skillfully chipped flint, a fragile and challenging medium, into imaginative multifigure and geometric shapes. The worked flints are frequently found as offerings in Maya tombs. This eccentric flint depicts, in profile, two figures wearing headdresses. The larger of the two sits on a small short-backed stool and the smaller extends out from his back, as if being carried. Each silhouette displays the sloping forehead modification practiced by Maya peoples of the time and each has puckered lips. The undecorated base of this flint would have enabled it to be bound to a staff or it may have served as a handle allowing the object to function as a scepter, perhaps as an emblem of rulership. It has been suggested that the Maya believed flint to have been created when lightning struck the earth, thereby imbuing it with supernatural power. This flint may be a personification of such a power.
[Andre Emmerich Gallery, New York, until 1967]; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1967–1978

The 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. 631.

Easby, Elizabeth Kennedy, and John F. Scott. Before Cortez: Sculpture in Middle America. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970, no. 201.

Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. New York and Fort Worth: George Braziller, 1986, pp. 73, 83, pl. 26.

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy Potts, and Kim N. Richter, eds. Golden Kingdoms: Luxury Arts in the Ancient Americas. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2017, no. 143, p. 221.

Doyle, James. "Sharpening Ceremony and Ritual: The Beautiful Blades of Golden Kingdoms." In Now at The Met. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2018, fig. 2 left, https://www.metmuseum.org/blogs/now-at-the-met/2018/golden-kingdoms-beautiful-blades.