Scepter with profile figures


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This flint scepter shows two profile faces wearing elaborate headdresses. Maya artists skillfully chipped flint, a fragile and challenging medium, into imaginative multifigure and geometric shapes. The gray-brown source stone retains some of its white cortex at the center of the sculpture. A curled blade forms the bottom portion could have been attached to a wooden handle or staff as an emblem of rulership.

There is evidence that the Maya believed flint (or chert) to have been created when lightning struck the earth, thereby imbuing it with supernatural power. The association of flint scepters and lightning is explicit in this work. The larger of the two figures sits on a wide element with three small appendages that may represent a throne, and the smaller figure extends out from his back, as if being carried. He has foreshortened limbs: a leg that hangs off of the front of the throne, and an arm that extends forward with a gesturing hand. Each profile displays a sloping forehead and a fanned headdress whose distinctive frontal projection probably represents a "smoking celt," the hallmark of K’awiil, the Maya God of Lightning.

The worked flints, created in hundreds of different shapes not corresponding to useful blades, are also frequently found as offerings in Maya tombs or dedicatory caches. Maya flint workers, perhaps working in pairs, used a variety of techniques including direct and indirect percussion as well as pressure flaking with stone, wooden, and bone tools. Some were used as scepters or handheld weapons, as depicted on many stone monuments, and many were also brightly painted with colors before being buried by those who created and commissioned them.

Further reading

Agurcia Fasquelle, Ricardo, Payson Sheets, and Karl Andreas Taube. Protecting Sacred Space: Rosalila’s Eccentric Chert Cache at Copan and Eccentrics among the Classic Maya. San Francisco, Pre-Columbia Mesoweb Press, 2016.

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

Pillsbury, Joanne, Timothy F. 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.

Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. Ft. Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1986, pp. 73, 83, pl. 26.

Clark, John E., Fred W. Nelson, and Gene L. Titmus, Flint Effigy Eccentrics, in Ancient Maya Art at Dumbarton Oaks, edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Miriam Doutriaux, Reiko Ishihara-Brito, and Alexandre Tokovinine, Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 2012, pp. 273-281.

Scepter with profile figures, Flint, Maya

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