Fiery Pool:The Maya and the Mythic Sea

Note: Since this was written, many of the links for the images no longer functioned, so I have removed the images and added links to sites where they can be seen.

We went to the Kimbell Friday to see the Maya exhibit. It is probably the best Maya exhibit I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a few! There were many items of interest. I included the Crocodile Effigy (scroll down to see an image on this site) below because I always love the primitive quality of animals in pre-Columbian art and because of the coloring. You can read about that below:

A symbol of the primordial world, this crocodile is scored to evoke the terrestrial surface cultivated by the ancient Maya. Serving as both a whistle and a rattle, the creature is painted with a stable pigment of indigo and clay known as Maya Blue. It is thought to have sacred associations.

Crocodile effigy, AD 700–800, Jaina Island, Mexico. Ceramic, 2 x 3 3/8 x 7 3/8 in. (5.1 x 8.5 x 18.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979. Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I love the elegance of the pelican below. And can you believe it’s from stucco?

This architectural ornament comes from Comalcalco, an ancient city near the swampy coast of the Gulf of Mexico where pelicans have long thrived. The naturalistic sculpture features an accurately rendered round head, narrow bill, and featherless throat pouch. The ancient Maya would certainly have noticed the pelican, the largest and arguably strangest-looking bird residing near the sea. This imposing sculpture most likely came from the elevated palace at the site, the “Great Acropolis,” and formed part of a watery tableau.

The jade sculpture below is the national treasure of Belize. It is carved from a very fine jade. In person it almost appears pearlized.

The Maya revered both objects obtained from the sea and materials transported over the sea, such as jade. Jade arrived in Maya centers via the sea and bore associations with that sacred domain. This head, the largest work of art in jade from the Maya world, depicts a deity with characteristics of the Sun God. It is made from stone quarried in the Motagua River Valley in western Guatemala and was probably transported north by canoe. The polished green surface of this sculpture suggests the blue-green waters of the Caribbean.

Part of the afternoon was spent in a workshop called Jade: More Precious than Gold. Here is a description of the workshop:

Discover the historic significance of Maya ritual garb adorned with symbolic materials. Rare and beautifully crafted artworks in the current exhibition will inspire wearable art fashioned with faux jade and turquoise.

I look forward to the next workshop with block printing and glyphs. And, if you’re interested, you can play the glyph game here (no longer available).

Since the focus of this exhibit is the influence of water on the Maya, I learned several ways that symbols depict water. They may end up being designs in the future!


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