This well-preserved hawte' is painted in the red-and-orange-on-cream
style which flourished in Late Classic times in the east-central Petén
lowlands west of the Belize River. The central medallion shows a lord seated
cross-legged on a throne with an embellished back and four-legged spotted
pelt cushion. Adorned in the elaborate feathered headdress, regalia and
jewelry indicating elite cahal status, the lord is staring intently
and gesturing to his right, pursing his lips. The focus of his stare is
a zoomorphic double-crested creature with a pseudoglyph-like object on its
back. On the interior vessel sidewall four similarly-oriented cormorants
with extended tailfeathers are separated by rectangular areas edged with
parallel bars, a motif echoed in the space upon which the throne floats.
The outer rims of the central medallion and the inner sidewall are banded
with repeated vertical bar symbols. On the exterior sidewall two black lines
paralleling the red rims are connected by a repeated series of slightly
slanted black I-shaped columns, each pair enclosing a similarly oriented
oblong "cloud" of color, now greyish, possibly originally green.
The hollowed tripod legs each have three horizontal grey-black stripes and
two vertical openings for the rattle of the encapsulated balls, two of which
The composition of this vessel incorporates many elements of Maya iconography. Elements of the imagery on the interior of the vessel suggest the Underworld and the Overworld, and the exterior pattern of colored oblongs in columned spaces suggests the forested and architectural Middleworld. The elaborate headdress may portray a large image of a deity (the headband resembling smiling teeth, and the square plaque, an eye with the hook-and-bar symbol of the Maize God). It hosts a smaller open-mouthed deity (viewed best under raking light) similar to a Cauac figure, from whose cleft head springs life-creating maize. The zoomorphic protrusion (the snout of the larger deity image), which has been interpreted as a Cauac Monster, ejects an oval shape (perhaps life-giving sustenance). The lord's attention and gesture focuses, as in response, on the flying or descending zoomorphic, double-crested creature in the heavenly space bracketed by two three-star constellations (perhaps "Three Stone Place," morning and evening). The open limbs of this creature suggest the Heavenly Mouth, and descending from heaven, the creature may reaffirm the lord's heavenly descent. Beneath the lord's throne and between the cormorants, dotted water and stylized waterworlds suggest the nether regions. The painter of this vessel adopts a simplified pictorial and stylistic approach with a dynamic rectilinear compositional balance, as compared with the high scribal hieroglyphic regimens of the imperial workshops, where calligraphic line and glyphic content generally trump illustrative design. Key glyphic concepts, nevertheless, may be discernable in this vessel. The headdress may identify the dedicatee god or gods, and the repeated motif of vertical bars connected by a lower horizontal in the bands around the medallion and the rim may include abstractions of the Initial Sign (a-ya, "came into being") which starts the "Primary Standard Sequence" or "PSS" of hieroglyphs. The pseudoglyph-like structure on the back of the zoomorphic flying-descending creature suggests, as to its bottom half, the tripod vessel type (a second indicator of the PSS), and the top half suggests its construction, a flame, and its contents, a maize-loaf-like drop shape in the path of the oval shape ejected by the headdress snout, information embraced by third and fourth indicators of the PSS. The remaining indicators of the PSS, the identity of the owner and/or the artist, may perhaps be symbolized by the zoomorphic flying-descending creature itself (note, e.g., the plume).
Condition: very good overall, the slips strong and bright but aged and pitted and abraded here and there, small rim chip and various leaf and root impressions on the exterior.
Reference: Maya Vase Database K9056
Chase, Diane Z., and Chase, Arlen F., Mesoamerican Elites: An Archaeological Assessment, Norman and London: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992 (cf. fig. 14.1 as to ahau and cahal).
Reents-Budet, Dorie, Painting the Maya Universe: Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period, Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1994 (cf. cat. 68 and fig. 6.21, cat. 1 and fig. 2.1; cat. 4 and fig. 2.2).
Schele, Linda, and Miller, Mary Ellen, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art, New York: George Brazillier, Inc., and Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, 1986 (cf. fig. 23a and b).
Smith, Robert E., Ceramic Sequence at Uaxactun, Guatemala, New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, 1955 (cf. fig. 9m, burial A38, Tepeu 2).
Christie's Paris, sale 5057 (12 June 2003), lot 622, p. 184