Tripod Plate Showing a Seated Lord in its Central Medallion

Maya, possibly Uaxactun – Nakbé lowlands region, Late Classic Period

Polychrome ceramic, irregularly 35.2 to 35.8 cm diameter across the rim, 10.5 to 11.3 cm high overall, 6.0 cm maximum interior depth of the plate.

This well-preserved hate’ 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 cabal 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 pseudograph-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 grayish, 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 remain.


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 focus, 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 water worlds 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 the 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 pseudograph-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.

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