photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
photo: Bruce M. White
A.D. 650-750
The Princeton vase
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)

The Princeton vase, A.D. 650-750

Granular gray-buff ceramic, mineral inclusions with orange-red and brown-black slip decoration
h. 21.5 cm., diam. 16.6 cm. (8 7/16 x 6 9/16 in.)
Museum purchase, gift of the Hans A. Widenmann, Class of 1918, and Dorothy Widenmann Foundation
y1975-17

 

About

Catalogue Raisonnee: 
K0511 MS1404
The masterful calligraphic painting on the Princeton Vase is the finest known example of Maya "codex style" ceramic art. Graceful, sure lines painted on a cream slip present a theatrically composed mythological scene, while subtle visual devices encourage the viewer to turn the drinking vessel, adding a temporal unfolding to the visual experience. On one side, an old, toothless Underworld god sits on a throne that is placed within a conventionalized depiction of a palace structure, represented by the pier behind him and what is likely a lintel above. Jaguars, with dripping volutes replacing their lower jaws, adorn the roof of the structure. Curtains, which were used to provide privacy for Maya structures lacking proper doors, have been pulled up and tied to reveal an old lord seated within. This deity, known among scholars as God L, wears his characteristic open-weave shawl and broad-brimmed hat, upon which an owl perches. In addition to ruling Xibalba, the Maya Underworld, God L was the patron deity of tobacco and merchants. He is surrounded by five elegant female figures, who may be his daughters or his concubines. Each wears a loose, flowing sarong, decorated with what appear to be batik-like dyed patterns, and jewelry at the ears, neck, and wrists. One of the women behind God L pours chocolate from a vessel of the same form as the Princeton Vase, frothing the bitter delicacy. A rabbit scribe, a regular companion to God L, sits below, recording the actions of the scene in a book with jaguar-pelt covers. The deity delicately ties a bracelet on the woman before him, while another woman taps her foot to draw attention-her companion's and the viewer's-to the gruesome scene at her left, in which two men wearing elaborate masks and wielding axes decapitate a bound and stripped figure. The victim's serpent-umbilicus curls out to bite one of the executioners. The scene closely parallels a portion of the sixteenth-century Quiché Maya mythological narrative, the Popol Vuh, wherein the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalamque, trick the lords of the Underworld into requesting their own decapitations. As is common in mythological narratives from throughout the Americas, these heroes win the day not through Herculean feats of brute strength, but through cunning, and often humorous, trickery. The formulaic text at the upper edge of the Princeton Vase serves to consecrate the vessel and also specifies that it was intended for drinking "tree-fresh" chocolate. The vase would have been used in courtly banquets similar to the scene depicted.