Life at the Maya Court
Dominated by the king, the Maya court was the
focus of religious and political life. Within
palace chambers and behind swag curtains, the king
ruled from his throne, where he reclined on jaguar
pelts in settings often prepared for feasts, with
plentiful tamales, pots of frothy chocolate drink, and
flowers. Dwarfs and hunchbacks served as his trusted
counselors, while musicians played wooden trumpets
and horns made from conch shells.
The Maya commissioned finely crafted works to furnish
palaces and attest to their sovereignty--among them carved
thrones and throne backs, where a king might reign supported
by depictions of ancestors or gods. Figural mirror holders
served as “perpetual servants” who revealed the
dazzling but fractured image in polished mosaic mirrors.
The king’s scepter took the form of a powerful god of lineage
and lightning. Although rare, artists working in stucco
achieved realistic portraiture that captures age and wisdom.
Painted cups and vases for the elite depict scenes
of court life,
while clay figurines portray members of the retinue that attended
the king. Representing servants, dwarfs, hunchbacks, musicians,
messengers, and priests, along with elegantly coiffed women,
these figurines all come from tombs, where they also served
their lords in death.