provenance unknown, 250-600,
The Cleveland Museum of Art,
John L. Severance Fund
These figures are the patrons of art and writing
in Maya culture. Twin sons of the Maize God, they were transformed
into monkeys by their more powerful half-brothers, the Hero Twins.
They are represented in Maya art in both human and simian form, or,
as here, as one of each. The monkey artisan shapes a small mask in
his hand. His human brother paints on a piece of bark--a symbolic
book since beaten bark was the paper of the New World.
Learn more about Maya hieroglyphs and
Word and Image in the Maya Court
Writing is a hallmark of Maya civilization. Of the many Mesoamerican
societies, from the Olmec to the Aztec, only the Maya developed a complete
system of writing that represents the equivalent of speech. With more
than five hundred hieroglyphs--phonetic or pictorial signs for sounds
or words--Mayan writing long eluded modern attempts at decipherment.
By 1900 the elaborate calendar of the Maya had been deciphered and
a correlation between it and the Christian calendar established. Beginning
in the 1950s, and especially in the past two decades, scholars have
made enormous strides in decoding Mayan glyphs. Much of Mayan writing
can now be read, reproducing the sound and syntax of an archaic language
no longer spoken today. This writing system saw its highest achievement
in the seventh and eighth centuries AD.
pictorial quality of Mayan glyphs meant that scribes were by necessity
artists. Many scribes and artists came from the elite ranks; the specialized
skills for the making and inscribing of fine things belonged to particular
families and their workshops. Teams of sculptors produced large stone
works, while a single artist painted any given Maya pot. Artists sometimes
signed their work, as in the case of the "Fleur-de-lis vase."
Although no examples from the first millennium AD survive, books--screenfold
manuscripts painted on fig bark paper--were a commonplace; their illustrations
may have resembled the finely painted images on ceramics in this gallery.
Such flourishing art production required wealthy patrons--not just
the king, but warlords, noblemen, and noblewomen.