The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya

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Carved panel with the king of Yaxchilan,
a noble, and captives

Yaxchilan, Chiapas, Mexico, 783, limestone, traces of pigment
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

Click on one of the images below for in-depth information.

image: Sculpted throne back, 700-800image: Cylinder vessel with a court scene, 600-800image: Portrait of Pakal, 650-683image: Carved Panel with Lords and Captives

Carved panel with the king of Yaxchilan,
a noble, and captives

Maya art often depicts kings engaged in political duties--greeting envoys, accepting tribute and waging war. On this panel, the curtains of a throne room have been rolled up to reveal a king seated on his throne engaged in the serious business of receiving captives.

This is the king of Yaxchilan, whose name is Itzamnaaj B'ahlam.... The standing figure who is gesturing toward the king is one of his...war captains...who presumably has taken...these three prisoners.

The captives' arms are bound, and rags have been pulled through their earlobes, replacing fine jewelry. They are being offered as tribute to the Yaxchilan king by his captain, identified as "He of Red Monkey."

Captives...were really...very basic ...authority.... One of the earliest images we have of a Maya king is of the ruler standing on top of this captive.... These were elemental symbols of...power.

This panel probably came from one of Yaxchilan's satellite communities, where He of Red Monkey ruled as the local lord. That would explain why he is shown on the right, the usual position of power.

Audio Segments
Audio segments are from the recording made for the exhibition (© 2004 Acoustiguide Corporation and National Gallery of Art).

Narrations are by Earl A. Powell III, director of the National Gallery of Art, and David Stuart, of Harvard University and curator of Mayan hieroglyphs at the Peabody Museum.