The Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya

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Sculpted throne back
Usumacinta River region, 700-800, limestone
Museo Amparo, Puebla, México
© Michel Zabé

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 the King of Yaxhilan, a noble, and captives, 783


Sculpted throne back

The throne was literally the seat of Maya power, both political and supernatural. It consisted of a platform and a throne back like this one, both covered with elaborate carvings. These two panels are from a rare surviving throne back. They show the interplay between the mortal world and the divine. A third section was originally attached at the right.

In this case we have a real king but he's impersonating a god, Itzamna.

Like many Maya kings, the male figure associates himself with the powerful sky god. He leans toward his wife, who is dressed as a goddess. Between them sits a small figure in profile with wings attached to his arms - perhaps a messenger of the god.

As the flesh and blood ruler sat on this throne, the court would have been constantly aware of his divine power, echoed in the carving behind him.

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 Simon Martin, research specialist in epigraphy at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.