Date: mid-4th–mid-5th century
Geography: Guatemala, Mesoamerica
Dimensions: H. 11 x W. 8 1/4 in. (27.9 x 21 cm)
Credit Line: Purchase, Mrs. Charles S. Payson Gift, 1970
Accession Number: 1970.138a, b
A unique combination of forms, this ceramic vessel joins the U-shaped element commonly considered to be a belt or waist-guard—associated with the ancient Mesoamerican ballgame—and a cylindrical container that rises from it. The entire vessel, as the interior space is contiguous, stands on three substantial legs. Incised onto the surface of both cylinder and lid are four figures, identified as ballplayers by the large belts at their waists. They wear grand feathered headdresses, and scrolls issue from their mouths, indicating speech. Each faces a large, feather-topped ball, one hand raised as if in salute. Recessed on the ends of the belt shape are two heads with closed eyes, undoubtedly representing death. While the overall theme is the ballgame, the significance of the specific elements assembled together in this context is not clear.
During the mid-fifth to mid-sixth century, when this work was probably made, the cylindrical form was widely used for important ceramic containers in the Maya area, where vessels were lidded, as in the example illustrated here. The basic three-footed, more or less straight-sided shape, however, is primarily associated with the central highland city of Teotihuacan, and its use in other areas of ancient Mesoamerica is taken as evidence of the influence of the great central Mexican city.