Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Double-Chambered Vessel

5th century
Guatemala or Mexico, Mesoamerica
H. 11 7/8 x W. 7 3/4 x D. 5 1/4 in. (30.2 x 19.7 x 13.3 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1963
Accession Number:
1978.412.90a, b
On View
This double-chambered blackware vessel rises on four slab feet and contains three finely modeled mythological characters. Although this object appears to be two joined lidded containers, only that with the human figure atop has a removable lid. The vessel may have been used for drinking at feasts and later functioned as a burial offering placed inside a tomb.

A feline creature bridges the two chambers of the vessel and seems to climb up the side towards the two figures on top. On the removable lid sits a human who kneels in supplication, holding out an offering. He wears an elaborate headdress, large necklace, nose ring, and a loincloth. He stares in reverence at the gigantic bird atop the other chamber. The bird has a large, hooked beak and it clutches a double-headed serpent, which suggests that it is a mythical bird of prey. It wears a headdress, earflares, and a large pectoral that may be a representation of a Spondylus shell. The bird’s eyes are marked with an L-shaped pupil underscoring its supernatural aspects. The bird’s wings are animate; they contain the profiles of serpent heads, a common convention in depictions of an avian creature known to scholars as the Principle Bird Deity. This vessel could represent a scene in which humans pay tribute to the giant bird in a Classic Period myth.
[Aaron Furman Gallery, New York, until 1962]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1962, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1962–63; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1963–78

Newton, Douglas. Masterpieces of Primitive Art: The Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1978, p. 189.

Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas/The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987.

Kerr, Justin. "The hero twins: myth and image." In The Maya Vase Book: A Corpus of Rollout Photographs of Maya Vases, edited by Justin Kerr. Vol. 1. New York: Kerr Associates, 1989, pp. 161–184, p. 171.

Fields, Virginia M., and Dorie Reents-Budet. Lords of Creation: The Origins of Sacred Maya Kingship. London and Los Angeles: Scala Publishers Limited, 2005, no. 51, p. 150.

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