Vessel, Mythological Scene

Date: 7th–8th century

Geography: Guatemala, Mesoamerica

Culture: Maya

Medium: Ceramic

Dimensions: H. 5 1/2 x Diam. 4 1/2 in. (14 x 11.4 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Containers

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1968

Accession Number: 1978.412.206


The so-called codex-style vessels such as this example are named for the painting technique, the dark line on cream-colored ground, that visually resembles that of the Maya codices or manuscripts. The elaborate multifigured narrative on this ceramic vase is mythological and believed to depict a scene in the Maya underworld. Here the catfish barbelled god called Chak dances and swings a long-handled ax above a baby jaguar deity on a kawak throne. On the opposite side of the altar, a skeletal death god, God A, joins in the dance, while two others, a nefarious dog and a firefly holding a cigar, look on. Although other kinds of narratives appear on Maya vessels, supernatural scenes such as this one are particularly appropriate because they were placed in tombs probably filled with provisions for the journey of the deceased into the underworld. The image on this ceramic vase displays a mastery of fine line painting with an exuberant use of whiplash line and an attention to detail that includes the dust kicked up by dancing feet.