Exhibitions: Living Legacies: The Arts of the Americas

Cylindrical Codex-Style Vase

Cylindrical Codex-Style Vase. Maya artist, circa A.D. 550–850. Probably Northern Peten, Guatemala. Ceramic, black and red pigment on cream slip. Brooklyn Museum, Anonymous Loan, L80.50

At the height of Maya civilization (A.D. 300–900), painting, particularly on ceramic vessels, was the primary art form. Artists painted images, often accompanied by hieroglyphic texts, to record historic and mythological events. This vase, probably created as a funerary object, depicts three supernatural beings in a procession or dance: Tzuk Amal (the toad), Water Lily Jaguar, and Och Chan, the Bearded Dragon. The hieroglyphic text says: "Och Chan and Water Lily Jaguar are the Way [companion spirits] of the Lords of Calakmul."

The jaguar symbolized power and was believed to be a supernatural partner of Maya rulers. The other two supernaturals may also be companion spirits into whose form rulers and shamans would be transformed during vision quest rituals.