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Maya portrait head

Maya portrait head
AD 300–900
Uxmal, Mexico
Stucco, paint
25 x 26 x 28 cm
Collected by Thomas Gann
Presented by James B. Ford

It is likely that this modeled stucco head from the Uxmal site is part of an architectural decoration and that it refers to a member of the ruling family or honors an ancestor. It is associated with the building known as the Governor’s House, the main architectural theme of which is a series of overlapping figure heads carved in stone representing the god of rain, Chaak. In impressive temples and palaces, jutting sculptures were an important part of the architectural design, often representing mythological beings or rulers. Inscriptions, in addition to being decorative, also sent various messages to the observer.

Modeled stucco—lime-based plaster—is one of the great art forms developed in pre-Columbian times. Entire cities were covered with stucco. Architectural sculpture such as figure heads, free-standing sculpture, wall coatings, floors—all were made with stucco. The beautifully made face on this piece can be seen as an ancient portrait, with adornments such as ear ornaments and a headband, but the body paint stands out, probably indicating ceremonial activities. Unfortunately, due to its fragility, stucco art—especially on the exterior of structures—was the first to erode or be destroyed after buildings were abandoned. Because of this, stucco representations are not abundant in collections of Maya artifacts. This piece should be regarded as one of the most significant, because of its color and its creator’s artistic skill.

—Edgar Suyuc (Kaqchikel Maya)

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