Cylinder

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An exquisite fine-walled pottery cylinder, with a flat base and aperture at the top. It has high relief decoration within two double-framed squares, one on either side of the vessel. In the first the artisan has represented a seated person from the high reaches of society, a noble, richly adorned with a plumed crest, earrings and wristbands. He wears nothing more than a skirt. The quality of the sculptural styling is of note, above all in the profile of the face. In the second frame we can see the head of a god with death in the Underworld. In both scenes, a wide band in the lower area and another inside the vessel retain some of the red pigment that originally covered them. In contrast, the areas of smooth surfaces around the scenes are covered with stucco and conserve some of the original green colour.

Mayan cylindrical vases provide us with an inexhaustible source of information about Mayan culture. They are exceptional objects where the Maya peoples managed to capture and express their collective imagination. The pieces tell us of the history and life of the elite, but are also an important element for us to learn about the mythology. Both the images of the gods as well as the myths, are frequently accompanied by glyphs which indicate the name of the god or person and define what the activity is which is represented. Sometimes other types of inscriptions appear on Mayan vases, known as dedicatory inscriptions, which indicate the identity of the person who has paid for the production of the piece, as well as the purpose for which it was produced and, in some cases, the name of the artisan. In this manner, we know what form of vessel was used to hold which liquid: concave and cylindrical containers were meant to store drinks – above all, chocolate - to be consumed during the festivals by the privileged classes. These recipients of great value were given as gifts or interchanged between the guests at a feast.

Although the pieces are of funerary origin, the great majority of them were made to be used during the lifetime of a person. It was common that these same pieces, or similar ones, were later placed in tombs as funerary goods. All these pieces were modelled, as this culture did not develop the method of throwing clay on a potter’s wheel. The colours of the pieces were always produced by the use of slip, a watery mixture of clays and other minerals. The vessels were fired at a low temperature, approximately 800 º C.

In the Classical period, the artists worked in an easier manner through the use of incision of the still moist clay, so that what was produced after firing was a type of pottery with a decoration similar to what can be seen in low reliefs on monuments. When they decorated with polychrome colouring, they usually did so in the same way as they painted walls. That is, they painted cold over plaster or stucco, covering the piece according to a method that seems not to have originated in the Mayan zone, but rather in Teotihuacan. In the Early Classical period, the decoration was painted using slips or barbotine applied before firing. The colours of these vessels are extremely vivid, while some others, those know as Codex-style, show simple black lines on a white background.

PARALLELS:

- Mayan cylinder. Kimbell Art Museum, Dallas, Texas (USA). N.AP1980.10.

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