The Ancient Maya World: Masterworks from the Permanent Collection

Art of the Americas Building, Level 4
December 1, 2012–March 2, 2014

A selection of 38 masterworks of Maya art from the collection are now on view through fall 2013. In Classic-period Mesoamerica (AD 250–900), the Maya organized themselves into a network of independent kingdoms ruled by a divine lord or k’uhul ajaw. Each kingdom competed with one another for resources and trade. Although the Classic Maya never achieved political unification, the mutual emphasis on divine kingship, a shared calendar, and the widespread use of an elite hieroglyphic script attest to a common worldview.
Written texts facilitated communication among Maya royal courts. Inscriptions in this shared language appeared in all mediums and celebrated the pivotal events of a ruling dynasty—birthdays, marriages, or dates of accession—while shorter texts on personal objects, such as jewelry or vessels, recorded simple statements of ownership or dedication.

These works of art adhere to a strict set of artistic and stylistic conventions. These artistic principles reflect ancient Maya cosmology and stand as the source material for understanding both the ancient people and their living descendants.

Image: Mortuary Panel, Mexico or Guatamala, Usumacinta drainage near Piedras Negras, AD 687-800, Limestone, Anonymous gift.

The Mysterious Maya, Not So Mysterious

As the Mayanist-in-residence here at the museum, I was asked to write up a few thoughts on the dreaded date, December 21, 2012. The Maya are very much en vogue these days as media outlets across the country play out doomsday scenarios “as predicted by the ancient Maya.” Apparently, according to a recent New York Times article, Russians are frantically stock-piling dry goods and duct tape as well as sculpting Maya pyramids out of ice..