Jaina-style Figurine of a Standing Ballplayer

Jaina-style Figurine of a Standing Ballplayer

A.D. 600-900
Campeche Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint.
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of William I. Lee
Jaina-style Figurine of a Standing Ballplayer. A.D. 600-900. Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint.. Gift of William I. Lee. 1986.615.
height: 5 1/4 in, 13.3350 cm; width: 3 7/8 in, 9.8425 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas

Jaina-style Figurine of a Standing Ballplayer
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche, possible Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with polychrome paint
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1986.615

This Jaina-style figurine depicts a standing male ballplayer. A thick, heavily padded belt (characteristically worn by ballplayers) encircles his waist above a knee-length kilt painted with a blue border. A long strip of cloth extends from the back of this belt to the ground (lending the figure additional stability), while a double-flap of fabric drapes over the front of the belt, the lowermost tier flaring outward and painted blue on one side. The figure wears simple earflares, an elaborate multi-strand necklace of shell and jade beads, and his mouth is open, as though he is singing, speaking, or calling out. His skin is painted deep red.

Judging from the position of his fingers, he may have once held an object in his proper right hand. The smooth cap worn over his head indicates that he also once wore a removable headdress. This headdress may have been made of clay (see 1986.622A-B) or of perishable materials.

Ballplaying figurines like this one were a popular subject of Jaina-style artists. The ballgame was a ritualized sport replete with metaphorical allusions to solar and agricultural cycles. In the Classic Maya world, the ballgame was most frequently played in an I-shaped court, with a central playing alley and two end zones. Ring-shaped markers were sometimes placed along the slanted walls of the central alley, and additional circular markers were often inset into the ground. Players wearing heavily padded clothing hit the ball with their body, arms, legs, and hips. In this version of the game, it appears to have been illegal to strike the ball with one's feet or hands. The ballgame was a key aspect of ceremonial and religious life throughout Mesoamerica. Victory ensured that the earth's cycles would continue: agricultural crops would flourish each year and the sun would rise each day.

For more Jaina-style ballplayers, see 1986.617, 1986.621, 1986.622A-B, and 1985.635. For ballgame scenes, see 1971.417, 1980.237, and 1984.616.

-Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Gifted 31 December 1986 by Mr. William I. Lee to the Denver Art Museum. Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail provenance@denverartmuseum.org, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.
Exhibition History
  • "The 150th Year, Pre-Columbian Ballgame of Ancient America"-- Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde, Leiden, 6/18/1988- 9/12/1988.

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