Jaina-style Figurine of a Seated Ballplayer

Jaina-style Figurine of a Seated Ballplayer

A.D. 600-900
Campeche Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint.
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Wiliam I. Lee
Jaina-style Figurine of a Seated Ballplayer. A.D. 600-900. Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint.. Gift of Wiliam I. Lee. 1986.621.
height: 5 1/8 in, 13.0175 cm; width: 3 1/4 in, 8.2550 cm; depth: 4 in, 10.1600 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas

Jaina-style Figurine of a Seated Ballplayer
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche, possibly Jaina Island
Mold-made, hand-finished earthenware with traces of polychrome paint
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1986.621

This Jaina-style figurine depicts a male individual sitting cross-legged with his hands on his knees. A thick, padded belt encircles his waist, fringed with what scholars call "shell tinklers," which would have rattled as he moved. Beneath this is a short, simple kilt. His hair is denoted by broad striations, and he has a short-cropped beard or goatee. The shape of his head indicates that he once wore a removable headdress, now lost, that would have either been made of clay or of perishable materials. He wears a shoulder cape or broad collar decorated with three strands of beads. The two shorter beaded strands that lie atop them may have originally formed part of his removable headdress.

He wears an unusual contraption on his back. Strapped down by what might be a strip of leather, this conical form may be a basket. It is possible that this basket was used to store the ball for play, but such suggestions remain conjecture. The interior of this basket-like form is painted blue. Below it, a knot cinches the top of a small bunch of cloth or paper strips.

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 1986.615, 1986.617, 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.
  • "The Ballgame"-- Denver Museum of Natural History, 3/17/1995-7/1995.

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