Ballplayer Figurine with Removable Headdress

Ballplayer Figurine with Removable Headdress

600–900 CE
Campeche Jaina Island
Ceramic with remnants of polychrome paint
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of William I. Lee

Unknown Maya artist, Possibly Jaina Island, Campeche region, Mexico. Ballplayer Figurine with Removable Headdress, 600–900 CE. Ceramic with remnants of polychrome paint, 8 ¾ x 3 ¾ x 4 inches. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1986.622A-B.

height: 8 3/4 in, 22.2250 cm; width: 3 3/4 in, 9.5250 cm; depth: 4 in, 10.1600 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

Jaina-style Figurine with Removable Headdress
About A.D. 600-900
Mexico, Campeche, possibly Jaina Island
Earthenware with remnants of polychrome paint
Gift of Mr. William I. Lee, 1986.622A-B

This two-part Jaina-style figurine represents a standing human figure with a removable feather headdress. He wears a fringed, knee length kilt below the thick, padded belt characteristically worn by ballplayers. Behind him, a long flap of fabric hangs from this belt to the floor, stabilizing the figure. Three additional tiers of fabric hang from the front of the belt. The middle of these is painted yellow, while the foremost panel terminates in a three-lobed fleur de lis shape. The elaborate nature of his costume suggests he is involved in ceremonial activities related to the ballgame rather than being depicted in the midst of play.

The figure wears a four-strand beaded collar or cape. He also wears large earflares and fringed and beaded blue anklets. His removable helmet is attached with a nose-strap. The helmet is decorated with three large disks, possibly of shell or jade. Above these, a band elaborated with disk-shaped ornaments cinches a large central plume of feathers, each feather terminating in a perforated bead. Two additional feather tufts flare out to either side of the headdress.

The figure holds two curious elements in his hands, each with a strap that wraps around the thumb. Both of these are painted blue and edged with fine lines, as though they have a fringed or furry surface. The object in the figure's proper right hand has a face composed of two round, bulging circles for eyes and an oval-shaped mouth. This could represent a defleshed face or a shrunken head, possibly alluding to the rites of decapitation which were often parts of ballgame ceremonies. They also bear some resemblance to depictions of fruits, especially cacao pods in ancient Maya art, which are frequently shown animated with human faces. Again, this might allude to the conceptualization of the human head as a fruit or seed capable of regenerative growth (for more on this topic, see 1971.413).

For more Jaina-style ballplayers, see 1986.615, 1986.617, 1986.621, 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, 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.