Carved Vase with a Rattle Player
Unknown Maya artist, Northern Lowlands, Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. Carved Vase with a Rattle Player, 600–900 CE. Slip-painted ceramic, 5 ½ x 5 ⅛ inches. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis, 1990.10.
Carved Vase with Three Seated Figures
About A.D. 700-900
Carved and burnished earthenware, with colored slip and remnants of post-fire paint.
Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis; 1990.10
In some ways, this vessel is quite similar to Chocholá style vessels (see 1969.283 and 1986.612), but the flat plane of the relief, the sharp edges of the carved imagery, the lack of hieroglyphs, and the fact that the scene wraps around the entirety of the vessel suggests it is an affiliated style rather than true Chocholá.
This vessel was formed with thick walls, then carved when the clay was leather-hard. The background shows traces of a dark red slip as well as remnants of post-firing blue-white paint. This object would therefore have originally looked quite different than it does today. On the inner surface of the rim, the artist has painted an abstract design in red slip.
The scene is composed of three seated figures. All three are shown cross-legged in profile with their hair bound up in ponytails, sprigs of feathers curving out behind them. The first and second figures each wear simple, tied cloth diadems, while the third figure wears a tied diadem with a central jade bead. The first and third figures wear human jawbone necklaces, tied with a cord around the neck. The third figure, in contrast, wears what scholars call a "vomit bib," an indication that the scene involves a drinking ritual (see 2000.307 for a similar bib). In his proper right hand, this figure holds up a drinking cup. Behind him is the drinking vessel, which may contain balché (a mildly alcoholic beverage made from the bark of the balché tree) or pulque (an intoxicating beverage made from fermented agave juice).
Given the red slip decoration painted along the vessel's interior, which mimics the foaming surface of fermented liquid, it is quite likely that this vessel itself was intended as a ceremonial drinking cup. In ancient Maya belief, drinking rituals were frequently undertaken with the goal of vomiting and passing out. The former was associated with concepts of purification as well as the watering and fertilization of the earth. The latter was considered a form of death and rebirth. It is common, then, for scenes of drinking rituals to contain references to the Underworld, such as the human jawbone necklaces seen here.
For other drinking scenes, see 2002.96 and 2005.145.
-Lucia R. Henderson, 2016