Atole Dish with Waterlily Imagery

Atole Dish with Waterlily Imagery

A.D. 650-850
Earthenware with red and black slip paint.
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis
Atole Dish with Waterlily Imagery. A.D. 650-850. Earthenware with red and black slip paint.. Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis. 1994.1.
height: 2 in, 5.0800 cm; width: 7 in, 17.7800 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

Atole Dish with Waterlily Imagery
About A.D. 650-850
Guatemala, Petén
Earthenware with black and red slip paint.
Gift of Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis; 1994.1

This vessel, a low dish with slightly flaring sides, was once used to consume maize gruel, or atole. The exterior of the dish is painted with two animate waterlily plants, depicted as skulls that sprout vegetal tendrils and flowers. A large fish nibbles on one skull. On the other side, a more diminutive fish nibbles at the edge of a round waterlily pad. The waving pattern that marks the surface of this lily pad is also used in Maya art to represent the earth's surface and the surfaces of turtle shells, all of which were conceptually related.

The interior of the vessel is painted with a large hieroglyph that reads Wuk-Ha’-Nal, or "7 Water Place." A variant of this glyph, also read "7 Water Place," is painted on the vessel's bottom. These hieroglyphs mark the dish as the mythical place of the maize god's emergence.  Planted in the earth after his death, the maize god was believed to have been reborn from water in a youthful, luxuriant, bejeweled form. The watery nature of this place of resurrection is emphasized by the beads, water scrolls, and water-stacks (used to show the waving surface of water) painted on the interior walls of the vessel.

The quality of the line-work, masterful shading, and several other details allow us to identify the artist of this vessel as the Metropolitan Painter (first identified and described by Barbara and Justin Kerr (1988) as their “Group 2 Painter”). This master artist was responsible for the creation of seven other codex-style vessels, two of which are currently in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The identification of specific artists is a rare and exciting event in Maya studies. This, then, is an exceptional vessel, not only because it represents the work of a master painter, but because it provides a unique moment of encounter with an individual artist from the ancient past.

For a similar atole vessel, see 1993.125. For other objects that reference the myth of the Maize god, see 1972.153 and 1983.362.

-Lucia R. Henderson, 2016 (hieroglyphic readings provided in consultation with David Stuart)

Known Provenance
Gifted 5 January 1994 by Dr. M. Larry and Nancy B. Ottis 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.

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