400–1500 CE
Marajó Island
urn, funerary urn
Ceramic with colored slip
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer

Unknown artist, Urn. Marajó Island, Brazil, 400–1500 CE. Ceramic with colored slip. 36 x 30 in. Gift of the collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2006.14. 

height: 36 in, 91.4400 cm; diameter: 30 in, 76.2000 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas

Funerary Urn
About A.D. 400–1300
Brazil, Marajó Island
Earthenware with colored slips
Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2006.14

The people of Marajó Island buried their dead (either complete bodies or secondary burials of cleaned bones) in ceramic urns.  The largest urns, such as this, have thick walls and required considerable skill to fire.  Opposite one another on the jar’s neck are large modeled faces with heavily lidded eyes, a short protuberant nose, and a chinlike element that extends onto the vessel shoulder.  Heavy black lines enhance the facial features, and define arms and hands on the vessel below the faces.  A womblike element centered on the belly suggests a feminine identity for the urn.  Small human figures with protectively raised arms are modeled on the jar’s neck, between the large faces.  

The urn may have been housed above ground or partially buried in a roofed cemetery shelter, allowing descendants or others to view the painted and modeled imagery and to handle or make offerings to the human remains.  This constellation of images and practices is suggestive of rebirth, with the bones – sheltered and nourished within an earthen ancestral being – serving as seeds for new life.

Exhibition History
  • “ReVision: Art in the Americas” — Denver Art Museum, 10/24/2021 – 7/17/2022