Incised Celt with Portrait of Female Ruler

Incised Celt with Portrait of Female Ruler

400 CE
Guatemala, Eastern, Petén
Accession Number
Credit Line
Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer

Unknown Artist, Incised Celt with Portrait of Female Ruler, Maya, About 400, Guatemala, eastern Petén, Ucanal (reportedly discovered in Costa Rica). Greenstone. 5 × 2½ × ¼ in. (12.8 × 6.3 × .7 cm). Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer to the Denver Art Museum, 2017.237.

height: 5 in, 12.7000 cm; width: 2 1/2 in, 6.3500 cm; depth: 1/4 in, 0.6350 cm
Mayer Center, Arts of the Ancient Americas
Arts of the Ancient Americas
This object is currently on view

This object preserves one of the earliest known portraits of a Maya queen. Celts, both plain and incised, formed an essential part of Maya royal costume. They hung down from a belt around the waist in sets of three, clinking against each other as the ruler walked. Very few incised examples survive, and those that do picture male rulers. 

Like her male contemporaries, she wears an elaborate headdress, and a string of beads encircles her face. In addition, her dress includes a jade net skirt and a shawl, knotted at the base of her neck, that covers her torso. The combination of garments underscores her femininity and modesty. These eventually became hallmarks of Late Classic period (600–850 CE) portraits of royal women.

The style and syntax of the inscription, translated by Matthew Looper and Yuriy Polyukhovych, dates the object to about 400 CE and identifies our subject as Lady “Bird” Star, beloved of the gods. The text further alludes to an illustrious lineage linked to the dynasties of Tikal and Caracol. 


Known Provenance
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