Incised Celt with Portrait of Female Ruler

Incised Celt with Portrait of Female Ruler

400 CE
Culture
Maya
Country
Guatemala, Eastern, Petén
celt
Greenstone
Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer
2017.237

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.

Dimensions
height: 5 in, 12.7000 cm; width: 2 1/2 in, 6.3500 cm; depth: 1/4 in, 0.6350 cm
Department
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Collection
Art of the Ancient Americas

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. 

—VL

Known Provenance
Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail provenance@denverartmuseum.org, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.