God N Emerging from a Turtle Shell

God N Emerging from a Turtle Shell

600-900 CE
Campeche Jaina Island
Ceramic with pigment applied after firing
Museum Exchange

Unknown Maya Artist, God N Emerging from a Turtle Shell, About 600-900, possibly Jaina Island, Campeche region, Mexico. Ceramic with post-fire applied pigment; 4 ½ x 4 in. Denver Art Museum Collection: Museum exchange, 1956.107.

This object is currently on view
height: 4 1/2 in, 11.4300 cm; width: 4 in, 10.1600 cm
Mayer Center, Art of the Ancient Americas
Art of the Ancient Americas

This Jaina-style figurine shows the head and upper body of a deity known as God N emerging from a turtle shell. He wears a tall, wrapped turban with remnants of blue paint, white shell earflares, and a beaded necklace with a large white pendant shell. His arms are crossed in front of his chest, with elbows resting on the ground. This elderly god was a world sustainer. Both singular and multiple, he was believed to hold up the four corners of the world. In this figurine, he is shown emerging from a blue-painted turtle shell. In ancient Maya belief, the earth's surface was envisioned as a great turtle floating on the primordial sea. This small figurine, then, represents both the earth and the deity who sustained it, as it does the world's center and its four directions. It is, in other words, a cosmogram: the cosmos in miniature.

To produce these kinds of figurines, ceramic artists used several techniques. They pressed elements like the face and body into molds, while other features, such as arms, legs, wrapped headdresses, and additional ornamentation, were hand made. As a result, one finds frequent repetition in faces in the Jaina corpus, as many were produced in the same molds. The head encountered here, for instance, is found on other figurines, though the associated bodies differ in position and details.

--Lucia R. Henderson, 2016

Known Provenance
Acquired 25 July 1956 by the Denver Art Museum through museum exchange. 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.
Exhibition History
  • “Stampede: Animals in Art” — Denver Art Museum, 9/10/2017