Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- This large dish has a separate lid, and both pieces are covered with a variety of colors. The artist decorated the surface in a cream slip and divided the scenes into red, orange, and black panels. Slip is a mixture of clay and water. It is usually the consistency of heavy cream and is often used for decoration.
- The sides of the dish depict a mythological animal known in Maya studies as the Witz Monster. This mysterious creature is found throughout Maya art. It is thought that the monster represents a mountain, and its open mouth represents a cave entrance where divine rulers enter and leave the underworld.
- The shape of the dish and the addition of the lid indicate that it likely served as a container for food. A hole in the lid would have allowed the aroma of food to come from the mouth of the jaguar. The dish also may have been placed in a burial chamber to hold various contents.
This dish with a lid and a jaguar-head handle has two main design elements that are repeated: the head of a long-snouted creature surrounded by symbols and concentric rectangles in black, cream, and red. Each design element appears three times on both the dish and the lid.
The long-snouted creature is the Witz Monster, a mythological creature that represents a mountain. Symbols for wind and breath spread from a bead that dangles from the monster’s nose. The creature is surrounded by flowers and jewels. Its body contains triangles that represent mountains. A vine-like rope encircles the bottom of the dish and the lid.
The lid has a jaguar head emerging from the center. The jaguar’s jaws are open, and there is a hollow channel that connects the jaguar’s mouth with the interior of the lid. Flower motifs connect the jaguar’s head to the Witz Monster and the rectangle design elements. The vertical bands of the composition may refer to the sacred organization of the three-layered vertical realms in the Maya worldview.
Resources for Teachers
- Learn more about the politics and history painted on a Maya vase.
- Read an article about ancient Maya painted ceramics from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
- Read an article about the Witz Monster.
Resources for Students
- Zoom in to view a painted vessel up close.
- Review a list of Mayan vocabulary words and learn more about Maya gods and goddesses.