About This Artwork

Late Classic Maya
Usumacinta River area, Mexico or Guatemala

Ballplayer Panel, A.D. 700/800

43.2 x 25.1 cm (17 x 9.9 in.)

Ada Turnbull Hertle Fund, 1965.407

This carved relief was included as part of the sculptural program in a royal ballcourt. The reclining figure on the right may depict a captured ruler; his feathered headdress and the holes in his yoke (hip protector) suggest defeat. On the left stands a victorious king or noble, who wears ballplayer attire with added protection on his lower arm, hip, and knee. This individual also wears a headdress and costume elements that suggest that he is a warrior. The scene recalls an event described in the Maya epic, Popol Vuh, in which life on earth becomes possible only after two ball-playing deities defeat the supernatural Lords of the Underworld in the mythic past.

— Permanent collection label

In Central America, the best-known sculptors are the Maya, who decorated their temples and sacred precincts with finely carved stone reliefs representing powerful dynastic rulers involved in various secular and religious activities. This fragmentary ball-court panel from the late eighth century shows two men, dressed in elaborate costumes, engaged in a ritual ball game. Surrounding the figures, and clearly set off from them, are fragments of hieroglyphs by which the Maya identified the players and the date on which the game occurred.

— Descriptive text

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