About This Artwork

Late Classic Maya
Vicinity of Calakmul, Campeche or Quintana Roo, Mexico

Stela, A.D. 702

162.6 x 68.6 x 30.5 cm (64 x 27 x 12 in.)

Wirt D. Walker, 1990.22

The lords of Maya city-states in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras portrayed themselves on stone monuments called stelae. Placed in plazas before the palaces and pyramids of ritual and administrative centers, these sculptures document critical information about major dynastic events between A.D. 200 and 900, including royal inaugurations, military triumphs, marriages, deaths, rituals, and key events of the agricultural cycle).

The carving style of the stela suggests that it may be from the vicinity of Calakmul, a major Classic Maya city located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, close to the border with the Petén district of Guatemala. A male figure—likely a ruler—stands in a frontal position, with his head, lower legs, and feet (now missing) turned to the viewer’s left. The subject’s gaunt face suggests that he is elderly. He holds a double-headed serpent bar across his body and is dressed in ceremonial attire associated with the Maize God, consisting of a plumed headdress, jade jewelry, a jade-netted kilt, and a spondylus seashell below the midriff. This costume symbolically connected the ruler to the earth, sky, water, and maize (corn).

Hieroglyphics carved on the left side of the monument record the date in the Maya calendar, corresponding to January 26, A.D. 702, which marked the completion of a Maya 10-year period. The text on the right side documents the ritual auto-sacrificial bloodletting performed by the ruler to commemorate this significant moment in time. Although they are too highly eroded to read accurately, the hieroglyphs on the front of the stela likely name the ruler, his ancestry, and the place where he governed.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

James N. Wood, Treasures from The Art Institute of Chicago (Art Institute of Chicago, 2000), pg. 29 (ill.).

Joel Palka and Jeff Buechler, "Monument to a Matriarch: A Classic Maya Stela at the Art Institute of Chicago," Mesoamerican Voices 1 (2003), pp. 41-46 (ill.).

Ownership History

Un-known private collector, west coast, U.S., before 1970 [correspondence in curatorial file]; Robert and Marianne Huber Fine Arts (Huber Primitive Art), Dixon, Ill. and New York, N.Y., [correspondence in curatorial file]; sold to Seth G. Atwood (1917–2010), the Time Museum, Rockford, Ill., January 21, 1970 [correspondence in curatorial file]; sold to the Art Institute, January 9, 1990.

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