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Vessel of the Dancing Lords

Cup shaped ceramic vessel with red glyphs and dancing figures, orange on cream ground.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Cup shaped ceramic vessel with red glyphs and dancing figures, orange on cream ground.


750–800 CE


Ah Maxam
Maya, active mid-/late 8th century
Vicinity of Naranjo, Petén region, Guatemala

About this artwork

According to ancient Maya belief, after several failed attempts the gods succeeded in populating the earth when they created humanity out of maize, the staff of life. In the Popol Vuh, a sixteenth-century epic of the K’iche’ Maya, the death and resur¬rection of the maize god was likened to seed corn that sprouted and produced new life. This vessel from the Late Classic period (600–800) depicts a Maya ruler attired as the maize god in three almost-identical panels. On his back, the ruler wears an enormous rack containing brilliant feathers, heraldic beasts, and related emblems. Just as maize plants sway to and fro, the maize god dances to the rhythm of life—often, as seen here, in the company of a dwarf. Among the Maya, dwarfs were seen as special beings with powerful spiritual connections to the earth and the interior world below. This vase refers to a rite of passage in which dwarfs assist the soul of the deceased into the domain of the dead, from which it would eventually be reborn in the royal lineage, just as maize sprouts again in the cycle of nature’s renewal. This vase of the Dancing Lords may have been painted as a funerary offering for a noblewoman with dynastic connections in the city of Naranjo, where it was made.


On View, Gallery 136


Arts of the Americas


Ah Maxam




Vessel of the Dancing Lords


Petén department (Object made in), Naranjo (Object Probably made in), Guatemala (Object made in)


700 CE-850 CE


Ceramic and pigment


24 × 15.8 cm (9 1/2 × 6 1/4 in.)

Credit Line

Ethel T. Scarborough Fund

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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