Important and Rare Maya Codex Style Vase,
Late Classic, ca. A.D. 650 - 950
height 5 5/16in (13.5cm); diameter 5 1/8in (13cm)
Cream slip with dark-brown painted decoration
Alphonse Jax, New York, 1972
Robert Sonin Private Collection, New York
Private Collection, Arizona
Robicsek, Francis, "The Maya Book of the Dead," 1981, Vessel 62
Number K1257 in the Maya Vase Data Base
The Codex style of Maya ceramics is defined by a black or brown line on a white or cream background, accented with a red rim. It has been reported that many Codex style vessels have been excavated from house mounds in the Northern Petén, from burials beneath the floors of the houses. Also, hundreds of sherds of Codex style pottery are often found in numerous palatial structures, such as at the palace at Calakmul. It appears that vessels were brought to a site as offerings and then smashed when the offering ceremonies were completed.
The vast majority of known Codex style ceramics illustrate various aspects of the Otherworld, the world where the Gods reside. Many of these painted ceramics describe the adventures of the Hero Twins and their father the Maize God, in their interaction with other deities, as well as with mortals.
This finely painted vase dates to the Late Classic period, 650 to 950 AD, and is similar in style to Codex style sherds found at Nak Be, in the Snake-Head Polity (under the political control of the city of Calakmul, in the Northern Peten).
The scene presents a pair of supernatural scribes, the Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh, (the mythological story which may well be the genesis story of the Maya). We recognize the Twins by their iconic headbands, the linear ends of which can be seen floating behind their headdresses. Above their ears are the scribal icons, an abstract form that resembles a large leaf-shaped ear or shell, echoing the shape of the Sabac Kuch or paint container. The paint-palette is usually carved from a conch shell and can take a number of forms, sometimes as a human hand and more often as a bowl, shaped like a shell.
Protruding from the front of their headdresses is the wide open maw of Och Chan, the great serpent of the Otherworld, and in front of one Twins nose is a symbol referred to as the last breath, signifying that they are in the Otherworld. On their upper arms, thighs and backs are "god-signs", indicating that they are supernaturals.
The Twins sit cross-legged in front of a lush, leafy background. Great split scrolls, painted with numbers, emanate from under their arms. (We can read the numbers on the scrolls; bars are the number 5 and dots are the number 1). It is believed that these scrolls identify them as the Patrons of Mathematics and their particular area of concern is the calendar and the passage of time.
With their left hands, they each support a jaguar-skin covered book called a codex. (Codex style vases were thus named because their painting style closely resembled the fine-line painting of the fan-folded, bark paper codices). In their right hands they each hold a brush. The act of writing or painting is a sacred task, as they record the passage of time, sometimes recording centuries back in time or far into the future.
Sadly, only four Maya codices survive, since most were burned in an auto-de-fé by Bishop Landa in the 16th century
Justin Kerr, September 2012