GUATEMALAN LOWLANDS. Late Classic Maya, AD 600–900. Red rimmed, black on cream ceramic. K4113. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
A ruler wearing a beaded headdress sitting cross-legged on his throne is depicted on this Maya vessel. Extending from under his nose is the “square-nosed serpent” motif often worn by the Sun God. The king is addressing Itzam, known as the creator god and patron of scribes, and behind him sits a chubby dwarf wearing a fancy headdress. The glyphs in front of the dwarf are too eroded to be read, but likely give his name and at least one title.
The king, whose hand is open in a conventional gesture of oration, is speaking the glyphic passage, which can be read as follows:
‘Yajaw Ek', [the] first . . . man, Itzamtuun, [and?] Drink[ing] Serpent arrive at. . . . It is his image [in] creation and darkness.”
This Late Classic cylindrical vessel portrays for us Itzam, the scribal and priestly god. If we roll out the scene, we realize that he is in animated conversation with a monarch. The king sits in front of a sumptuous throne, and curtains hanging behind him let us know this takes place inside a palace.
Extending from underneath the king's nose is the square-nosed serpent motif, revealing his divine essence and the moisture of his breath. It also tells us that the hieroglyphs painted between the two figures represent the king's speech.
This is their conversation, writ large in hieroglyphs. Behind the king, we see a dwarf, seated in the palace chamber. Hieroglyphs in front of the dwarf are slightly effaced, but nevertheless they would have provided this courtier's name and let us know that he was an elevated personage in his own right within the larger setting.