GUATEMALAN LOWLANDS. Late Classic Maya, AD 600–900. Polychrome ceramic. K6341. Jay I. Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
This tall, thin, cylindrical Maya vessel is unique for its detailed picture of courtly life. Central to the scene is a standing ruler in his throne room being dressed for a ceremony by three attendants. A dwarf cavorts and amuses the king. Behind the king’s throne crouches one of his bodyguards, ever vigilant, while behind the bodyguard stands a fan bearer whose ministrations keep the king cool.
While many of the caption glyphs, probably intended to identify the participants in the ceremony by name and rank, are eroded beyond legibility, the partially abraded hieroglyphs behind the ruler declare his status as “foremost [in the] world.”
This tall, narrow-cylindrical vessel provides us with a privileged glimpse into the workings of the Classic Maya court. The stairs in the foreground and also the columns tell us that this scene takes place right in the front of the Classic Maya palace.
We can glimpse through the doorways to see what's taking place within the building, but our attention is focused on the tall central individual. He's being painted for ceremony by an individual immediately in front of him. Another holds up a mirror so that we can tell that he's gazing at himself as he is being dressed for ceremony.
A third fastens on a wristlet, as just behind the king's throne a watchman is ever vigilant to make sure that individuals don't approach the king without permission.
Another individual standing behind and to the left of the king holds up a parasol, one of the indications that this scene takes place outdoors and underneath the sun. A dwarf reclines in the stairway and other individuals stand in the foreground.
Hieroglyphs scattered throughout the scene give us the names and captions of individuals.
The king carries the high-ranking title, baahkab.
Other signs are effaced, but tell us that we are looking at a historical scene, not just a general view of a classic Maya palace, but a snapshot, as if from life.