Princeton Vase

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The Princeton Vase
God L with the Hero Twins.jpg
Artist Late Classic, Maya ('Codex' style)
Year A.D. 670–750
Material Ceramic with orange and brown-black slip, with traces of post-fire Maya blue pigment
Subject God L, the Hero Twins, and a woman pouring chocolate
Dimensions 21.5 cm (8.5 in); 16.6 cm diameter (6.5 in)
Condition Finest known example of 'Codex' style[1]
Location Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ
Accession y1975-17

The Princeton Vase is a fine example of Maya ceramics in the 'Codex' style, originally serving as a drinking vessel for chocolate. It depicts god L, the Maya god of the underworld, surrounded by five female figures with a bound figure being decapitated by two masked men, perhaps the Hero Twins. The vase is a key piece in the Pre-Columbian collection of the Princeton University Art Museum and was found during excavations in Nakbé, Guatemala. Other examples of Maya ceramics include the Fenton Vase in the British Museum, London.


The vase dates to the late 7th or early 8th century, during the Late Classic period of the traditional Mesoamerican chronology, It originated in the Nakbé region, Mirador Basin, Petén, Guatemala.[2]


The surface of the vessel is home to a calligraphic painting with graceful, sure lines painted on a cream slip which present a theatrically composed mythological scene. Subtle visual devices, including one woman tapping the foot of another while her face points to the left, direct the viewer to turn the drinking vessel, allowing for a temporal unfolding as part of the viewing experience.[3]

One side depicts the deity known among scholars as god L, the ruler of Xibalba, the Maya underworld. The old, toothless god sits on a throne within a conventional depiction of a palace, with a pier behind him and what is likely a cornice above. The cornice is decorated with two jawless jaguars flanking the forward-facing face of a shark. Curtains, which served as doors for the Maya, have been furled to reveal the seated lord. God L can be identified by his characteristic open-weave brocaded shawl as well as the broad-brimmed hat decorated with owl feathers and a stuffed owl with outstretched wings. This god was also the patron deity of tobacco and merchants.[3]

Five elegant female figures, considered to be either daughters or concubines, including perhaps goddess I, surround the old god. They wear loose, flowing sarongs decorated with batik-like dyed patterns rendered in a soft brown wash. Each has jewelry at the neck, ears, and wrists. One of the women behind god L is pouring chocolate from a vessel similar in shape to the Princeton Vase, frothing the bitter delicacy into a vessel whose figure has been lost to wear. Underneath the god's throne, a rabbit scribe, who may be spying on the deity, sits recording the scene in a book with jaguar-pelt covers. God L delicately ties a bracelet on the women in front of him, while another woman taps her foot to draw attention to the gruesome scene in front of her, in which two men wearing elaborate masks and wielding axes decapitate a bound, stripped figure. The victim's serpent-umbilicus is biting the second executioner. The scene is a close parallel to part of the Popol Vuh, a K'iche' Maya mythological narrative where the Hero Twins trick the underworld lords into asking for their own beheadings. As is typical of mythological narratives throughout the Americas, the heroes win not through their brute strength but rather through cunning and, often humorous, trickery.[3]

The upper edge of the vase is inscribed with formulaic texts which consecrate the vessel, specifying its purpose as a drinking vessel for "maize tree" chocolate, and designating its owner, a lord named Muwaan K'uk'. The vase would have been used in courtly feats similar to that which is depicted.[3]


  1. Gibbon, Kate Fitz (2005). Who Owns the Past?: Cultural Policy, Cultural Property, and the Law. Rutgers University Press. p. 251. ISBN 978-0813536873.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Princeton Vase (y1975-17)". Princeton University Art Museum.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Steward p. 128.


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External links