the cylindrical vase with slightly flared walls masterfully painted in deep brown on the cream ground in a fluid and expressive style, depicting two scenes with the aged deity Pawahtuun, the god of writing and art, distinguished by netted scarf with a brush wedged into the ties, large square eye, and Roman nose, in animated lessons with two young disciples, on one side the aged lord leaning forward and pointing with an implement towards the folded codex, looking directly at his students as he recites the bar-and-dot numbers emanating from his mouth shown above and before him, the numbers reading "7 pictuns, 8 baktuns, 9 katuns, 12 tuns, 13 kins, 11 uinals", fine billowing lines in the field suggesting the breath of the proclamation, the full-bodied pupils seated in rapt attention, each in simple loincloth and soft turbans, one showing wisps of hair and the sole of his foot, on the reverse the Pawahtuun hunched intently forward and tapping the ground as he announces the words connected to the transforming speech scroll, the two glyphs referring to ominous words, the pupils before him in similar attentive posture, one with turban with lattice fringe, the other with goatee, patterned turban and loincloth, and with animated hand gestures, a band of eight glyphs at the rim possibly denoting names; the base and rim painted in orange.
Francis Robicsek and Donald Hales, The Maya Book of the Dead, The Ceramic Codex, 1981, p. 53, vessel 56
Linda Schele and Mary Miller, The Blood of Kings, Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art, 1986, drawing detail, fig. III.11
Barbara Kerr and Justin Kerr, "Some Observations on Maya Vase Painters", in Elizabeth Benson, Gillett Griffin, eds. Maya Iconography, 1988, pp. 240-247, figs. 7.2e, 7.4e, 7.5e, 7.6e, 7.7e and 7.8e
Justin Kerr, The Maya Vase Book, Volume 1, 1989, p. 67, K1196
Michael D. Coe and Justin Kerr, The Art of the Maya Scribe, 1998, rollout frontispiece pp.2-3; and detail fig. 70
This vase is widely recognized for its importance within the repertoire of codex vessels, and for its place within the specific artists or schools that are now distinguishable. For the group of codex vessels most closely associated with this painter, labeled the Princeton Painter, see Kerr and Kerr (1988:240-241, fig. 7.2). The iconography eloquently illustrates one of the most important figures of the Maya pantheon, the aged deity Pawahtuun, a principal god of the scribes, instructing would-be lords; see Coe and Kerr (1998:104). For discussion of hand gestures and their meaning see Kerr (2000: 1076 and 1082) with illustrations from this vase.
Commentary on Codex Vessel K1196
The painting on this vessel is among the most elegantly executed fine-line brush paintings and belongs to the school typified by a Codex vase in The Art Museum, Princeton University, (K511). The artist displays his complete control over a difficult and exacting style of painting. The direct brushwork envelops the volumes of the figures with calligraphic precision. Codex style implies the characteristic beige to cream ground with black or dark brown line painting. The rims are usually painted red.
This Codex style vessel is sometimes referred to as the “teaching vase” since its first publication in The Maya Book of the Dead: the Ceramic Codex by Robicsek and Hales. To quote, “The scene resembles a classroom…” . We now know that it presents an intriguing view of ancient Maya practices of prognostication, the reading of omens, and the interaction between the real and the supernatural worlds.
The painting is loosely divided into two scenes, both essentially alike. We are looking at a mythological scene where the worlds intersect, but similar to a public plaza where scribes and seers offer their services. The players are distinctively drawn and are certainly distinguishable as portraits of individuals. A Pawahtuun (an old God), a supernatural acting as soothsayer or seer (in Mesoamerica, he would be called a shaman), sets forth a prognostication to two individuals who are of this world. In the first scene, the Pawahtuun speaks to an Ah k’hun (a keeper of the holy books). The words that are spoken by the Pawahtuun appear as a group of glyphs connected to a speech thread, which emanates from his mouth. They may be interpreted as “receive my bad omens”. One glyph reads tataah bi, and translates as “work, writing, or insulting words and deeds and the practice of them.” The bad omens may have to do with a prediction of illness or other personal calamity.
In the second scene another Pawahtuun, who is also wearing the diagnostic net headdress and square eyes of the old God, is holding a pointer and reading from a codex placed in front of him. He is reading aloud the bar and dot numbers attached to a speech thread. When read as a sequence these bars and dots may represent a date. Since we are dealing with the supernatural, the date in question would be more than 50,000 years in the past; to be exact, August 9, 55,000 BCE. The other inscriptions below the rim may refer to the names of the Pawahtuuns.
It is interesting to note that the dates on Codex vases usually do not read in real time but go back to some supernatural past. For instance, the important date 4 Ahaw 8 kumk’u, (August 13, 3114 BCE), is the date that the sky was raised and people first appeared on earth. The ancient Maya counted forward from that date to express actual time and they counted backward to express mythological time, which is infinite.
Justin Kerr September 3, 2004
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