Lot 145
  • 145

Maya Figure of a Warrior, Jaina, Late Classic, circa AD 550-950

150,000 - 200,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • ceramic
  • Height: 11 3/4 in (29.8 cm)


D. Daniel Michel, Chicago, acquired in 1962 (no. 62:077)
Ancient Art of the New World, New York
American Private Collection, acquired from the above


Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, temporary loan, 1966
The Arts Club of Chicago, Chicago, High Culture in the Americas before 1500, November 15 - December 31, 1982


Nicholas M. Hellmuth, "Maya Clay Sculpture of Pre-Columbian Mexico", Apollo, Vol. CIII, No. 169, March 1976, fig. 3
Everett McNear, High Culture in the Americas before 1500, Chicago, 1982, p. 15, fig. 27
Ancient Art of the New World, color advertisement, Tribal Arts, Vol. 4, No. 2, Autumn 1997, p. 19

Catalogue Note

Jaina-style figures are exceptionally refined ceramic objects encompassing a wide range of male and female personages of elite Maya society. Named after the island off Campeche where they were first rediscovered, they are now believed to have been produced more widely in the Gulf Coast region of the Maya heartland than previously thought. Figures such as this warrior were often part of larger ritualistic tableaus, such as the 23 figures found in the cache chamber of a ruler on the site of El Perú-Waka’ in southern Guatemala. (Finamore and Houston, Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, Salem, 2010, pp. 284-287). These assemblages of naturalistically-rendered figures provide insight into the roles of specific individuals within Maya society and reveal a compelling narrative of the importance of Maya rituals.

Finely modeled and ornately adorned, this warrior proudly brandishes his weapon with an air of martial noblesse. While many Jaina figures portray warriors, it is rare to see examples that include weapons, which, in this case, is a removable macuahuitl: a long wooden club embedded with multiple obsidian blades. The body of the figure was made from a mold, but the various accoutrements on his body were attached by hand before firing. His coiffure, incised at the base, projects dynamically upward in a twisting bundle, barely held in place by a ropy plait. The figure’s goatee, beaded necklace, and enormous ear flares are all signifiers of the warrior’s high rank. Similarly, the applied ornament extending the nose bridge and the oliva shell belt are symbols of status. Typical of Jaina-style objects, minute traces of red pigment—extracted from hematite and used to depict exposed skin in Maya art—remain visible on the figure’s right leg while spots of “Maya blue” remain visible on the figure’s belt, a distinctive pigment formed through a chemical combination of heated indigo and the mineral palygorskite.

This tour-de-force of Maya ceramic production boasts a distinguished provenance. It was acquired in the early 1960s by D. Daniel Michel (1902-2004), one of the most prominent advocates for Pre-Columbian art in the Chicago area. This figure, impressive in scale and extraordinarily well-preserved, was a highlight of the Michel Collection and was featured in seminal exhibitions at the Field Museum and the Arts Club of Chicago.

For two similar large-scaled warrior figures, see Finamore and Houston, Fiery Pool, The Maya and the Mythic Sea, 2010, p. 59, fig. 13 and Schmidt, de la Garza, and Nalda, ed., Maya, 1998, p. 541, fig. 98.