Painting the Maya Universe

Royal Ceramics of the Classic Period

Painting the Maya Universe

Book Pages: 402 Illustrations: 386 color photographs, 9 b&w p Published: February 1994

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Native and Indigenous Studies

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 400 color images, Painting the Maya Universe is the most thorough study and brilliant display of Classic Maya ceramic painting yet published. Building on twenty years of research and debate, Dorie Reents-Budet and her collaborators Joseph W. Ball, Ronald L. Bishop, Virginia M. Fields, and Barbara MacLeod bring together many perspectives, including the art historical, archaeological, epigraphical, and ethnohistorical, to examine one of the world’s great but overlooked painting traditions. With an emphasis on sixth- to eighth-century pottery featuring both pictorial and hieroglyphic imagery, Painting the Maya Universe presents an extraordinary exploration of the cultural roles and meanings of these Guatemalan, Belizean, and Mexican elite painted ceramics. Maya pottery is discussed both in aesthetic terms and for the important information it reveals about Maya society, artistry, politics, history, religion, and ritual. The range of ceramic painting styles developed during this period is also presented and defined in detail.
Painting the Maya Universe is the first publication to present a definitive translation of the hieroglyphic texts painted on these objects. With many glyphs deciphered here for the first time, this analysis reveals much about how these vessels were perceived and used by the Maya, their owners’ names, and, in several cases, the names of the artists who created them. This information is combined with archaeological and other data, including nuclear chemical analyses, to correlate painting styles with specific Maya sites.
Published in conjunction with Duke University Museum of Art and an exhibition touring the United States, Painting the Maya Universe presents an astonishing visual record as well as a monumental scholarly achievement. With photographs by Justin Kerr, the foremost photographer of pre-Columbian art, it includes over 90 unique full-color rollout photographs, each showing the entire surface of an object in a single frame. The book also addresses the questions and controversy regarding the loss of information that occurs when objects are removed from their archaeological context to become part of public and private collections.
Painting the Maya Universe will energize discussion of Maya pottery, hieroglyphic texts, and iconography. Its photographs, a lasting resource on this great painting tradition, will stimulate and delight the eye. It is a breakthrough in art history and Latin American scholarship that will enrich general readers and scholars alike.


“A compelling, eloquent, and beautiful work of scholarship. . . .This is a basic contribution to Maya studies and an exemplary affirmation of the power of multidisciplinary studies.” — David A. Freidel, American Anthropologist

“Reents-Budet and her collaborators examine eloborate Classic-period polychrome vessels. . . .Careful, holistic consideration of vessel wear patterns, the chemical composition of the clays, the meaning of the painted inscriptions, artistic style, and provenenace, when known, has enabled Reents-Budet to argue convincingly that these pottery containers had significant uses as political gifts and elite service ware before their placement in gravelots.” — Gary M. Feinman, Hispanic American Historical Review

"The book is a magnificent and much needed assessment of how far we have come in the last twenty years and it points the way toward the kind of research and collaboration we need for the future." — from the foreword by Linda Schele, author of Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art


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Price: $59.95

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Winner, 1994 Mary Ellen LoPresti Award (Art Libraries Society of North America/Southeast Chapter)

Winner, 1995 Choice Outstanding Academics Books

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1438-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1434-9
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