Mayan Jade Pectoral, an important artifact used by kings or other elite figures in Maya, is one of the exceptional works in Beauty in the Ancient Americas Pre-Columbian-Aesthetics at Barakat Gallery.
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA- Amazing objects and artifacts from such disparate regions as Northwestern Mexico to the plains of Peru are at the center of Beauty in the Ancient Americas: Pre-Columbian Aesthetics at the Barakat Gallery in California.The works on display show the diverse background of cultures, regions, and periods they represent. Additionally, they accentuate the profound beauty and creativity expressed by artists in the American continents before the arrival of European tastes and influences.
The works on display show the diverse background of cultures, regions, and periods they represent. Additionally, they accentuate the profound beauty and creativity expressed by artists in the American continents before the arrival of European tastes and influences.
Beauty in the Ancient Americas presents an alternative to the binary relationship of traditional eastern vs. western aesthetic. The works exude a design sensibility that is at once primal and raw, yet exotic and refined. Each piece exemplifies the dynamic vision and mysterious power associated with Pre-Columbian cosmological and aesthetic program that nurtured them.
At the core of the curatorial intention for this show is a quest to compare and contrast different regions, periods, and cultures through the lens of technique, form, and function. Divided into four major media groups, it is clear from all the works on display that Pre-Columbian artisans utilized mostly jade, gold, terra-cotta, and stone for their works. Although Pre-Columbian artists were often separated by both thousands of miles and thousands of years, their works affirm a cross-fertilization of ideas and creative sensibilities. Each piece indicates concrete and distinct aesthetic tradition much like that found in the great civilizations of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
While it is evident that each civilization or culture contributed its own unique style, pulse, and vision to the overall tradition, there is clear evidence of cross-cultural influences in the works. From individual forms, styles, and characteristics, there is an indisputably underlying interconnectivity; an undeniably common foundation and fundamental unity are unmistakable through the whole of Pre-Columbian artistic expression.
The Mayan Jade Pectoral is one of the pieces that show the creative interconnectivity and the importance of jade in the Mayan society. Among Mayans, jade is considered the most precious of all stone substances. In addition to its durability and color, jade symbolized life-giving water and vegetation and represented lightning and rain.
When used for art, jade’s symbolic beauty imbued every figure and ornament with supernatural power and importance. All these characteristics come together in Mayan Jade Pectoral, an important example of pendants worn on the chest of a Maya king or other elite figures. Measuring 2.75″ (7.0cm) high x 3″ (7.6cm) wide, the Mayan Jade Pectoral dates back about 300 AD to 900 AD.
Although it is not clear who wore this beautiful Jade Pectoral, it, however, reflects spiritualism and majesty. On the Pectoral is a mask, perhaps the face of the owner surrounded by motifs. Jade Pectoral of this nature, like other Mayan art, was used for both political and social purposes. They also serve as historical documents. As a language, Mayan art documents important ceremonies and crucial events in the lives of the kings.
Many of the works in Beauty in the Ancient Americas reveal the ideas and tradition that informed the artists’ creations. The Pre-Columbian tradition was steeped in a boundless dedication to the sacred. Ancient Americas religion celebrated omnipotent Gods and goddesses, ruling lords and kings, great beings of power and providence. It is not surprising that the artists used their works to celebrate the gods and goddesses of their time.
In discussions about the Mayans, one issue that constantly comes to the fore is the human sacrifice. In Apocalypto directed by Mel Gibson, for instance, viewers were inundated with a culture wholly devoted to killing people for rituals. However, the Mayans were more than. In addition to other things, they also engaged in leisure activities.
One of the important pieces in this show that hints at leisure in the Mayan society is the Mayan Jade Palma. Dating back to about 300 AD to 900 AD, and measuring 10.5″ (26.7cm) high, the pieces reaches from the past to the present. It is a sculpture celebrating the widespread popularity of the Mesoamerican ballgame and players. Carved with the depiction of a standing figure, perhaps a ballplayer himself, wearing an elaborate, towering headdress, this gorgeous jade Palma is just one such artifact that played an essential role in the ancient game. The rendition of the dominant figure and the style of the decoration, specifically the figure’s face reveal the influence of the Olmec on the art of the Maya.
Scholars have for decades made efforts to understand the importance of Palmas in the Maya society. While some believed that Palmas served as court markers, perhaps delineating borders or scoring ranges, others, however, believe that they might have been awarded as prizes to victorious combatants.
As a prize, this spectacular Mayan Jade Palma would have been a most formidable prize for the winner of the ballgame. In addition to the delicate beauty of the carving and the luxurious nature of the material, the Maya also considered jade the most precious of all stone substances. Clearly, it was treasured in ancient Mesoamerica as much as we appreciate it today for its ancient magic and mystery.
Although no one has been able to identify the rules that guided the Mayan ballgame, archaeological discoveries have shown that it was a major source of leisure for the Mayans. In addition to being a source of sport and entertainment, the game also had tremendous religious and ceremonial significance. In the “Popol Vul,” the creation myth of the Quiche Maya of highland Guatemala, the protagonists (the Hero Twins) are ballplayers who compete against the Gods of the Underworld. The presence of the game in the spiritual realm led to the conclusion that certain ceremonial games might have reenacted this mythological competition where the losers would be sacrificed to the gods. A derivation of this ancient ballgame is still played today in parts of northwestern Mexico.
As a whole, the works on display in Beauty in the Ancient Americas: Pre-Columbian Aesthetics are reminders that they were created not just for aesthetics but also because they served a bridge between man and god. The artists, through their creations, sought to connect the divine cosmos with the natural world and the ruling authority in a manner that expressed and reassured universal balance and harmony.Although the exhibition does not focus on an ancient Americas
Although the exhibition does not focus on an ancient Americas timeline, the works evidently have historical significance. The delicate finish of each work indicates the meticulous effort that went into the portrayal of a coherent, cohesive aesthetic and symbolic interpretation of the universe. In their dynamic compression of the collective ideal, they elucidate a sense of beauty and order to be shared not only among the contemporary community then but also discovered, digested, and enjoyed by a modern audience now.