Mayan Art in Stone: The Maya Stonemasons and Sculptors
|September 1, 2010||Posted by Jacob Devies under Ancient Art|
Among the great artistic achievements bequeathed to us by the Maya are their numerous stone monuments. The tradition of cutting monuments from stone, and erecting stelae and altars, goes back to the Pre-Classic. Its golden age came during the Classic, so by the Late Classic, a wide variety of regional styles had evolved.
As regards material, in most cities local limestone was quarried, but in the southern Maya area, other kinds of stone were predominant. In Quirigua, Tonina, and Pusilha, the local sandstone was used. In Copan, the particularly soft volcanic tuff, being easy to work, not only made possible the development of three-dimensional sculpture on stelae and altars, but also produced architectural sculpture of unique diversity and quality. In the cities of the Highlands, volcanic material such as basalt was generally used.
Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture
A unique and exciting journey into the beautiful, complex, and often strange world of Classic Maya art and thought. Presented here for the first time is a compendium of one hundred hieroglyphs that are also the building blocks of ancient Maya painting and sculpture.
Since metal tools were unknown, tools made from stone and wood were used. At the quarry, the material was usually broken up using axes and chisels made of flint. For more delicate dressing work and for sculpture, chisels of various sizes made from ground and polished hardrock were use, along with drills. Hammer stones and wooden tools were used as mallets. Particularly delicate and soft stone, such as the limestone from the region around Palenque, was also worked with knives. A tool of this kind is illustrated on a relief panel of unknown origin.
Mayan Art at Yaxchilan
The Maya artists had mastered all the techniques of sculpture, but favored bas-relief for most of their work. In the Late Classic, a style of three-dimensional sculpture developed in places, such as Copan and Tonina, where the newly quarried soft stone was easy to work. Techniques less frequently adopted included recessed relief, in which the relief image is not above, but below the surface. Intaglio, a technique similar to engraving, in which an image is formed from incised lines, also became popular in certain areas.
The First Maya Civilization: Ritual and Power Before the Classic Period
The book is lucid and well written, beginning with an overview of the major Classic sites and then working backward to the pre-Classic finds at sites such as Mirador, Holmul and Cival that seem to have pre-saged them, including development of sophisticated art, iconography and ritual. Lots of references if your want to follow up on any of the ideas. Highly readable for anyone interested in pre-Columbian history.
On a number of monuments from the Classic, short texts can be found carved on the relief surface, all displaying the same structure. At the beginning, there is a hieroglyph with a particularly conspicuous main sigh – a bat’s head. The same hieroglyph appears on ceramics with decorative carving or reliefs, near to the spot where, on coloured ceramics, u tzâ’ibal, ‘his writing’ or ‘the painting of,’ can be seen. It is therefore supposed that the hieroglyph with the bat’s head signifies ‘engraving’ or ‘sculpture.’
Monuments from the Usumacinta region in particular provide evidence that sculptural traditions spread from the major Maya centres to smaller, subordinate locations. Probably because of dynastic relationships, or in return for military or other services rendered to the central ruling house, provincial governors would have been able to claim privileges to which only the ruling dynasty was normally entitled. This may have included the right to commission monument and inscriptions.
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