Notes: 77 / 2 years ago
This canteen-shaped vessel presents an intriguing pair of masterfully carved images, one on each side. One side presents a lord seated cross-legged. He rests against a cushion covered with a jaguar pelt. To the left, a diminutive figure holds a mirror. He may be a dwarf, common members of royal Maya courts, or it may be an object similar to the wooden mirror-holder in the Princeton collection. The hieroglyphic text above the dwarf resists clear decipherment, but seems to identify the function or type of vessel and indicate its owner, presumably the lord here presented. The other side of the vessel presents a rare depiction of a mosquito, a ubiquitous creature in the humid tropical lowlands. The pectoral around the mosquito’s neck, typically worn by Maya royalty, indicates that this is no normal pest. It is likely that it is the spirit companion, or ‘alter-ego,’ of the lord depicted on the other side. It is possible that this bug is the image the lord on the other side sees as he gazes into the mirror; mirrors were perceived throughout Mesoamerica as vehicles for viewing not mere reflections, but an enhanced, supernatural ‘vision.’ The polished black finish of the vessel mimics the obsidian used for mirrors in Mesoamerica, providing a clever play between the quality of the depiction of the heron and that of the image seen in the mirror. Although it is not clear what the vessel was intended to contain, smaller vessel with this shape are typically labelled as tobacco containers; this vessel too likely held tobacco or another substance with mind-altering powers, used to enliven the senses and facilitate viewing of visions and interaction with the supernatural realm.
Princeton University Art Museum