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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Mayan Poison Bottles : Mayan Poison Bottle
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Mayan Poison Bottle - PF.6190
Origin: El Salvador
Circa: 300 AD to 900 AD
Dimensions: 3.375" (8.6cm) high
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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It is impossible to overestimate the importance ritual and ceremony had on Maya society. To perform a sacred rite was the re-enactment of procedure and method in an exact sequence choreographed precisely as an exquisite dance. Music, language and art played a crucial role in presenting a visual and audible structure within which the gods could communicate with mortals; and if successful, everyone could experience a transcendent moment of reality. This principal applies to any context where ritual is precisely followed, including matters that touch only one individual at a time. The joy of discovering such gems as this lovely flask is that it brings us into direct contact with an esoteric symbolism that is, nonetheless, very human and exciting.

A scene, repeated twice, representing a seated figure decorates the front and back of this vessel. Perhaps a deity, possibly a shaman or elite ruler, this figure wears a feathered headdress. Known as poison bottles, a flask such as this one may have contained powdered pigments, possible cinnabar, or other materials such as copal incense. If so, then it might have belonged to a painter. In fact, its size and shape is quite similar to containers of copal oil used by artists today. The inscribed scene constitutes a vital part of the effectiveness of the liquid held within. Art as language could attract power through ritual and influence material things. A simple object thereby becomes something extraordinary, imbued with magic and otherworldly mystery used for the heavenly pursuit of painting.
- (PF.6190)


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