The art of the ancient Maya may be considered their most singular cultural achievement. Yet despite a surge of popular interest in these remarkable people, few are fully aware of the richness of their artistic legacy, unique in all of pre-Columbian America. Maya art is a rare combination of linear elegance and naturalism blended with dazzling symbolic complexity. Decorated objects, ranging from painted vases and carved jade and shell ornaments to towering stone monuments and building facades, bear the traces of a symbol system that, while fascinating, can make an understanding of these images elusive to the uninitiated.
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. Organized thematically, the symbols touch on many facets of the Maya world, from the natural environment—animals, plants, the heavens—to the mental landscape of gods, myths, and rituals. Using hundreds of line drawings and photographs, Andrea Stone and Marc Zender show how to identify these signs, understand their meaning, and appreciate the novel ways they appear in art. In addition to providing a basic introduction, the authors also offer many new and exciting interpretations.
A unique and exciting journey into the beautiful, complex, and often strange world of Classic Maya art and thought …a major contribution.
— Michael D. Coe
Andrea Stone is Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee.
Marc Zender is a lecturer in anthropology at Harvard University.