Head of the rain god Tlaloc

Dog with human mask

Tablet with incised glyphic inscription

Seated figure with upraised knee

Lidded tetrapod bowl with paddler and peccaries

Eccentric flint depicting a crocodile canoe with passengers

Cylindrical vessel with ritual ball game scene

Headdress ornament with heads flanked by crested crocodiles

Stirrup-spout vessel with feline and cacti


Effigy drum: Anthropomophic mythical being holding trophy heads, club, and plant

Stirrup-spout vessel with deer hunting scenes

Ceremonial mask

Featherwork neckpiece




Wall panel: Lady Bolon-K'an wearing the ancestral costume

Wall panel depicting Lady Bolon-K'an in ritual dress
Mexico: state of Tabasco, Pomona, Maya culture
c. A.D. 750-800 (Late Classic period)
Limestone, stucco, and paint
86 3/4 x 30 1/4 x 6 in. (220.3 x 76.8 x 15.2 cm)
Dallas Museum of Art, Foundation for the Arts Collection, gift of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Clark, 1968.39.FA

The ancient Maya people lived in the area occupied today by eastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras, and western El Salvador.  They carved monuments or wall panels such as this to honor rulers and commemorate special events.  Today, scholars continue the work of deciphering the texts that accompany these carvings.  With each new breakthrough, we learn more about the people and events of Maya history. 


1. Maya imagery is often complex.  Look carefully at this wall panel and find these parts: a standing figure in an elaborate outfit, a special scepter in the person's upraised left hand, and a series of blocky shapes that begins in the top right corner of the stone and continues down the side.


2. Look at the column of block-shaped pictures on the right side of the panel. These blocks are the Maya way of writing, and they are called glyphs.  Find the 5th glyph up from the bottom.  Here is a drawing of that glyph.







There is a face in profile, a cross with a ring around it, a bar, and four dots.  This glyph tells us the name of the woman pictured on the wall panel.  The profile face with a mark that looks like the letters IL on the cheek introduces the name of a woman.  We treat it as a title, Lady.  The cross shape in the circle is the sign for k’an, which means both yellow and precious.  In the Maya number system, a bar equals five and each dot equals one.  The bar with four dots represents the number nine, bolon.  At the DMA, we have called this royal woman Lady Bolon-K’an.  We have translated her name as Lady Nine Precious.  Reading the parts of her name in the order in which they appear, some scholars call her Lady K’an Bolon, which may be read as Lady Yellow Nine. (Schele 1978; Guenter 2007)


3. Investigate the elaborate outfit.  Find the feathered headdress, the heavy-looking collar of beads, the jewelry such as ear ornament and bracelet, the long overskirt with a criss-crossed pattern of beads, and the sandals.  The small circles in the collar and costume probably represent beads of precious jade.  The jade skirt is similar to the one worn by the Maize God, who is also known as First Father, the original ancestor of all the Maya. The long, curving shapes in the headdress are probably tail feathers from the highly valued quetzal, a Central American bird with brilliant green colored feathers.  Jade and quetzal feathers are an essential pairing for a ruler who dresses as the Maize God. 


Jade was associated with maize (or the green foliage of the corn plant), vegetation, water, sky, wind (which brings rain and is the essence of the life spirit), and life itself.  It symbolized fertility and abundance.  As a material, jade was hard and durable.  The difficulty required to work it (to shape and polish the beads and other ornaments) increased its value.


4. Artists can use costume, body language, gesture, and expression to give the viewer important information about a person.  What has the artist told us about Lady Bolon-K’an?  Her elaborate costume says that she is important. The artist has emphasized ritual costume – what she wears and holds- rather than a faithful likeness of her as an individual.   How would you describe Lady Bolon-K’an?  Would you call this a portrait?  We know that this is an image of a particular person because the glyphs name her.


5. Look closely at the scepter, and find the profile face on it. 










This face represents the Maya god, K'awil [also spelled K’awiil].  K’awil is closely connected to Maya rulers.  Several features make K’awil easy to identify.  Look for the double scroll that comes from his forehead.  This is often described as smoke from a stone celt, for K’awil is associated with lightning, which forms flint where it strikes the earth.  Just below the double scroll is a mirror sign.  Mirrors were symbols of access to the supernatural world.  K’awil is often shown on scepters, and a larger version of his profile appears in this royal woman’s headdress.  (Miller and Martin 2004:150; Miller and Taube 1993:114-115.)   


6. How might Lady Bolon-K’an have used this scepter?  One of the responsibilities of Maya rulers was to communicate with the supernatural world on behalf of their people.  The double scroll and the mirror sign link the scepter to the god K’awil.  K’awil is also the spirit that can come into an object and make it powerful.  Lady Bolon Kan may have used the scepter to help her communicate with the spirit world.  (Freidel, Schele, and Parker 1993:193-207.)


7.  Do you see any color on the carved surface of the wall panel?  The traces of blue and red are natural pigments applied over a plastered or stuccoed surface.  Since color could easily wear away if exposed to nature, these traces of paint suggest that the sculpture was once in an architectural setting.  The archaeological site of Pomaná includes a long platform that supported several buildings that faced a plaza.  Each of these may have contained carved panels similar to the portrait of Lady Bolon Kan.  If this panel was housed in one of the buildings, it was probably paired with a low-relief image of her husband.