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Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture Hardcover – April 1, 2011
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“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
From the Author
Although inspired by Richard H. Wilkinson's admirable Reading Egyptian Art (1992), the contents and format of this book are largely of our own devising, dictated by the nature of the Maya visual code. We wrote it with the goal of illustrating the remarkable interdependence of Maya art and hieroglyphic writing in all time periods, from the Late Preclassic period origins of these visual media (in c. 500 BC) to their dissolution in the early Colonial era (c. AD 1550).
Whether logograms (word signs) or phonetic syllables, Maya signs all derived from artistic depictions of the natural world, and they continued to develop in tandem with art through more than two thousand years of formal development, interaction, and influence. At any given time period, and in any region of the Maya area (now compassing the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras), the depiction of a jaguar in art served as a template for its appearance in writing, and vice versa. The title of our book -- Reading Maya Art: A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture -- accurately captures the co-dependence of these visual media, using 100 common hieroglyphs to canvas Maya art for its real world referents, symbolic significances, and linguistic underpinnings. But the book might equally well have been titled Viewing Maya Writing: An Artistic Guide to Ancient Maya Hieroglyphs, so deep was the connection between the artistic and the linguistic in Maya visual culture.
Join us for a fascinating exploration of the intertwined nature of Maya art and writing.
Top customer reviews
For example, #31 is the symbol for jade celt. The figures on the left hand page include an incised celt, a tree-planting scene from a vase, and Pakal's famous sarcophagus lid from Palenque. The celt shows the ruler wearing several jade celts (belt pendants). The tree planting vase includes several celt symbols on the tree (marked in red in the diagram). The sarcophagus lid shows two jade celt signs engraved in the border and several on the world tree figure behind Pakal (marked in red).
The explanation on the right hand page details the value of jade and celts in royal regalia, as well as the sign's origin as a symbol for fruit. When the usage or origin is unclear, the authors, Andrea Stone and Marc Zender, acknowledge that as well.
Seeing the various styles and artistic takes on these symbols, as well as their changes over time, is a huge help to someone learning about ancient Maya art and culture.
The helpful introduction overviews how glyphic features are sprinkled through Maya art, so that one should be able not only to read glyphs, but also to understand other glyphic features indicating texture, color, odor, to name a few, in order to get a full understanding of Maya art.
The catalog itself contains 100 glyphs for people, animals, objects, and activities in the Maya world that appear in their art. Each glyph has a facing page with its illustrations. When reading the page of text about each glyph, the authors refer not only to the illustrations on the facing page, but also to illustrations for other glyphs, showing how intricately inter-connected Maya art reading can be.