Mexico, Chiapas, possibly Palenque or Tortuguero
Maya, 400-650 AD
Lime stucco with polychrome over stone
Height: 6-1/8 inches (15.6 cm)
Width: 6-1/4 inches (16 cm)

Provenance: Edward H. Merrin, 1968; Perry Lewis, 1970’s; Lucille and Martin Kantor, 1984
Publications: Gerald Berjonneau, Emile Deletaille, and Jean-Louis Sonnery, Rediscovered Masterpieces of Mesoamerica – Mexico-Guatemala-Honduras, [Boulogne, Paris, 1985] p. 249, no. 396.


Stucco masks decorated Maya temples from at least the Early Classic period. Though stylized, they represent historical kings. This mask is not monumental, buts its function is likely the same: to chronicle the kingship of this particular person.

This exquisitely rendered portrait displays a vitality and animation that is almost unparalleled in Maya art. The face is that of a member of the ruling aristocracy whose furrowed brow provides a careworn expression, but whose heavy-lidded, open, slightly tilted almond-shaped eyes with large black pupils show an engaging intelligence. The aquiline nose is long with flared nostrils and the mouth seems captured in the flow of conversation. Red, white, green, and black paint remain on the surface. The green paint may allude to the Young Corn God, a deity that many kings proclaimed as an ancestor or the deity to which he hoped to transform in the afterlife.

Modeled stucco over a matrix composed of small stones formed the features. The polychrome, all of which is original, was applied to the wet plaster, in fresco technique. Rutilation covers a good deal of the surface. From stylistic comparisons, the head may have come from Tortugero or Palenque, both of which produced magnificent stucco heads and reliefs.

Heating limestone to produce the lime needed for the elaborate plaster decoration of Maya temples and pyramids entailed the burning of wood. Alas, wide scale burning led to deforestation. That, in turn caused the eventual climatic catastrophe that caused the collapse of Maya civilization.