Maya, ca. 8th century AD
Jadeite, spondylus shell, mother-of-pearl, obsidian, wood, unidentified resinous material, & red pigment
Height: 4-3/8 inches (11 cm)
Provenance: Guennol Collection
Publications: Elizabeth Kennedy Easby and John F. Scott, Before Cortés – Sculpture of Middle America, [New York, 1970] no. 188; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Guennol Collection Volume II, [New York, 1982] pp. 135-6.
Exhibitions: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, “Before Cortés – Sculpture of Middle America,” 30 September 1970 – 3 January 1971; The Brooklyn Museum since 1973.


Like their Olmec forbears, the Maya treasured jade and other green stones above all other materials. The source of jade in the Mesoamerican world was near the border of Guatemala and Honduras, i.e., within the Maya lands. By the time of the Late Classic Period (600-900 AD), however, it seems that jade had become quite scarce. This is inferred by the Maya predilection to preserve every tiny bit of the stone, as seen in irregularly shaped pendants whose makers intentionally neglected to chip away the “excess” and in the creation of objects decorated with jade mosaics.

Here, we have a pendant in the form of a human head wearing a feline monster mask. A mosaic of small to medium irregular tesserae of jade, shell, and obsidian, set into a resinous substrate, covers the wooden matrix, hollowed out in back. Mother-of-pearl eyes with obsidian pupils provide the visage with a striking gaze. Small bits of jadeite pave the face of the human and his animal totem, while larger pieces serve as the nostrils of both, for example. The earlobe originally contained its own ornament.

Maya lords wore rich and complex regalia. Royal gear included headdresses, necklaces, earspools, bracelets, anklets and even jade-beaded garments. Small masks, such as this one, might dangle from a beaded necklace or a belt. All these items were visual proclamations of wealth and power.