KIMBELL ART MUSEUM
Censer Stand with the Head of a Supernatural Being with a Kan Cross
Maya, Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico Late Classic period, c. A.D. 690 - 720
Ceramic with traces of pigments
44 7/8 x 21 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches (113.98 x 54.61 x 29.21 cm)
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, AP 2013.02
Kimbell Art Museum - Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art
Exhibition on Display: May 7, 2023 - September 3, 2023
On May 7, 2023, the Kimbell Art Museum will present Lives of the Gods: Divinity in
Maya Art, a monumental and acclaimed exhibition that will bring together nearly
100 rarely seen masterpieces and recent discoveries in Maya art - one of the greatest
artistic traditions of the ancient Americas. Created by masters of the Classic period
(A.D. 250 - 900) in the spectacular royal cities in the tropical forests of what is now
Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, these landmark works evoke a world in which the divine,
human and natural realms are interrelated and intertwined. Presented across diverse media
that depict episodes in the life cycle of the gods, the exhibition offers compelling
reflections on representations of the divine and new understandings of Maya creative
practices and the artist's role in Maya society. Lenders include major museum collections
in Europe, the United States and Latin America, with many works on view for the first
time in the U.S., including new discoveries from Palenque (Mexico) and El Zotz (Guatemala).
Maya mythology is rich and complex - to date, its cast of divine protagonists, as
represented through dense iconography, has not been the focus of an exhibition. For the
ancient Maya, gods were born, lived as infants, reached their peak of maturity and
influence, aged and ultimately perished, some to be born anew. This exhibition examines
depictions of deities and unpacks the complex imagery that revealed such godly identities
and divine aspects.
"Lives of the Gods offers an unprecedented view into the world of the ancient Maya and
an exciting opportunity to expand our understanding and appreciation of Maya art. These
impressive loans from our esteemed collaborators from Mexico, Guatemala and international
museums showcase the awe-inspiring world where the earthly and divine intersect in
powerful statements about the universal order," said Eric M. Lee, director of the
Kimbell Art Museum. "We are delighted that the Kimbell will once again present a
seminal exhibition of Maya art - especially during the museum's 50th anniversary year."
Maya artists gave form to the gods in remarkably imaginative ways, through works of
astonishing visual complexity and aesthetic refinement. Exquisitely carved sculptures
were believed to embody divine power and presence; skillfully carved ornaments of jadeite,
shell and obsidian once adorned kings and queens, symbolically connecting them to
supernatural forces; and finely painted ceramics reveal the eventful lives of the gods
in rich detail.
Notably, Lives of the Gods brings to the forefront new discoveries and understandings
of Maya culture. Recent advances in the study of Maya hieroglyphs have made it possible
to identify the names of dozens of artists from the Classic period, and this marks the
first time in a major exhibition that any of their names will be identified on the
accompanying exhibition labels. While artist signatures are scarce on ancient art across
the world, Maya sculptors and painters did sign their works, sometimes prominently, on
beautifully carved stone monuments and delicately ornamented vessels. Lives of the Gods
will include four works by named individuals, as well as several examples attributed to
"One of the fascinating things about this exhibition is the number of works with artist's
signatures or attributions - a visual record indicating that Maya artists and scribes were
held in high esteem and recognized as important in their own time," said Jennifer Casler
Price, curator of Asian, African and Ancient American art at the Kimbell.
"Also, to have an exhibition where nearly half of the works have never been exhibited in
the United States is truly astounding. This is a unique opportunity to not only see, but
to discover several iconic works of Maya art, such as the massive carved limestone Stela
51 from Calakmul, Mexico, but to discover recently excavated works as well, like the set
of five beguiling, ceramic lidded bowls adorned with animal heads from El Zotz in Guatemala."
Additionally, Lives of the Gods highlights recent achievements in the conservation and
preservation of key artworks, including the impressive Throne 1 from Piedras Negras.
Through a collaboration among conservators at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the
government of Guatemala and other scholars, the throne underwent a thorough technical
examination to understand the residual pigments on the throne and determine the nature
and origin of the stone from which it was carved. Conservation treatment stabilized
structural issues of the fragmentary object, which had been deliberately destroyed in
antiquity and reassembled after excavation in the 1930s. A new steel mount was created
to support the throne during the exhibition as well as in earthquake-prone Guatemala to
address the long-term preservation of the object. The reversible mounting technique used
in the support structure provided an opportunity to correct the orientation of the
throne's legs, which recent epigraphic research had revealed were in reverse order.
The exhibition is organized thematically, following the arc of the lives of the gods and
their place within a cosmological framework. The first section of the exhibition,
"Creations," will present mythical episodes related to the origin of the world. On
August 11, 3114 B.C., before the advent of cities and writing in this part of the world,
inscriptions tell us that the deities "were set in order," and the gods placed stones in
mythical locations. Maya kings replicated these divine actions at celebrations marking
the ends of calendrical periods, each calculated at regular intervals from 3114 B.C.
Featured here will be the Kimbell's pair of elaborate censer stands (ca. 690 - 720,
probably from Palenque), adorned with stacked masks that portray gods with both human
and animal elements. During religious rituals, gods rested on these stands, which were
thought of as their embodiments.
"Day" will explore the balance between the gods of the day, such as the Sun God K'inich,
and the nocturnal gods like the Jaguar God in the section "Night," to follow. The sun was
associated with life-giving forces, and rulers who identified closely with this power
would often add the title K'inich to their name. Many deceased kings were portrayed as
glorious new suns rising in the sky, overseeing their successors' performance of royal
duties. Equally imposing and dignified, Maya artists created imaginative and terrifying
images of nocturnal deities. Jaguars - who figure prominently in imagery of the night
gods - are powerful nighttime hunters in the Maya area, and therefore jaguar gods and
goddesses all displayed an aggressive, warlike personality. There were also beautiful
and often suggestive nocturnal deities such as the Moon Goddess, who was sometimes
identified in texts as the sun's wife or mother, represented in various narratives
on vessels throughout this section.
The "Rain" section will feature depictions of two important and interrelated gods -
the powerful rain god, Chahk, and the god of lightning, fertility and abundance, K'awiil.
Rain gods were venerated throughout the Maya region, and acts of appeasement to them
were, and still are, critical for the well-being of communities. A highlight will be a
tripod plate (7th - 8th century) that depicts Chahk waist-high in water, with the Maize
God emerging from a waterlily in the depths below and celestial beings hovering above him.
The section on "Maize" chronicles this god's life, death and rebirth through an
assemblage of stunning and inventive masterpieces. The Maize God represented the
beauty of the Maya staple crop and is often depicted by Maya artists as an eternally
youthful, graceful being. The Maize God was also associated with two of the most
valuable items in ancient Maya economies - jade and cacao. Episodes from the Maize
God's mythical saga appear on some of the ancient Americas' finest ceramic vessels.
"Knowledge" will delve into the work of the scribes, who spent long years learning the
intricacies of Maya writing and employed hundreds of signs in varied combinations, which
can be seen throughout the exhibition - including on an exquisite vessel depicting two
scenes of an old god instructing young pupils from the Kimbell. Only four of the books
created in the pre-Hispanic period have endured to the present day, but texts that
survive on relief sculptures and delicately painted ceramics provide a resource for
understanding Classic Maya alliances, conquests and spiritual beliefs.
The final section, on "Patron Gods," will include a striking series of works depicting
kings and queens taking on various aspects and attributes of the gods. Maya artists
created monumental sculptures to celebrate events and depict the perceived connection
between rulers and the gods. Freestanding slabs known as stelae stood in the large
plazas of Maya cities, and some of these sculptures bear the signatures of sculptors.
Also on display will be a remarkable lintel - a horizontal support spanning a doorway -
made of zapote wood. There are few Maya works carved in wood in antiquity that survive
to the present day, and this lintel represents a celebration in the wake of the victory
of Tikal (and its king Yihk'in Chan K'awiil) over rival Naranjo.
The extraordinarily rich array of exceptional sculptures, vessels and precious ornaments
in the exhibition demonstrate the intimate relationship between Maya royalty and the
gods, underscore the role of religion in the establishment and maintenance of Maya
political authority and are a testament to the imaginative and technical virtuosity
of Maya artists.
Lives of the Gods continues the Kimbell's dedication to collecting and exhibiting
objects that tell the stories of cultures from around the world. The exhibition
follows the Kimbell's history of important presentations of ancient American art,
including The Blood of Kings: A New Interpretation of Maya Art (1986),
Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea (2010 - 11), and
Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes (2013). Additionally, four objects from
the museum's permanent collection - a pair of impressive censers stands and two
intricately painted vessels - are part of this landmark exhibition.
Lives of the Gods is a partnership between the Kimbell Art Museum and The
Metropolitan Museum of Art, where the exhibition is on view through April 2, 2023. The
Kimbell hosts the second and final presentation of this landmark exhibition during its
50th anniversary year of celebration.
About the Collection
The Kimbell's permanent collection is small in size, comprising fewer than 350
works of art, and is distinguished by an extraordinary level of artistic quality
and importance. The idea of building a choice collection of representative
masterpieces was established by the Board of Directors of the Kimbell Art
Foundation in consultation with Museum's first director, Richard F. (Ric)
Brown, in a Policy Statement of June 1, 1966:
The dominating principle involved in the acquisition process is that the
stature of the Museum depends more upon the quality of the definitive objects
that it contains than on the historical completeness of its collections. A
prospective addition to the collections, therefore, is to be judged from the
standpoint of aesthetic quality and typicality, and whether it defines a master,
period, school, style, or area. The goal shall be definitive excellence, not
size of collection.
Leaving to older and larger institutions the role of collecting broadly and in
depth, the Kimbell has continued to pursue quality over quantity. Its holdings
range from the third millennium B.C. to the mid-20th century and include major
works by Duccio, Fra Angelico, Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Bernini, Rembrandt,
Goya, Monet, Cézanne, Picasso, Mondrian, and Matisse. The collection comprises
Asian and non-Western as well as European art, and extends only to the mid-20th
century in recognition that this is where the collection of the Modern Art Museum
of Fort Worth begins, and omits American art since this is the focus of another
neighboring institution, the Amon Carter Museum.
The Kimbell's select holdings of antiquities range from the Egyptian Old Kingdom
of the third millennium B.C. through ancient Assyria, Greece, and Rome, and to
the Early Christian Church in the fifth century.
The collection of European paintings and sculpture is remarkably rich in works
of the Italian Renaissance, although its fullest and most celebrated holdings
are in Italian, French, Spanish, Dutch, and Flemish works of the 17th century.
The Asian collection comprises sculptures, paintings, bronzes, ceramics, and
works of decorative art from China, Korea, Japan, India, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia,
Precolumbian art is represented by Maya works in ceramic, stone, shell, and
jade; Olmec, Zapotec, and Aztec sculpture; and pieces from the Conte and Wari
African and Oceanic Art
The African collection consists primarily of bronze, wood, and terracotta
sculpture from West and Central Africa, including examples from Nigeria, Angola,
and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Oceanic art is represented by a
About The Kimbell Art Museum
The Kimbell Art Museum, owned and operated by the Kimbell Art Foundation, is
internationally renowned for both its collections and for its architecture.
The Kimbell's collections range in period from antiquity to the 20th century
and include European masterpieces by artists such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo,
Caravaggio, Poussin, Velázquez, Monet, Picasso and Matisse; important
collections of Egyptian and classical antiquities; and Asian, Mesoamerican
and African art.
The Museum's building, designed by the American architect Louis I. Kahn, is
widely regarded as one of the outstanding architectural achievements of the
modern era. A second building, designed by world-renowned Italian architect
Renzo Piano, is scheduled to open November 27, 2013, and will provide space
for special exhibitions, allowing the Kahn building to showcase the permanent collection.
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