+
3 Tutorials that teach The Maya
Take your pick:
The Maya

The Maya

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will explore the art and architecture of the Maya.

(more)
See More

Try Sophia’s Art History Course. For Free.

Our self-paced online courses are a great way to save time and money as you earn credits eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*

Begin Free Trial
No credit card required

25 Sophia partners guarantee credit transfer.

221 Institutions have accepted or given pre-approval for credit transfer.

* The American Council on Education's College Credit Recommendation Service (ACE Credit®) has evaluated and recommended college credit for 20 of Sophia’s online courses. More than 2,000 colleges and universities consider ACE CREDIT recommendations in determining the applicability to their course and degree programs.

Tutorial

An overview of Maya culture, art, and architecture.

Video Transcription

Download PDF

Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of "Exploring Art History with Ian." My name's Ian McConnell. Today we're going to be talking about the Maya.

Let's watch the video. Feel free to pause, move forward, or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. And, as soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, or the things we are going to learn today, are listed below. By the end of the lesson today, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. Describe elements of the Maya stylistic trait. Describe the art and architecture of Tikal, using key terms when appropriate. And explain some basic aspects of the Maya culture.

Key terms is always are listed in yellow throughout the lesson.

First key term, corbel vaults. Simplest type of vault involving step support elements.

Roof comb. The construction that tops a pyramid in monumental Mesoamerican architecture, decorated with iconography of the Mayan culture.

Stele. A slab of stone or terracotta, usually oblong, carved.

Apotheosis. The elevation of a person to the status of a god, often seen an ancient Roman portraits of emperors and busts of deceased family members.

Continuing, hieroglyphics. Form of writing that uses pictures and symbols to represent syllables and entire words or concepts.

Portraiture. An artistic likeness of an individual.

Relief sculpture. A sculpture technique that uses a process of cutting into a flat surface, i.e., wood, stone, or material, by chiseling or gouging.

And sarcophagus. A stone coffin often decorated with sculpture.

The idea for today is that the Maya were one of the most important early civilizations to develop in Mesoamerica.

So the art and architecture from today extends from about 200 to 900AD.

And the Mayan civilization largely covered portions of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where modern-day Cancun is, and parts of Guatemala. And this is Guatemala in dark green.

We'll be looking at two cities within this area, Tikal and Palenque.

A lot of what we know about the culture of the Maya comes from the artifacts and art that have been discovered. And there's quite a bit of it. Mayan hieroglyphs have been difficult to decipher. At some point the civilization began to develop city-states, which were autonomous entities with hereditary rulers. Now, religion and politics were tightly intertwined. And architecture and its artwork projected the power of the rulers. City-states were quite large, and featured many different types of structures, such as religious temple pyramids, public plazas for gathering, residential palaces for the elite members of the city, and ball courts for entertainment and ritualistic games.

More recently a better understanding of the Maya culture depicts them as a warlike culture, as opposed to the mid-20th century when they were thought to be much more peaceful. But doesn't seem to be the case. Human sacrifices, sacrificial rituals and ceremonies, were an important component of the religion. And the belief was that the gods were satiated through the spilling of human blood. And so human sacrifice and self-mutilation were very common throughout the Mayan culture.

As I mentioned artwork, was abundant throughout civilization. Maya vases, for example, were created to hold items such as food but also to present as gifts. They're often inscribed with hieroglyphs indicating the contents, as well as the name of the recipient, details of the events, which were often depicted in pictorial form around the vase.

Human depictions in Maya art all shared similar stylistic elements, including faces in profile, the body's it forms depicted using the contour line, proportional bodies, meaning that they're correct proportions, the use of clothing to indicate status, prominence of relief sculpture, interest in narrative scenes, and the presence of hieroglyphic descriptions.

Mayan pyramids resemble stepped pyramids from the Middle East, but feature projecting crest on the roof called the roof comb. Now, roof combs were vaulted on the interior with corbel vaults. And on the exterior they featured brightly-colored sculpture. Sculpture on the roof comb of this temple at Tikal, titled Temple One, was originally covered with massive stucco portraits of the rulers, but unfortunately, those have largely eroded away, as you can see.

Temples like this could function as ritualistic temples or as funerary tombs.

Now, the stele, just as in the Middle East, was a way of advertising, in a sense, to the public. And this stele features a ruler, nicknamed Ruler A before his name could be deciphered, in an elaborate headdress and set of clothing in an act of displaying tremendous wealth as well as authority. And he's also holding a ceremonial bar of Maya rulership. A little difficult to see in this image.

Palenque is a smaller Maya city-state just west a bit from Tikal. Just like in other Maya cities, this complex features palaces, pyramids, and a ball court. The Palace of the Inscriptions, which is shown here, is a nine-tiered step pyramid similar to Temple One from Tikal. However, this pyramid was used as a funerary tomb for a ruler of Palenque named Lord Pacal.

Lord Pacal was a powerful ruler known as Pacal the Great. This portrait sculpture of Lord Pacal from the seventh century realistically depicts the Maya aesthetic ideal, which includes a sloping forehead, an elongated skull, long, curved nose, full lips and an open mouth. This ideal of beauty was so important that babies' heads were actually bound so that the soft plates of their little heads would reform into the desired shape. So the sloping forehead is not a genetic feature, or the result of genes, it's the result of physically manipulating the skulls of babies.

Finally, this sarcophagus lid, which is a drawing, here, depicts the ruler situated between Earth and the underworld, and symbolizing his death and apotheosis. There's a lot going on in the image. So let me just highlight the ruler right there. Situated between heaven and earth, shown dying, or showing his death and apotheosis turning from a regular person into a deity.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe elements of the Maya stylistic trait? Can you describe art and architecture of Tikal using key terms when appropriate? And explain some basic aspects of the Maya culture?

And once again, the big idea for today is that the Maya were one of the most important early civilizations to develop in Mesoamerica.

And there you go. Thanks for joining me today. I'll see you next time.

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Roof Comb

    The construction that tops a pyramid in monumental Mesoamerican architecture decorated with iconography of the Mayan culture.

  • Corbel Vaults

    The simplest type of vault, involving step support systems.

  • Stele

    A slab of stone or terra-cotta, usually oblong, carved.

  • Portraiture

    An artistic likeness of an individual.

  • Hieroglyphs

    A form of writing that uses pictures and symbols to represent syllables and entire words or concepts.

  • Relief Sculpture

    A sculpture technique that uses a process of cutting into a flat surface i.e. wood, stone or material, by chiseling or gouging.

  • Sarcophagus

    A stone coffin, often decorated with sculpture.

  • Apotheosis

    The elevation of a person to the status of a god, often seen in ancient Rome in portraits of emperors and busts of deceased family members.