The Fenton Vase

Maya, Late Classic period (AD 600-800)
From Nebaj, Guatemala

Polychrome ceramic vessels were a symbol of status and power for the Maya. They were used by the élite and are found as offerings in rich burials. A large number of beautiful polychrome vases, bowls and dishes from the Late Classic period have been recovered from the Maya area, at sites such as Tikal, Holmul and Seibal in the lowlands, and Nebaj in the highlands.

The vessels provide an important source of information about Maya society in the Classic period, with text and image illustrating historical and mythological events. The scenes depict scribes, merchants, rulers and other members of society.

This beautiful example was found at Nebaj, a Maya site in the highlands of Guatemala. The most common themes on Nebaj style polychrome vessels are tribute and warfare. The scene here represents the delivery of tribute to a seated lord. Above the basket presented to him are a series of six hieroglyphs which indicate his name and titles, while the other glyph panels correspond to those of the four figures in the scene. Their jewellery, clothing and spangled turbans adorned with flowers suggest that they are members of the élite.

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The Fenton Vase

The Fenton Vase


More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

M. Coe, Breaking the Maya code (London, Thames & Hudson, 1992)

L. Schele and M.E. Miller, The blood of kings (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)

R. Sharer, Daily life in Maya civilizatio (London, Greenwood Press, 1996)

D.R. Budet, Painting the Maya universe: ro (Durham, London, Duke University Press in association with Duke University Museum of Art, 1994)

M. Coe and J. Kerr, The art of the Maya scribe (London, Thames & Hudson, 1997)


Diameter: 17.200 cm

Museum number

AOA 1930-1


Fenton Collection
Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund


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