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The Fenton Vase

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (object)

    • The Fenton Vase
  • Description

    Slip-painted polychrome vase made of pottery, with a scene representing 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. The figures wear jewellery, elaborate clothing and spangled turbans adorned with flowers.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 600-800
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 17.2 centimetres
    • Diameter: 17 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    Ethnography Department Donations Book, initial entry under 1930,12-12 (three items funded by NACF) and secondly as part of 1930 Fenton Collection (same page). Initial entry in Ethnography Dept. main Register as 1930,12-12.1, then re-registered as 1930,F.1 (Fenton Collection)in Large Collections Register, v.2. British Museum Quarterly, vol.V, 1930-1931, no.83, p.112.McEwan 2009
    Maya polychrome painted vases bear scenes rich in observed detail, which are combined with glyphic texts that communicate information about the names of the main protagonists, the dates when key events took place and the nature and purpose of the exchange. This renowned vase records an interaction that is probably taking place in a palace setting.
    From the left in the rollout scene a kneeling visitor presents a devlivery of tribute consisting of a basket piled high with "tamales" (maize cakes). In the centre of the scene a ruler seated on a raised platform leans forward to receive the gift. Behind him a seated scribe is busy noting details of the exchange.


  • Bibliography

    • McEwan 2009 p. 114 bibliographic details
    • Miller & Martin 2004 p. 35 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G1/fc17

  • Exhibition history


    1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.191
    1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.191
    1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.191
    2004, Washington, National Gallery of Art, Courtly Art of The Ancient Maya
    2010 27 March - 18 July, Salem, Peabody Essex Museum, 'Fiery Pool, The Maya and the Mythic Sea'
    2010 29 August - 2011 2 January, Texas, Kimbell Art Museum, 'Fiery Pool, The Maya and the Mythic Sea'
    2011, 13 February - 18 May, Saint Louis Art Museum, 'Fiery Pool, The Maya and the Mythic Sea'
    3 Sep 2015-3 Jan 2016, Glasgow, Hunterian Gallery, Trafficking Cultures

  • Conservation

    See treatments 

    Treatment date

    26 June 2012

    Reason for treatment


    Treatment proposal

    Consolidate old joins and cracks, as unsure if they are stable.


    Old repairs, joins and running cracks. Unsure if they sound stable, some joins are open and stepped.

    Treatment details

    Consolidated all cracks with 5-30% Paraloid B72 (ethyl methacrylate copolymer) in 70:30 Acetone (propan-1-one/dimethyl ketone): Industrial methylated spirits (ethanol, methanol), applied with a glass syringe for the wider gaps with the thicker consolidant and a glass micro-pipette for the smaller gaps . Removed excess adhesive with Acetone applied on a cotton wool swab. Reapplied consolidant several times until the loose areas were stable. Applied consolidant on the outside and inside of the vessel, until the joins sounded more stable.

    About these records 

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Nos. 1 to 3 purchased from C.L.Fenton with assistance from National Art Collections Fund. Credit line: On loan from the Trustees of the British Museum. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund.

  • Department

    Africa, Oceania & the Americas

  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • Am1930,1212.1 (initial Register entry; replaced by 1930,F (Fenton Collection) Register no.)
    • Am1930E2.1 (old CDMS no.)
COMPASS Image Caption: The Fenton Vase


COMPASS Image Caption: The Fenton Vase

Image description



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Object reference number: ESA16161

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