- Museum number
Sculpture of the Maya Maize God, a youth wearing a headdress in the form of a stylized ear of corn and hair in the form of the silk of the cob. The head is disproportionately large compared to the narrow shoulders and slender torso. The sculpture was probably carved from two different blocks of limestone, one for the head and another for the torso.
- Production date
Height: 89 centimetres
Width: 56.50 centimetres
Depth: 30 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Sculpture of the Maize God, one of eight that were once set on the cornice of Structure 22, commissioned by Waxaklajuun Ub'aah K'awiil (also known as '18-Rabbit'), the thirteenth ruler of Copan. It was built in AD715 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of his accession to the throne.
The Maize God with his vibrant, youthful features represents the Maya ideal of beauty and features prominently in Maya art during the Classic period (200BC - AD900). He personifies the agricultural cycle and is associated with abundance and prosperity. In this sculpture his headdress is a stylized ear of corn and his hair the silk of the corn.
S.G. Morley, G.W. Brainerd and R.J. Sharer 'The Ancient Maya', 5th ed. (Stanford University Press, 1994)
L. Schele and M.E. Miller, 'The Blood of Kings' (London, Thames & Hudson, 1986)
K. Taube, 'Aztec and Maya Myths' (London, The British Museum Press, 1993)
D. Tetlock, 'Popol Vu' (New York, Touchstone, 1996)
S. Martin and N. Grube, 'The Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens: Deciphering the Dynasties of the Ancient Maya' (Thames and Hudson, 2000)
McEwan 2009, p.21
Limestone bust of the Young Maize God. Maya, Copan, Mexico, AD 680-750
The Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Maya, recounts a creation story that tells how the world came into being and how the gods created the first humans out of maize - a staple crop among the Maya. The Young Maize God is depicted here upon his emergence from the Underworld as the embodiment of vigorous fresh growth, marking the beginning of the annual agricultural cycle of renewal.
Many similar busts were used as architectural embellishments on Temple 22 at Copan. Rather than being fashioned from a single block of limestone, the heads were sculpted separately from the torsos, and close inspection of this well known version reveals differences in colour, graining and surface texture. The head is also disproportionately large compared with the narrow shoulders and slender torso. This disparity may have been intentional or might indicate that this particular head and torso were not originally meant to fit together but were "restored" in the late 19th century.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1990 20 Oct-9 Dec, Japan, Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.187
1991 5 Jan-20 Feb, Japan, Yamaguchi, Prefectural Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.187
1991 9 Mar-7 May, Japan, Osaka, National Museum of Art, Treasures of the British Museum, cat. no.187
2000-2001 6 Dec-11 Feb, London, BM Room 35; Human Image
2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
2012 Mar-Jul, Abu Dhabi, Manarat al Saadiyat, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2012-2013 30 Nov-7 Apr, Bonn, Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Treasures of the World's Cultures
2022 - 2023 14 Nov - 2 Apr, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Mayan Art (Tour)
2023 7 May - 3 Sept, Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Gallery, Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Mayan Art (Tour)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Maudslay’s original sculptures, from Yaxchilán in Mexico and Copán in Honduras, were initially deposited at the Victoria and Albert Museum (known as the South Kensington Museum until 1899) in 1885. There appears to have been some lack of clarity over whether these were a gift, or a loan from Maudslay. With Maudslay’s permission, the original sculptures and a selection of casts were transferred to the British Museum, on the grounds their subject matter more properly fell within the British Museum’s purview. The deliveries took place on the 20th (originals) and 22nd (casts) of November 1893. The majority of the casts remained at the V&A, on the understanding that they too would be transferred to the British Museum as soon as space could be found for them. Continued confusion over the legal ownership of the collection (Maudslay, V&A or BM) – see correspondence V&A correspondence archive - probably explains why neither casts nor originals were registered at the time of their arrival. The issue was finally resolved with the transfer of the remaining casts to the British Museum for exhibition in 1923. The originals sculptures were therefore given a 1923 registration number, despite their having been present at the British Museum since 1893.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Previous owner/ex-collection number: 1886 321 (South Kensington Museum No. (Now V&A))