Mayan Artwork

by Linda McManus on July 10, 2013, no comments

The Mayan artwork is very distinctive when it comes to style and the medium they were using during the time their civilization were in power.  It was during the later Pre-classic period, which is 500 B.C. to 200 A.D., that these art works of the Mayas have started to take shape as it evolve. However, Mayan art work later bloomed into something that can be considered as epic during the seven centuries of the Classic period which was from 200 to 900 A.D.  Unfortunately, with the discovery of this ancient New World, most of the art work of the Mayans such as their paintings, sculpture and wood carvings were destroyed by the Spaniards because they were considered as items of idolatry.  However, a few Mayan art works have survived the “art work holocaust” and even survived the test of time paving the way for the interest of our modern civilization for the ancient Mayan artworks. 

Actually, Mayan artwork was influenced by other cultures such as the Olmecs, Teotihuacan and Toltecs. The history of  Mayan artwork can be seen and be studied in the nineteenth and early twentieth century publications of the Maya art and archaeology and the world has now seen just how majestic and amazing these art works are.  In 1913, a publication of “A Study Of Maya Art” by Herbert Spinden has laid the foundation for the development of research and study of the Mayan art history which also includes study of iconography.  It provides an excellent study of the whole Mayan artwork in general including the treatment of motifs and themes especially the motifs of serpents, dragons and even frogs and how they are linked to the Mayan culture.

The Mayan artwork spares nothing. The Maya adorned their walls (murals) with paintings and even sculptures including lintels and stelas.  The Maya even put their artworks on temple facades, doorways, roof combs, and mask panels and even on their bodies with tattoos. Even some of today’s art has been influenced by Mayan tattoo art and the designs inspired by Mayans can be seen throughout the world today.

Most of the Mayan artworks from paintings to sculpture depict the everyday life of the Mayans and how they respect and bow down low to the men and women who were in power. They even consider these men and women as god-like.  These artworks were also used to tell the history and even predict the future of the things to come not only of the Mayans but of the whole world as well. In 1981, there are some people who came up with an inventory of Maya vases painted in codex which signified the revelation of a hitherto unknown spiritual world.

The Mayans are also very religious, thus, their religious fanaticism can be found in their paintings and, generally, one can find that most sculptures and paintings depicted the thirteen gods of the Mayans including the thirteen heavens and the nine underworlds.

However, these “religious” relics of the Mayans were misinterpreted by the Spanish conquistadors when they invaded and took over this ancient New World and even branded them as Satan worshipers or people living in idolatry. The Spaniards developed a poor perception of the Mayan people as when they saw the human sacrifices that the Maya have practiced for several years before they have set foot on the Maya territory.  (As if the Spanish Inquisition was more civilized?)

Today, in spite of the fact that in recent centuries, Mayan artifacts were considered as symbols of idolatry, the modern-day Mayan people are still deeply devoted with their ancient religion. However in modern times, the Maya have adopted hints of Roman Catholicism as their art works especially their paintings and sculpture still continue to influence the modern world.

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