IMPORTANT ENGRAVED PECTORAL

MAYA - MEXICO

600-800 AD

Height : 17 cm - Width : 11.5 cm - Depth : 0.8 cm

Light green jadeite with brown patina, with significant traces of cinnabar and iron oxide

Provenance

Former collection Yvon Collet since 1965

Collection Galerie Mermoz since 2000

This exceptional pectoral is an object of great value. Its particularly large dimensions place it among the finest Mayan artifacts known to date. The presence of three heads representing the maize god and the overall quality of the engraving make this superb jadeite plate a ROYAL ornament.

Jade was a rare and precious stone in Mesoamerica, in particular for the Mayas, who, following the Olmecs, sublimated it in a thousand ways, in particular to achieve sumptuous adornments for their sovereigns.

Behind these aesthetic qualities are also hidden magical and spiritual virtues. The green and aquatic color of jade made it, in the eyes of the ancient Mesoamericans, the receptacle of the powers of nature, assimilated to water and corn, capable of bringing, fertility and abundance to people, and for the most noble of them, eternal life.

The presence of cinnabar residues is also an indication of the highly religious and symbolic character of this breastplate. A vermilion red mineral powder, cinnabar was once used to illuminate the decorations of ceremonial objects. It was also used to cover everything that accompanied a deceased high-ranked person in his grave, funeral offerings, the shroud and the grave itself.  Cinnabar was associated with blood because of its color, it was believed to allow rebirth of the soul, as was the jade.

The sophisticated decor covers the entire surface of the pectoral. Note that the artist has adapted his work to the original natural shape of the jade plate. This respect for the material is obviously a deliberate act, which manifests the virtuosity of the sculptor.

Remember that working with stone, especially with jade, which is very hard, is a demanding feat. Unlike clay, the slightest unwanted mark leaves its imprint forever. The gesture must be accurate and precise. At a time when metal tools did not exist, carving a jade plate in this way is simply remarkable and leaves many specialists wondering about the techniques used to achieve such a result.

The observation of this work seems to indicate that the decor was made on a block of jade, sawn with a "rope saw" coupled with an abrasive material, to obtain a flat surface. Then, once the engraving was completed, the plaque would have been detached from the block by filing as the visible marks on the back of the breastplate seem to show. The size and delicacy of this imposing jewel involves an eminently long and meticulous work, achieved by craftmen who had, in a way, eternity for them.

The lord, represented from the front, wears an imposing headdress, composed of a zoomorphic head. We can distinguish a monkey recognizable by its large rimmed eyes and pointed muzzle, on which is inscribed a smiling mouth. A seed positioned in the middle of its head evokes germination, undoubtedly of corn, a sacred plant closely linked to jade and its power of fertility.

Voluptuous, self-winding loops frame the face of the Lord. The latter wears large ear drums and a necklace with large pearls, these adornments confirm his high social status. His almond-shaped eyes seem closed. They span the full width of the oval face and instantly capture the gaze of the beholder. The rim of the eyelids, also engraved, accentuates their importance, evoking the intensity of the state in which our character is in. His nose is flat, with strong rounded nostrils. His mouth, similar to a coffee bean, is narrow and features full lips, especially the lower lip.

 

Note: Presence of circular perforations on the edges of the work, in line with the lord's forehead, allowed  to wear it as a pectoral. There are also significant traces of iron oxide, orange in color, over the entire surface of the work.

 

The upper right part of the pectoral is engraved with a truncated face, with large closed eyes, a strong nose and a thick mouth. This character, who could be the maize god, is also adorned with ear drums and a pearl necklace.

 

On the left side, glued to the monkey's head, we observe, this time, the profile of a supernatural being with the appearance of a snake, endowed with a long bifid tongue.

 

The lower edges of the work are also adorned, on the right and left, with faces, half cut away, which may be replicas of the face of the corn god above. These three facies indeed share the same pronounced features (coffee bean eyes, flat nose and thick-lipped mouth).

The central part of the second half of this pectoral is occupied by the body of the lord. The drawing is there, at the level of the legs and feet, simply sketched, but one can imagine that the dignitary is dancing while adopting a ritual position. This interpretation is based on the recurring presence of dancing lords on other Mayan jade plates, comparable to our artifact.

 

The arms are thick, folded and raised. A circle outlined on the lower abdomen probably represents the navel.