MAYA – Jaina – Mexico
600 – 900 A.D.
Anthropomorphic sculpture representing a standing male captive with bound arms and naked.
The captive stands legs apart with both arms tightly tied in the back at the level of the wrists. This causes the upper body to slightly bend forward while he turns his head to his left and looks up in an act of defiance. His face is that of a middle-aged man with deep creases outlining the cheeks. A trimmed mustache decorates the upper lip while a barely open mouth shows a set of well-defined teeth. His nose is wide and bulbous with the bridge having been modified by scarification or the insertion of ornaments. This nose bridge treatment is not unusual as it is documented by similar nasal modifications and appendages from other figurines. A scalloped design of raised skin scarifications rises above the left eyebrow; a similar one is or was probably present on the right side as well. But the right eye is now almost entirely hidden under a major swelling of the scalp and forehead tissues. This is likely to have been the result of a head trauma suffered during his capture or caused by a subsequent act of torture. A blister-like injury is also evident on his left cheek.
One particularly intriguing aspect of this figurine is the very deep and narrow cut in the head from the top of the cranium down to the ears. This must have been executed during the modeling process and thus before firing. Comparison with three other similar figurines of captives is illuminating. All four display some form of a cut to the top or to the back of the head. One in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City has a small hole at the top of the head. This could have been used as a firing escape hole but it may also have had another function, to hold a cluster of hair or some other type of perishable material. The second captive figurine is from the Princeton University Art Museum. Here, the back of the cranium was intentionally gouged, probably after firing, to allow for the tying of hair or other perishable material. Finally, a very similar treatment is evident in a third captive figurine now in the Fine Art Museums of San Francisco. These four figurines are relatively similar, in their stance, in the fact that three of them show trauma in or around the eye and all lack any of the typical hair designs often encountered among Jaina-style figurines. There is therefore the possibility that the scalp may have been entirely or partially removed, to be replaced on these figurines by some organic material tied to or inserted into a cut in the cranium.
Another interesting aspect is that the figurine is naked. Full nudity in Maya art is unusual and mostly reserved for captives and prisoners of war. The public display of a human naked body with genitals exposed was a dishonor as the individual is debased to the level of animals. This humiliating stance is further compounded here by the removal of the prisoner’s adornments. He must have been a high-ranking elite who could pride himself in sporting luxurious jewelry, many likely to be of jade. At this stage, he still wears a pair of earflares with plugs as well as a thick collar decorated with disk-like flares and a large shell pendant. On his lower chest rests a second collar of three large spherical beads. However, he no longer wears a headdress, the elite symbol by excellence. But the extraordinary circumstance of this ornament’s survival gives us an idea of its style and size. Indeed, the exceptional preservation of this figurine and of its various appliquéd elements has preserved at least one of the headdress main components. Hanging along the side of his right arm is a diadem made of overlapping thin rectangular plaques, perhaps of jade or shell. The central plaque had once been decorated in its center with a bead, now lost. This ornament is likely to have rested high on the man’s forehead as suggested by several other Jaina or Jaina-style figurines. The display of a prisoner wearing some of his most precious attire attests to the high value of the victim and thereby increases the prestige of his conqueror. Yet, the dishonor of the victim is clear and unquestionable as his headdress unconventionally now hangs from his right shoulder.
What makes this Jaina figurine exceptional are the delicate representation of the head details as well as its remarkable conservation. Jaina figurines are known for their unparallel depictions of faces and for the exquisite rendering of their elaborate ornamentation. This captive’s face exemplifies the harshness of the prisoner’s treatment and yet his determined stance in defying his conqueror. The figurine’s state of preservation is unmatched among the currently known Jaina figurines of standing prisoners. Moreover, similarly configured figurines, where the captive is shown standing and bound, are extremely rare. Only three others are known to exist, all in museum collections.