Mayas: revelation of an endless time
September 21, 2015

Mayas: revelation of an endless timeImage taken from Liverpool Museum’s website

Hi, Andrew here. I’m a friend and supporter of Living Paintings and an avid visitor of museums and art galleries.

This exhibition at the World Museum in Liverpool is a revelation. In this free exhibition (yes, free) you can walk round 385 objects on loan from museums and historical sites in Mexico. The artefacts on show range from the small to the large: a small golden frog with beautiful turquoise eyes to the large sculptured limestone head of ‘Queen of Uxmal’ in the jaws of a serpent (photographed above).

The exhibition covers warriors, astronomy, rituals and human sacrifice. The accompanying information was interesting and informative and, I found, not too overwhelming; this can often happen when confronted with large displays such as this. There is a range of jewellery to admire, such as pendants and necklaces: fine jewellery made of jade, a particularly hard stone to work with.I say fine but one necklace was made of some rather chunky jade ‘beads’ and probably required a lady of a strong neck to wear it!

A ceramic crocodile crawled across a panel. Several astronomical objects were on display as the Mayans were keen observers of the Sun and Moon, the planets and stars. One of the three calendars they used was a 365 day solar calendar. There are several carved stone panels showing enemy captives taken in battle with their arms bound behind them with rope prior to being sacrificed.

A long, over-sized stone pelican’s head stretches over the observer. Then there is the large stone ball game ring. This was played in a large stone court with a solid, heavy rubber ball that players would endeavour to keep in play and get through one of these rings by using their hips. The weight of the ball plus the method of play meant that this very physical game resulted in severe bruising, serious injuries and even death. Sometimes the losers were sacrificed!

One of the many figures on show is of a ball player in light brown clay. He is leaning to his left, right arm and leg stretched out to the side as if to balance him and the other arm bent across the front of his body. It is these figures which really captured my attention. Like the ball player, it seemed to me they had a dynamic quality; they were full of character. There was an old lady with flaccid breasts pointing to her teeth; presumably she did not have many. A noblewoman clutches across her body a long, colourful, elegant dress; a tall hat adorns her head. Another woman, wearing necklace of large round beads has her hand resting on a book; her lower arms are enriched with sumptuous bracelets.

The heads of the kings are interesting as they are elongated as head flattening binding was practised. The incense burners are also decorated with an array of striking heads. Nearing the end of the exhibition, just when you think you cannot be wowed any further you come across a spectacular display of jade funerary masks. Designed to protect the deceased as they descended into the underworld they are bright, colourful, and shiny, yet again, full of character. In total this is an outstanding exhibition.

Double-headed serpent turquoise mosaic

If you can’t make it to this exhibition, you can borrow A History of the World in 100 Objects from our FREE online library. It uses the British Museum and BBC programme on significant objects from around the world to examine the history of civilisation.  The book contains a tactile of an icon of Mexican or Aztec art – the Double Headed Serpent – which is shown above.

Incidentally, the World Museum in Liverpool was rated the third most accessible tourist destination in the UK in 2014 and also houses The Clore Natural History Centre which has over 20,000 fascinating items from the natural world which you are free to touch, feel and explore. Really worth a visit if you live in the northwest.


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