Palenque’s Two of a Kind?

Some years ago I came across an obscure publication on the shelf of my old office in the Corpus of Maya Hieroglyphic Inscriptions, cataloging some of the holdings in storage at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City (Cardós de Méndez 1987). In it I was suprised to find a photo of an eroded limestone panel I had never known before, depicting two standing figures and a band of illegible glyphs at the top (at right in photo below). Despite the poor preservation, the large thin relief sculpture clearly had a Palenque look about it, especially in the distinctive proportions, poses and profiles of the two men. The photograph was subsequently reprinted by Mayer (1995: Pl. 218) who in his catalog also noted a likely Palenque attribution.


It struck me at the time that the panel could be related to a far more familiar Palenque sculpture, a similar sized panel now on display in the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington, D.C. (in photo at left). There we see a young K’inich K’an Joy Chitam dancing “on the hill” as an impersonator of Chahk, the god of rain and storms (the king is not shown postumously, as was once widely beleived). The preservation of the Dumbarton Oaks carving is nearly perfect, but I’ve long wondered if it was part of some larger sculptural program. The feet of the seated figures (both proud parents) seem to be cut off at the edges of the stone, as of they continued on to adjacent sections. The inscription too might be considered incomplete; although it is self-contained in terms of content, describing the scene below, it seems to start rather abruptly, as if something came before. The last glyphs, recording a temple dedication, also seem somewhat short-winded.

Comparing the photographs again the other night, I was reminded how the two look similar enough to be partners, perhaps part of a larger sequence of relief carvings that graced the rear wall of a temple. The two standing figures on the Mexico City panel face away from each other, as if looking on to other scenes to each side. The photo posted here arbitrarily places the Dumbarton Oaks panel to the left, but the opposite arrangment is equally plausable. There is certainly not enough here to discern a true fit of sculptural details, but the band of glyphs above the two men does seem a good visual match. Perhaps, then, another still-missing component shows a layout like we see on the Dumbarton Oaks panel, providing a balance within the larger and complex composition of the monument, whatever it was.

Again, confirmation based on measurements and on a direct inspection of the Mexico City panel will be necessary to confirm the connection.

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The Mexico City panel has been published in:

Cardós de Méndez, Amalia. 1987. Estudio de la colleción de escultura maya del Museo Nacional de Antropología. Collecion Catálogos de Museos. Mexico D.F.: INAH

Mayer, Karl Herbert. 1995. Maya Monuments: Sculptures of Unknown Provenance, Supplement 4. Graz, Austria: Academic Publishers

For discussions of the Dumbarton Oaks panel from Palenque, see:

Coe, Michael D., and Elizabeth P. Benson. 1966. Three Maya Relief Panels and Dumbarton Oaks. Studies in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology, Number 2. Washington D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks

Miller, Mary, and Simon Martin. 2004. Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya. Singapore: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Stuart, David. 2005. The Palenque Mythology: Sourcebook for the 3oth Maya Meetings. Austin: Department of Art and Art History, University of Texas at Austin