by David Stuart
Hanging on my living room wall is a plaster cast of a small but beautiful fragment of a Maya relief panel, Panel 1 from Piedras Negras, Guatemala (see photo). The original was discovered by Teobert Maler in the 1890s, and his black and white photograph was published soon after in his classic report on Peidras Negras and nearby ruins (Maler 1901). Despite being published long ago, Panel 1 is not terribly well known, and the original is not often on display at Harvard’s Peabody Museum, where it is currently housed. This afternoon, as I sat on my living room sofa, I looked up to see a peculiar beam of winter light glowing directly onto the cast, and couldn’t resist a taking this quick photo.
Panel 1 is the corner of what was a much larger relief depicting the inner space of a court or palace. At upper left a man is carved in full relief, leaning informally against a wall or doorjamb with one leg lazily crossed over another — in my mind one of the great images from Maya sculpture. In the center we see a another standing figure in shallow foreground relief, seen from behind. According to the text caption by his kilt, he is Siyaj K’in Chahk, a priest or religious functionary (ajk’uhuun) presumably associated with the court of Piedras Negras. He also takes the title aj bik’al (or aj bik’iil), “he of Bik’al,” perhaps referring to his town of origin. The title, common in a number of court names at Piedras Negras, appears also at the top of the fragment, perhaps as part of the caption for the leaning man. Based on the style of the carving and of the glyphs, I suspect Panel 1 dates to the reign of Ruler 7.
So, I have no great insights to offer here on Panel 1 — only a nice photograph of a copy of a great, though obscure, Maya artwork.
Maler, Teobert. 1901. Researches in the Central Portion of the Usumacintla Valley: Report of Explorations for the Museum, 1898-1900. Peabody Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.