Deities and other supernatural beings are the primary subject matter of much Maya art, including this plaque. The Jaguar God of the Underworld, who represents the sun when it is in Xibalbá, the Maya underworld, lies in the center of the plaque. His pose and the presence of two other deities suggest that the Jaguar God may be ready to be sacrificed, an important religious practice that the Maya and other Mesoamerican people believed was necessary for the continuation of humankind. To his right is the God of Pax, patron of the month with the same name. To the left of the Jaguar God is God L, one of the co-rulers of the underworld.
Although the imagery seems clear, the object’s function is more ambiguous. The Maya prized shells from the lowlands for jewelry and sacred objects. Shell jewelry was worn on ritual occasions, and suspension holes at the top of the plaque indicate that it could have been worn as a pendant. However, the slightly flared and undecorated bottom portion of the object also could have been tucked into a headdress, belt, or other costume element. Alternatively, the plaque may have been a ritual object that was held or displayed.
Maya culture, Jaina (?), Mexico
Late Classic period, 700–800
H. 4 11/16 in. (11.9 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Raymond and Laura Wielgus Collection, 81.32.1