Ancient Mayan Art

The Mayan civilization thrived between 500 B.C. and 900 A.D. through various regions of present-day Mexico and Central America. Their influence, of course, lasted until the time of the Spanish and historians still are not entirely sure what led to their collapse and the abandonment of their great stone cities. Mayan Art substantially influenced Olmec, Toltec, and Teotihuacan peoples. Mayan Art is characterized by stone sculptures, architecture, ceramics, wood carving, and wall painting which are some of its most celebrated forms.

Mayan artists were exceptionally skilled at stone sculpture and stonework. Many Mayan buildings feature stone carvings that were frequently based upon their religion. Divine beings and animals were often depicted on stelae. Many carvings were dedicated to royalty. Various carvings reflected Mayan rituals and activities like everyday life, battle, and even human sacrifice. Mayan temples and other ruins were ornamented with carvings that demonstrate their craftsmen’s extraordinary artistry and skill. They rendered these works with nothing but stone tools and wooden mallets.

Mayan artisans were also skilled makers of pottery. One of their earliest ceramic types is known as Amyan and it may have originated in the highlands of Guatemala. Simple cooking pots and other vessels rendered simply with single color designs are hallmarks of this period. Later styles feature more variety such as jars and vases as well as many more decorative techniques like polychrome painting. These later Mayan ceramics are regarded with great esteem and are considered the best examples of ancient Mesoamerican pottery. Many works depicted monsters and animal deities and various colors like orange and red.

Aside from their great stone cities often dominated by temples and pyramids, Mayan architectural features were frequently adorned with interior painting. The interior temple walls as well as the walls of palaces were decorated with painted scenes that reflected Mayan life and religion. The painted murals of Bonampak in the Mexican state of Chiapas are considered some of the best examples of their detailed frescoes. The ruins of the Mayans also demonstrate their hieroglyphics.

Many Mayan artifacts are showcased in museums throughout Mesoamerica and demonstrate other Mayan traditions. Mayan artisans were masters at carving wood and jade. They created various tools, bells, and jewelry from copper and gold as well as other natural materials. Other important Mayan relics housed in museums today include masks, mosaic works, and statues. The art works demonstrate considerable information about the culture of Mayan people and scholars are still working to glean greater understanding from these objects of art to determine more details about this civilization and why it collapsed.