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Royal Belt Ornament, c. A.D. 400–500


This exquisitely decorated jade belt ornament originally formed part of a royal costume that included a belt assemblage consisting of three such pendants. One side represents a full-length profile portrait of a young Maya ruler richly attired in the regalia associated with enthronement. Dark spots on his body signify the supernatural, and allude to Hunahpu, one of the Hero Twins of Maya mythology. Smaller spots on his cheeks and nose and a whiskerlike element at the corner of his mouth symbolize his kinship with the jaguar, the feline associated with the night. He wears a jaguar-skin skirt overlaid by a royal belt incorporating elaborate paraphernalia that includes a mask surmounted by a skull (a reference to death) and three celt-shaped plaques, as the one described here. A rope extends from the belt down the leg and supports a small figure of Chac, the rain god. The complex headgear incorporates a ferocious skull, jade beads, and a jester god mask, the symbol of rulers.

On the reverse, the principal elements of the incised glyphic text include the presentation of an object (perhaps a badge or a celt) to the ruler portrayed here, possibly called Machaak, and a date suggesting that his death (“he entered the water”) took place nine days after the presentation of the object. The Maya believed that at death an individual entered the watery Maya Underworld (Xibalba) before being reborn in the afterlife and rejoining the sky.

Adult: Royal Belt Ornament

Audio file
Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc.



Private collection, in the United States by January 1971.

European private collection;

(sale, Christie’s, New York, 12 November 2004, no. 47, pp. 46–49, illus. pp, 46–47, as “An Important Mayan Jade Regal Belt Pendant”);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2004.

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