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Censer Stand with the Head of the Jaguar God of the Underworld, c. A.D. 690-720


Monumental ceramic censer stands are some of the finest and largest freestanding sculptures created by Maya artists. The sophistication and craftsmanship demonstrated in this stand are indicative of Palenque, an important Maya city-state located in current-day Chiapas, Mexico, that flourished in the seventh century. Ceramic censers (incensarios) were an important component of ritual paraphernalia and ceremonial life at Palenque. They were used to represent and venerate divine beings, primarily the deities of the Palenque triad (called GI, GII, and GIII). Censers were composed of a stand and a brazier-bowl (now missing), which was placed on top and used for burning copal incense. The stands were elaborately embellished with a variety of iconographic elements, most often featuring the Jaguar God of the Underworld (GIII). For the Maya, the center of the universe was the Axis Mundi, or World Tree, which had roots growing deep in the sea under the earth and branches that rose to support the heavens. Symbolically, the tubular bodies of the censers formed cosmic trees that made the movement of deities through the cosmos possible during ritual acts.

This censer stand is sculpted with a vertical tier of five heads. The lowest head is a version of the Maize God with attached leaves containing corn kernels. He represents the Underworld, as maize grows from under the earth. Above the Maize God’s head is the principal head of the Jaguar God of the Underworld who represents the sun at night during its Underworld journey from dusk to dawn. The Jaguar God head is capped by Itzamye, the serpent-bird that was killed in the branches of the World Tree just prior to the creation of the present world, according to the Maya creation epic, the Popol Vuh. Artistically, the shift from the Jaguar God of the Underworld to Itzamye symbolizes the surface of the earth and the interface between the Underworld and the celestial realm. In the headdress of Itzamye is a small figure that may be a version of the Jester God, a signifier of rulership. Above Itzamye is an unrecognizable head, which is capped by Itzamna, the paramount sky god of the Maya, who resided at the top of the heavens. A small jaguar is perched in Itzamna’s headdress.



(Stendahl Galleries, Los Angeles), August 1968;

purchased by a European private collection;

purchased by Daniel Wolf, New York, through a private treaty sale arranged by (Sotheby’s, London), 1984 or 1985;

purchased by Oceantrawl Inc., Issaquah, Washington, 1999;

purchased through (Ancient Art of the New World, Inc., Miami Beach) by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 2013.