In an exhibition of nearly 100 rarely seen masterpieces and recent discoveries, Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art will depict episodes in the life cycle of the gods, from the moment of their birth to resplendent transformations as blossoming flowers or fearsome creatures of the night. Created by masters of the Classic period (A.D. 250–900) in the spectacular royal cities in the tropical forests of what is now Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, these landmark works evoke a world in which the divine, human, and natural realms are interrelated and intertwined. Lenders include major museum collections in Europe, the United States, and Latin America, with many works on view for the first time in the U.S., including new discoveries from Palenque (Mexico) and El Zotz (Guatemala).

Mind-blowing”– New York Magazine 

Totally riveting”– The New York Times 

A magnificent show”— The New Yorker

Maya mythology is rich and complex — to date, its cast of divine protagonists, as represented through dense iconography, has not been the focus of an exhibition. For the ancient Maya, gods were born, lived as infants, reached their peak of maturity and influence, aged and ultimately perished, some to be born anew. This exhibition examines depictions of deities and unpacks the complex imagery that revealed such godly identities and divine aspects.

Maya artists gave form to the gods in remarkably imaginative ways, through works of astonishing visual complexity and aesthetic refinement. Exquisitely carved sculptures were believed to embody divine power and presence; skillfully carved ornaments of jadeite, shell, and obsidian once adorned kings and queens, symbolically connecting them to supernatural forces; and finely painted ceramics reveal the eventful lives of the gods in rich detail.

Notably, Lives of the Gods brings to the forefront new discoveries and understandings of Maya culture. Recent advances in the study of Maya hieroglyphs have made it possible to identify the names of dozens of artists from the Classic period, and this marks the first time in a major exhibition that any of their names will be identified on the accompanying exhibition labels. While artist signatures are scarce on ancient art across the world, Maya sculptors and painters did sign their works, sometimes prominently, on beautifully carved stone monuments and delicately ornamented vessels. Lives of the Gods will include four works by named individuals, as well as several examples attributed to Maya painters.

The extraordinarily rich array of exceptional sculptures, vessels, and precious ornaments in the exhibition demonstrate the intimate relationship between Maya royalty and the gods, underscore the role of religion in the establishment and maintenance of Maya political authority, and are a testament to the imaginative and technical virtuosity of Maya artists.

Audio Tour

The audio tour for Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art is available only on the Kimbell app for Apple and Android devices. Visitors can purchase the tour access code for $4 ($3 for members) online or at the Piano Pavilion ticket desk. Audio tour by Acoustiguide. 

Kimbell members receive free access codes during exhibition members-only preview days, May 5 and 6.

Download the Audio Tour

On Display

Virtual Tour

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Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art (May 7– September 3, 2023)

Exhibition Catalogue

A hardcover book is shown standing up with a black and grey gradient backdrop. The cover of the book has a red spine, an image of a Maya artwork of a jaguar deity, and the title "Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art" at the top in gold embossed lettering.

Focusing on the period between A.D. 250 and 900, Lives of the Gods reveals that ancient Maya artists evoked a pantheon as rich and complex as the more familiar Greco-Roman, Hindu-Buddhist, and Egyptian deities. The authors show how this powerful cosmology informed some of the greatest creative achievements of Maya civilization, represented here from the monumental to the miniature through more than 140 works in jade, stone, and clay. Thematic chapters supported by new scholarship on recent archaeological discoveries detail the different types of gods and their domains, the role of the divine in the lives of the ancient Maya, and the continuation of these traditions from the colonial period through the present day.

Edited by Joanne Pillsbury, Oswaldo Chinchilla Mazariegos, and James A. Doyle with contributions by Iyaxel Cojti Ren, Caitlin C. Earley, Stephen D. Houston, and Daniel Salazar Lama

Published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Distributed by Yale University Press

Purchase the Catalogue

The Dance of the Macaws

In the town of Santa Cruz Verapaz, Guatemala, young dancers perform a mythical story that explains the origins of social institutions and the rationale for religious rituals dedicated to the gods of the earth and the mountains. Ancient artists depicted scenes from related narratives on ceramic vessels. This video shows the Dance of the Macaws, described through the words of members of the dance group, in the Poqomchi’ Maya language.

Film by Ricky Lopez Bruni in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art


Didactics Guide

Recursos en español


The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Kimbell Art Museum. It is supported in part by the William and Catherine Bryce Memorial Fund, the Texas Commission on the Arts, and the Fort Worth Tourism Public Improvement District. Promotional support is provided by American Airlines, NBC5, and PaperCity.

American Airlines logo, NBC 5 logo, and Paper City logo