San Bartolo is a Late Pre-Classic period (250 BC–AD 250) Maya site in the Petén region of northern Guatemala. The most important and impressive part of the site is a structure called the Pyramid of the Paintings, which contains a domed building with beautifully painted polychrome murals depicting complex mythological scenes relating to the Maize God and the creation of the world, as well as the enthronement of a sovereign. The murals are on the northern and western walls and date to c. 100 BC.
The colorful scene on the north wall shows a sacred landscape. Here a mountain—an imposing, living being—is depicted with elliptic motifs (a third of the way from the left), with a cave for a mouth and a stalactite tooth.
This animate mountain rises above the feather serpent surface of the ground, supporting a procession of nine individuals coming together in a ceremony before the cave, from which emerges a woman holding a basket of holy food—the earliest known depiction of tamales.
The scene is dominated by the Maize God, who is standing and moving toward the viewer’s left, looking over his shoulder at two kneeling female figures behind him.
Behind the mountain, a winged individual observes a creation event in which five infants are being born from a gourd that symbolizes breath and blood.
In presenting this mural illustration, the Kimbell is pleased to have provided funding for one week of restoration work at the site.