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This censer represents the god Xolotl dar. The piece comes from Mayapán on the Yucatán Peninsula. The city was a major trading center between 1250 and 1450. At that time, the clay pot was also made. It served as an incense dispenser in rituals. (Photo: INAH Museo Regional de Antropología, Palacio Cantón, Mérida, Yucatán)

The art of past cultures rarely emerged for its own sake. Almost always it had a purpose - to worship the gods, for the lives of the deceased in the hereafter, to symbolize the power of the ruler. Not much different was the Maya.

As Maya, archaeologists refer to that culture, roughly between 300 BC. until 900 AD It flourished in the area of ​​present-day Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. However, the Maya were not a unified group or even formed a unified empire. Several city-states existed on the territory of their culture, each of them with a ruler who sometimes faced his neighbor peacefully, sometimes hostile. Alliances, wars and mutual attacks characterize the history of the Mayan princes.

Artful writing

Exactly in the times of the Mayan culture, researchers have learned more and more details since the decipherment of the Mayan hieroglyphics. From the 1970s to the present, scientists have been able to decrypt about 90 percent of Mayan scripture, which consists of syllables and logo characters - characters that represent a single word.

The script features temple reliefs, stone steles, murals, stucco and ceramic vessels. Great celebrity attained about the monumental staircase of Copan, which is decorated with a long relief inscription. The individual signs are artfully constructed: the elements are intricately devoured into complex forms, which are also entirely in the tradition of Mayan art.

Complex art

The portraits of rulers and gods also seem small and confusing. Breast and headdresses adorned with gemstones and feathers, rich clothing, necklaces, earrings and other accessories reflect the power and wealth of the elite. Relief steles with representations of princes, which were found especially in Copan and Tonina, marked the dominion of the princes, imparted to the people who prevailed there with the consent of the gods. display

Above all, religion shaped the creative work of the Maya. Many objects only became meaningful in connection with rituals and around a temple. And in the cultic images usually the human or animal body plays the main role.

The body in the center of art

The worldview of the Maya revolved around opposites: life and death, humanity and nature, human and animal. Animals were considered beings with supernatural powers who could speak and think. And the rulers themselves wrote miraculous powers with which they could leave their bodies at night and move on as animal-like creatures.

Some 300 Mayan art works, many of them Mexican national treasures, are on show at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The focus is on the representation of man and anthropomorphic figures. The exhibition "The Maya - Language of Beauty" will be on view from 12th April to 7th August 2016 in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin . Further information on the show can be found here. - Karin Schlott
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