Friday, December 21, 2012


The greatest funerary monument known from the Classic period, the stone lid of Pacal’s sarcophagus in the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque, is carved with a scene showing the moment of death as a fall into the Maw of the Underworld.  The sarcophagus, begun while Pacal was still alive, was never designed as public art.  Instead, it was conceived as a power object to instruct Pacal’s soul during the journey through the Underworld and to represent his final destination among his ancestors.  The huge stone lid, measuring over twelve by seven feet, rested on a limestone sarcophagus with a carved depression for the coffin.  The ten portraits that surround the sarcophagus depict seven of Pacal’s ancestors  (his mother, father and great-grandmother are each repeated.)  The ancestors are shown rising, along with a fruit tree, from a cleft in the earth.  They represent Pacal’s ancestors of direct descent through six previous generations and culminate in the seventh – Pacal himself, whose body lies in the center of the sarcophagus.  The edge of the lid was inscribed with the dates of Pacal’s birth and death and with the death dates of each of these ancestors, as well as some of their siblings, who had also ruled Palenque.

From:  Linda Schele and Mary Ellen Miller, The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art.  New York, George Braziller, Inc., in association with the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, 1986, p. 268.

Note:  Schele and Miller’s description, and the plates illustrating their book, considered against the backdrop of this mostly Maya week (which overlays other conspicuously awful events), makes me wish Andy Warhol were around to react artistically to all of this.  I imagine he’d have something pertinent to offer.

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