Two 8th-century Maya stone monuments were unveiled Thursday, September 2, in the Metropolitan Museum’s Great Hall. The massive statues, known as stelae, will remain on view at the museum’s iconic neoclassical hall until 2024.
Loaned to the Met by the Republic of Guatemala, the two stelae feature life-sized representations of influential Indigenous American rulers: king K’inich Yo’nal Ahk II (around 664–729 CE) and queen Ix Wak Jalam Chan (around 670–741 CE). The latter monarch, also known as “Lady Six Sky,” is one of the most powerful women known by name from the ancient Americas, according to the Met.
“Portrait of a seated ruler receiving a noble” (Stela 5) depicts the king of Yok’ib (Piedras Negras, Guatemala) seated on his throne amidst deities emerging from a mountain overhead. This stela, made by an unrecorded Maya court artist, was one of a series of monuments commissioned by the king to assert his power. The other stela, “Portrait of a queen regent trampling a captive” (Stela 24), was also made by an unknown court artist. It portrays the queen of Naranjo-Sa’al, Petén as a goddess holding a captive under her feet, emphasizing “her strategic prowess in warfare and her divine right to rule,” the Met asserted in a statement.
“This is a transformational moment for The Met’s Great Hall: The ancient Hellenistic sculpture of the goddess Athena that has presided over the space leaves as Lady Six Sky, a queen from the ancient Americas, arrives to be prominently displayed alongside a life-sized representation of a second influential Indigenous American ruler,” mused the Met’s director, Max Hollein.
“These stelae are ambassadors for one of the world’s great visual traditions, embodying layered cultural meanings and introducing the legacy and rich histories of two Indigenous leaders,” added James Doyle, the curator of the installation and assistant curator of Ancient American Art in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing. “This display truly reflects the fruitful partnership the Museum enjoys with the Ministry of Culture and Sports and the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography in Guatemala and highlights the important ongoing archaeological projects and preservation efforts led by our colleagues in the Maya region.”
The installation preludes the upcoming exhibition Lives of the Gods: Divinity in Maya Art, scheduled to open in the fall of 2022. It also launches a series of special exhibitions and installations with art from the ancient Americas, sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania across in other Met galleries while the Rockefeller Wing is closed for renovation. As part of the long-term collaboration, conservators from the Met will assist Guatemalan peers in treating two additional Maya pieces.
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