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2 / Dreams and Visions

Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán Structure 23
Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán Structure 23
Artist / Origin Maya artist, Yaxchilán, Chiapas, Mexico
Date Late Classic period, 600–900 CE
Material Limestone relief
Medium: Sculpture
Dimensions H: 51 in. (129.5 cm.), W: 33.7 in. (85.7 cm)
Location The British Museum, London, UK
Credit Werner Forman/Art Resource, NY

expert perspective

John PohlCurator of the Arts of the Americas, Fowler Museum at UCLA

Additional Resources

Coe, Michael D. The Maya, 7th ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2005.

McKillop, Heather. The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

Miller, Mary Ellen. Maya Art and Architecture. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

Schele, Linda, and Mary Ellen Miller. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art. New York: George Braziller in association with the Kimball Art Museum, 1992.

Sharer, Robert, and Loa Traxler. The Ancient Maya, 6th edition. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005.

Tate, Carolyn E. Yaxchilán: The Design of a Maya Ceremonial City. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992.

“Yaxchilán Lintel 25.” In Explore/Highlights. The British Museum Web site. www.britishmuseum.org.

Lintel 25 of Yaxchilán Structure 23

» Maya artist, Yaxchilán, Chiapas, Mexico

The city of Yaxchilán, located along the Usumacinta River in Chiapas, Mexico, was founded in the Early Classic period (250–600) and became a major center of Maya culture in the Late Classic period (600–900).

Buildings in Yaxchilán were known for their elaborate decorations, particularly the sculptural door lintels that were commissioned by the city’s rulers and are believed to document their history.

A lintel is the horizontal beam that spans the opening between two upright architectural elements. This particular lintel (referred to by current day archaeologists as lintel 25) was located above the central doorway of a palace structure (structure 23) in Yaxchilán. An inscription on the lintel reads October 20, 681, the date of Lord Shield Jaguar II’s accession to throne as documented in other monuments. It is believed that creation of the lintel, as well as the ritual portrayed in its carving, were associated with this event.

The image, carved in relief on the limestone lintel, depicts Lady K’ab’al Xook, wife of Shield Jaguar. Lady Xook performs a bloodletting ritual that has manifested a vision of a serpent. From the mouth of the serpent, a warrior, carrying a shield and spear, emerges. Scholars have debated the identity of this figure. Some argue that it represents Shield Jaguar, others that it is Lady K’abal Xook herself in another form.

Bloodletting was a central part of Maya life from the Late Preclassic period (400 BCE–250 CE) onward and was especially critical to rituals of kingship. According to Maya belief, when a member of the royal family sheds his or her blood, a portal to the Otherworld was opened through which gods and spirits might pass into this world. The image of the “Vision Serpent” gives visual form to the communion between worlds. If it is the Vision Serpent that we see in lintel 25, the figure emerging from the creature’s open maw may be that of a royal ancestor. Whatever the case, by showing the serpent manifest, the image attests to the royal authority of Lady Xook, and by extension, Shield Jaguar.

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