Text and image in classic Maya sculpture: A.D. 600--900

Catherine E. Burdick
Dept. of Art History, University of Illinois at Chicago
December, 2010


This study examines the relationships between and intersections of figural imagery and hieroglyphic text in Classic Maya sculpture during approximately AD 600-900 in southern Mexico, Honduras, Belize, and Guatemala. As part of a significant period of cultural shift marked by heightened political tension, monumental sculpture became a primary vehicle for the dispensation of elite ideology to a broad audience. The present work engages a model of the `Domain of the Image' borrowed from Visual Studies to analyze intersections of hieroglyphic script and elite portraiture, and demonstrates that these conflations generate meanings that are lost when we examine these graphic modes independently of one another. Captive nametags, nominal headdresses, and hieroglyphs presented in-hand exemplify the complex manifestations of conflated word and image which are frequent in Classic Maya visual discourse. This inquiry also considers the ways that reading practices, performance, and materiality inflected and facilitated audience engagement with ancient Maya art.