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Antiques PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

The Maya and the Mythic Sea Exhibition at the Saint Louis Art Museum

The Saint Louis Art Museum presents Fiery Pool: The Maya and the Mythic Sea, a breathtaking exhibition that showcases more than 90 works of Maya art, many shown for the first time in the United States. The works on view are from Mexico, Belize, Honduras and Guatemala and reveal the ancient Maya people’s powerful fascination with the seas around them. The exhibition is on view through May 8, 2011 in the Main Exhibition Galleries at the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Panel with a seated ruler in a watery cave; AD 795; Cancuen, Guatemala; Limestone; 22 5/8 x 26 ¼ x 3 inches (57.5 x 66.5 x 7.6 cm); Ministerio de Cultura y Deportes ? Museo Nacional de Arquelogía y Etnología, Guatemala City; Courtesy Peabody Essex Museum © Jorge Pérez de Lara

“Fiery Pool marks the first traveling exhibition of Maya art to reach our halls,” said Matthew H. Robb, assistant curator of ancient American and Native American art. “This exhibition offers a dynamic new perspective on the art of the ancient Maya by including everything from monumental stone sculptures to jewels of jade and gold.”

The more than 90 works on view demonstrate the importance that the Maya placed on water, surrounded as they were by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean and create what New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Holland Cotter calls an “unforgettably dramatic” exhibition. These dazzling images of sea monsters, maritime battles, fish and water deities illustrate the complexity the Maya had long been known for in language, mathematics and culture and illuminate new ways in which this ancient culture viewed the cosmos.

The exhibition’s artifacts encompass the day-to-day as well as the sacred, constructed from gold, clay, stone and shell. They include a conch trumpet, lidded bowls, friezes, incense burners and many other works such as the only known Maya effigy of a lobster and Belize’s prized 10-pound jadeite sculpture of the sun god’s head, entitled Head of a Deity.

The Maya landscape is made accessible to visitors with a hands-on activity in the exhibition galleries. Through a multimedia video table, visitors are encouraged to touch and discover various images of Maya sea creatures and facts about their environment.

The ancient Maya lived in southern Mexico and Central America, and were part of the larger cultural area known as Mesoamerica. The cultural history of Mesoamerica is divided into three main periods: the Preclassic (2500 BC—250 AD); the Classic (250—900); and the Postclassic (900—1542). The Maya flourished in all three periods.

The artifacts on view date from the Preclassic period to as recently as the colonial period in the 16th century. The works were selected by the exhibition’s organizers, Daniel Finamore, the Russell W. Knight curator of maritime art and history at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), and Stephen D. Houston, the Dupee family professor of social science and professor of anthropology and archaeology at Brown University. The exhibition is divided into four thematic sections: Water and Cosmos; Creatures of the Fiery Pool; Navigating the Cosmos; and Birth to Rebirth.

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