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This exceptional artwork, Vessel with Battle Scene, is one of several polychrome cylinder vessels known as the Fenton Group, painted by the same Maya master artist in the Nebaj region of Guatemala. The vessels portray a related series of events that involve Kan Xib Ahaw (Lord Kan Xib) and include the taking and presentation of prisoners as well as a ritual perhaps related to tribute payment or blood-letting.
In the Cleveland vessel, which is in very good condition, Kan Xib Ahaw turns to review a group of ten warriors, some clearly prisoners who have been stripped of battle regalia and others the victors, still elaborately dressed. Among the latter, one of the most elegant wears a jaguar skin tunic and grasps a long thrusting spear, a basic Maya weapon. The hieroglyphs encircling the rim form a dedicatory statement that indicates the vessel was used to drink an elite beverage made of cacao beans.
Mayan courtly art chronicles and glorifies the lives of royalty who governed independent city-states scattered across Guatemala’s rainforests and the Yucatán Peninsula. During the Late Classic Period (ca. AD 600–900), the Maya lived in a crowded political landscapes torn by rivalries in which elites scrambled to gain advantage through alliances and war. Vessel with Battle Scene, likely used in a gift exchange that helped to cement an important political relationship, commemorates the importance of such power struggles.
The Vessel with Battle Scene was in the Edward H. Merrin collection in New York by 1973, when the vessel was first published. Dated photographs place the vessel in New York City in March of 1969. Since the early 1970s, the vessel has appeared in at least a dozen print and electronic publications.