To this day, Mayan art and architecture inspire awe and wonder.  The powerful lines, bold colors and profoundly archetypal shapes call us irresistibly back to a more ancient time when human beings lived in closer harmony with Nature and the cycles of the heavens. 

Their art reflected the Maya’s beliefs, culture and lifestyle, and was supported and patronized by the ruling class who wished to ensure a place in history for themselves and their civilization.  The art the Maya produced during their Classic Period (c. 250 to 900 AD) is considered by many scholars to be the most beautiful and sophisticated of the ancient New World.  The stelae at Copán and the stucco reliefs at Palenque in particular are of an extraordinary grace and accurate depiction of the human form that rivals the art of the classical civilizations of the Old World such as the Greek and Roman cultures.

The Maya used gold, silver, jade, shell and colorful bird plumage to decorate their bodies; the custom of encasing teeth in jade has been popularized in some Hollywood films.  In their art and architecture, stone, wood, paper, plaster, clay, stucco and terra cotta were used as primary materials.  Gold, turquoise, burnt red, black and green represent the core of the Mayan color palette. 

In fact, the famous Maya Blue (Azul maya), a beautiful turquoise blue that was used in sacred ritual and sacrifical ceremonies, has survived to this day thanks to its unique chemical properties.  It can still be seen in some Mayan sites, including Bonampak, Jaina and Tajín Cacaxtla. The technique of producing this blue was lost sometime in the 16th century, until a recent discovery brought it to light again.  It also appears that the Maya were one of the few cultures whose artists signed their names on the work they produced.


Stay tuned for more mini-chapters about Mayan culture!