New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the foremost cultural destinations in the world. It easily holds its own amongst other museums such as the Louvre in Paris, the Prado in Madrid and others. Its displays are incomparable.
The Met, as it is familiarly known, has a reputation for presenting some of the best exhibits ever shown by any museum anywhere. Currently “Lives of the Gods, Divinity in Mayan Art is on display until April 2, 2023. The display features amazing works from Mexico, Guatemala and neighboring countries.
To reach the second floor for the Mayan display, you see one exciting gallery after another. But that is only a precursor for what is to come. The exhibit brings together hundreds of amazing artifacts that are rarely seen and some that have only recently been seen.
The artifacts range from miniatures that require you to step up close to the display case while others are monumental. Each has a descriptive card explaining the meaning of the piece, where it is from and what era was it made. Most are seven centuries and older.
What comes to mind in viewing the various artifacts is the ability of the ancient craftsmen and skill with which they depict the gods. Several of the miniatures depict periods in the lifecycle of the gods from the moment of their birth to the transformation with some as flowers that are blossoming.
Some, while depicting the cycle of life, are fearsome night creatures. The ancient artists were deep into the mysticism of their age and many gods were creatures to be feared. But the artists, for the time period they were in, knew how to make intricate carvings, some six to eight feet tall, while others, as mentioned, were miniatures. During what was considered the “Classic Period,” A.D. 250-900, especially in the royal cities deep in the tropical jungles of Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, depicted a world in which godly, human and the natural world became enmeshed with one another.
The Met, in presenting exhibits such as the “Maya,” takes a major step in preserving the ancient history of many countries from being forgotten, or worse, plowed over.
A special treat for those at the unveiling of the exhibit was a talk by Alejandro Rax Jul, in classic local clothing, while he told of the efforts to preserve and save the ancient artwork. He gave his talk in local dialect, understood by no one. But the entire talk was then read in English.
Exhibits such as this one at The Met serve a critical purpose. They not only bring history to life, but they protect monuments and art, especially those located deep in the jungle, from destruction by vandals and those who seek to steal and profit.
Very deep in the Guatemalan jungle, atop a slippery incline is a historic site guarded by one man who lives at river’s edge. Those who manage to reach the top of the slope are rewarded with the sight of a number of stelae, tombstone-like monuments that have stood there for the millennia. One has a section missing. A crew from a Texas university flew in by helicopter and with a stone saw, cut a chunk out of it, flew back to Texas and put it on display at the university. It took the Guatemalan government years to get it back.
Incidents such as this make The Met’s display even more critical. While most museumgoers will never get to see the Mayan artwork in its natural habitat, slowly walking through the several galleries brings the culture of the Mayan to the visiting public. And by creating interest in the amazing work of the ancient artists, preserving the art for coming generations.