Kimbell acquires two Maya sculptures

Posted Friday, Apr. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- The Kimbell Art Museum said Thursday that it has bought two Maya censer stands from the seventh-century Palenque region near modern-day Chiapas, Mexico, for inclusion in the museum's permanent collection.

These are some of the largest and most sophisticated free-standing sculptures made by the Maya for use in rituals and to venerate deities, in particular the jaguar god of the underworld. The cylindrical forms supported bowls in which incense was burned. After much use, the censers stands were typically buried under platforms and eventually crushed, so few remain.

The Kimbell's are some of the finest in either private or museum collections.

"They have all of their original decorations and embellishments, with only a few small pieces missing. It's amazing how complete they are," said Jennifer Casler Price, curator for Asian and non-Western art at the Kimbell. They display traces of red, white and blue pigment and stand almost 4 feet tall.

"The sculpture's monumental scale and wealth of symbolic detail command the viewer's attention," museum director Eric M. Lee said. "I foresee these works quickly becoming hallmarks of our already choice collection of Maya art."

While these censers are believed to have been created by the same artist, they might not have been used or conceived as a pair. The sculptures entered the United States in 1968 and were in private collections in Europe and the U.S. until they were sold to the Kimbell in a private sale.

Few of these censer stands remain; fewer still have come on the market in the last decade, and none as well-preserved as the two the Kimbell bought, so it is difficult to estimate their market value. The Kimbell will not divulge the purchase price. A survey of art experts suggests their worth to be well over $1 million each.

The censer stands were created in a totem style, with a vertical tier of heads on the front of the cylinder. The Censer Stand with Head of the Jaguar God of the Underworld features the maize god on the lowest level topped with the principal head of the jaguar god, and minor deities atop that.

In the Censer Stand with the Head of a Supernatural Being with a Kan Cross, the lowest head is reptilian surmounted by a human in the guise of a deity, and the inside of the mouth is marked with a Kan cross that resembles the entrance of a temple. The side flanges on both are decorated with low relief motifs.

The sculptures will go on display in the Kimbell's north galleries April 21.

Kimbell Art Museum, 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd., Fort Worth, 817-332-8451, www.kimbellart.org.

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