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Reading Maya Art

A Hieroglyphic Guide to Ancient Maya Painting and Sculpture

Andrea Stone, Marc Zender

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A groundbreaking guide to looking at Maya art through the eyes of ancient scribes and artists


The art of the Ancient Maya may be considered their most singular cultural achievement. Yet despite a surge in popular interest in these remarkable people, few are fully aware of the richness of their artistic legacy, unique in all of Precolumbian America. Maya art is a rare combination of linear elegance and naturalism, blended with dazzling symbolic complexity. Decorated objects, ranging from painted vases and carved jade and shell ornaments to towering stone monuments and building façades, bear the traces of a symbol system that, while fascinating, can make an understanding of these images elusive to the uninitiated.

Presented here for the first time is a compendium of one hundred hieroglyphs that are also building blocks of ancient Maya painting and sculpture. Organized thematically, the symbols touch on many facets of the Maya world, from the natural environment - animals, plants, the heavens - to the mental landscape of gods, myths, and rituals. Using hundreds of line drawings and photographs, Andrea Stone and Marc Zender show how to identify these signs, understand their meaning, and appreciate the novel ways they appear in art. As well as providing a basic introduction, the authors offer many new and exciting interpretations.

Lavishly illustrated, and fully cross-referenced and indexed, this groundbreaking guide will prove an invaluable tool for those wishing to see Maya art, perhaps for the first time, through the eyes of ancient scribes and artists.

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'This pioneering book is a unique and exciting journey into the beautiful, complex, and often strange world of Classic Maya art and thought …. it is a major contribution to the study of a great, but disappeared, New World civilization'
Michael D. Coe, author of ‘The Maya’

'A vivid, up-to-the-minute exploration of the entwined nature of Maya art and writing. Lavishly illustrated, it offers a visual dictionary to a lost world of representation and meaning'
Simon Martin, author of 'Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens'

'Densely informative, brilliantly illustrated guide to the interpretation of the hieroglyphs in Maya art'
Andrew Robinson, Current World Archaeology

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.2 x 18.1 cm

Extent: 248 pp

Illustrations: 535

Publication date: 4 July 2011

ISBN: 9780500051689

About the Author

Andrea Stone is Professor of Art History at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Marc Zender is a Lecturer at Harvard University.