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Tetrapod Bowl with Lid

Arts of the Americas

On View: Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
Techniques of mapping reflect the ways in which different cultures understand and visualize the world around them. Geographical maps of the sort most commonly used today are a European import, having arrived with the colonization of the Americas beginning in the 1500s. However, visualizations of the natural world by Indigenous cultures across the hemisphere reveal a more expansive idea of place, one that unifies the natural, spiritual, and ancestral worlds.

The vessel on display here encapsulates the Maya worldview. The ancient Maya people of southern Mexico and northern Central America understood the world as existing on three levels: the celestial overworld of ancestors and supernatural beings, the earthly middleworld of human and animal life, and the watery underworld of the dead. The tetrapod (four-legged) vessel depicts these realms by way of a bird that has the ability to both float on the earth’s waters and fly in the sky, while the quatrefoil design incised on its beak represents a portal to the underworld.

This object also illustrates one of the core predicaments of the present exhibition: the use of modern-day borders to identify the origins of works from the Indigenous Americas. The division of land into a series of nations with political boundaries contradicts Indigenous worldviews and disregards the spread of myriad cultures across the hemisphere for millennia. And yet, by grouping art by country, the exhibition underscores the geopolitical nature of any attempt to combat today’s climate crisis. The nearby map combines approximate areas inhabited by Indigenous cultures with contemporary borders, enabling a discussion of the impact of national climate policies on Indigenous peoples.
MEDIUM Ceramic, pigment
DATES 350-450
PERIOD Early Classic Period
DIMENSIONS Overall with Lid: 13 x 11 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. (33 x 28.6 x 28.6 cm)  (show scale)
COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Arts of the Americas Galleries, 5th Floor
CREDIT LINE Ella C. Woodward Memorial Fund
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CAPTION Maya. Tetrapod Bowl with Lid, 350-450. Ceramic, pigment, Overall with Lid: 13 x 11 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. (33 x 28.6 x 28.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Ella C. Woodward Memorial Fund, 64.217a-b. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 64.217a-b_SL3.jpg)
IMAGE overall, 64.217a-b_SL3.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
"CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Tetrapod bowl with lid, with residue of red and white pigments. On lid, modeled depictions include a water bird with a fish in its mouth, wings to the side, and at the back, a glyph meaning "anus." Four modeled legs represent peccaries with their snouts flat against the ground. Condition: The vessel is in stable condition. The lid has been broken and repaired (see updated conservation treatment report).
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Maya. <em>Tetrapod Bowl with Lid</em>, 350-450. Ceramic, pigment, Overall with Lid: 13 x 11 1/4 x 11 1/4 in. (33 x 28.6 x 28.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Ella C. Woodward Memorial Fund, 64.217a-b. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 64.217a-b_SL3.jpg)