General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 20 Apr 2021/4 Wind
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Maya scribe on a painted vase, K8802

RESOURCE: the art of the Maya scribe

’Writing is a skill that anyone can learn, but it is also a craft and even an art. The finest stone and papyrus hieroglyphic inscriptions from Egypt, the exquisite cuneiform cylinder-seal engravings in gemstones from Mesopotamia, the Chinese characters brushed on mulberry paper or incised into bronze, the gorgeously painted and annotated ceramics of the MAYA, the calligraphic suras from the Koran carved into the marble facade of the Taj Mahal, the illuminated manuscripts of medieval Europe written on vellum, even the simply engraved wooden Rongorongo tablets of Easter Island - are all works of art...

Two Maya scribes, holding paint containers and brushes (note the brushes in the first scribe’s headdress). K4010
Two Maya scribes, holding paint containers and brushes (note the brushes in the first scribe’s headdress). K4010 (Click on image to enlarge)

‘“Scribes were held in the highest esteem among the ancient Maya, as they were in those other great calligraphic civilisations: ancient Egypt, China and Japan, Islam and Western Europe,” writes Michael Coe in his magnificent book The Art of the Maya Scribe, photographed by Justin Kerr.
’”So highly were they regarded that they were recruited from the nobility and even from the royal house itself. Like other officials who directed the city-states... during the Classic Period, they wore their own distinctive costume and headdress, in which were prominently displayed the tools of their profession - their brush pens and their carving tools. Even further, they often proudly signed their own works, their signatures appearing on relief sculptures... and on fine decorated pottery, both painted and carved.”’

Info from Writing and Script: a Very Short Introduction by Andrew Robinson, Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 123-4.
Photos by, © and courtesy of Justin Kerr (
• Main photo: polychrome plate: Scribe sitting on water stacks with printout under arm, K8802
• Roll-out photo of painted vessel, Library of Congress, the Kislak Collection (museum), K4010.

This article was uploaded to the Mexicolore website on Nov 23rd 2018

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