BERLIN — Sculptures celebrating the human body, precious jewelry, animals from frogs to jaguars and depictions of deities are going on show in Berlin in an exhibition that offers a glimpse of centuries of Mayan art.
The exhibition, “The Maya: Language of Beauty,” features some 300 artworks spanning around a millennium up to the arrival of Spanish colonial rulers after 1500. The presidents of Mexico and Germany are opening the show at the German capital’s Martin-Gropius-Bau museum on Monday.
The show steers clear of perhaps the Mayas’ best-known legacy, their spectacular architecture, to concentrate on their portrayals of the body, of clothes, and of animals and deities.
Curator Karina Romero Blanco said the exhibition reflects “the multiplicity of artistic forms and languages that the Mayas used,” with portrayals of people and the body ranging from “deep realism” to more idealized pieces.
There is a stylized portrait of a serious-faced ruler, his face embellished with ornamental scars, but also a small figurine of a person apparently suffering from abdominal dropsy and sculptures of captives taken in battle, kneeling with their arms tied behind their back to show their status.
Scarification of the face and the custom of filing adolescents’ teeth are among the traditions of body decoration the exhibition addresses. Some may seem violent, but they’re not so far away from other cultures’ customs over the ages, Romero said.
She added that some of the pieces show how “many Mayan aesthetic ideas refer to such contemporary customs as body painting and piercing.”
The exhibition explores the importance of clothing in signaling social status, and features jewelry such as necklaces and ear plugs in jade and chrysoprase.
Vessels in the form of monkeys, birds, frogs and other creatures, and portrayals of snakes, illustrate the importance of animals — and the characteristics attributed to them — to Maya culture. And the works offer a look at the Mayas’ complex variety of deities.
Much of the work on show is from the “late classical” period in the three centuries between 600 and 900, Romero said, “because we are talking about the splendor of Maya culture and that is when they made the most spectacular pieces.”
The exhibition opens to the public Tuesday and runs through Aug. 7.